Filmmakers: Mitchell Kriegman

Mitchell Kriegman has an incredibly deep and varied career.  He started out as a video and performance artist.  He applied for and received AFI and NEA grants to film short comedy pieces, but did it in the art world because at the time it didn’t exist in the commercial world.  Then he got involved in late night comedy shows, and eventually worked on TV series for Disney, and developed Nickelodeon’s animation series when they first started.  Over time he developed interesting production techniques, and has a patent in virtual set and animatronic production.  He was involved with the first version of the comedy channel, and worked on digital shorts for Saturday Night Live.  

He considers himself a writer-director-producer.  He started as a writer (and wrote for National Lampoon), and at one point had his own production studio with employees.  He has won three Emmys, a Directors’ Guild award, and a Webby award.  He has also worked a lot in development, helping writers and filmmakers develop their ideas and turn them into franchises.

Now he teaches film at Stony Brook University in Southampton.  When he first started teaching film, he was asked to teach a course on writing sit-coms. But he turned away from that and now teaches web series.

“I don’t like creating things you can’t make.  The whole idea of developing sit-coms or movie scripts that have a one-in-a-million chance of ever being produced is just not fun anymore.”  The approach in the program is to make a film the way you’d write a novel: do it yourself.  This summer Mitchell is teaching two courses, one in web series and the other in digital filmmaking.  And the program is growing — this year Christine Vachon (producer of Boy’s Don’t Cry) will be teaching a masters class in producing.

Mitchell’s advice for new filmmakers:
“There is no doubt now about approach.  It’s been in doubt recently — which should you start with, film school, Hollywood, independent features, shorts, or made-for-web?  But now there’s no doubt.  Create webisodes.  It’s the fastest access to being seen and getting your work out there.  My favorite course at Stonybrook is Zero Budget Filmmaking.  You can do almost everything micro budget — it’s not easy, it might be labor intensive, but what makes it great is your aesthetic, your story and characters.  Story and characters don’t cost anything, and that’s what people watch.”

Stonybrook film courses start this July, and Mitchell welcomes you, my gentle reader, to join as a student.  “It’s a really great course and an unusual film department.  It’s not about teaching you a certain style of filmmaking — it’s about how to do it now in a way that can jump start your whole film career.”

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