Dr Karen Pearlman and Dr Iqbal Barkat are the duo behind Macquarie’s unique Screen Production intensive program, which has just been cited at the Australian Awards for University Teaching for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.
The course is continually growing in popularity, with 125 students in this year’s undergraduate Screen Production cohort (up from 80 students in 2016). Behind the success of the program is a unique approach to teaching that mimics real-world screen production processes, allowing students a long, slow planning period followed by a burst of activity in a four-day intensive filming session.
The intensive production stint is where the magic happens: Karen says she sees students rising to the challenge, forming teams, and collaborating and communicating effectively.
“The excitement during the intensive is palpable,” says Karen. “The students become teams through the intensity. Production requires alertness, fleetness, and focus, and they learn to problem-solve on the fly.
“It’s completely different to the way screen production is usually taught, with students normally trying to create their films in two-hour sessions once a week. Many students say they learnt more with us in four days than they do in an entire semester elsewhere.”
Iqbal has noticed this approach has eliminated many of the typical complaints about group members not contributing to groupwork tasks.
“The students understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and they have to self-regulate and be responsible to their team,” he notes. “They stop working for a mark and instead work with each other to achieve a collective vision.
“Murphy’s Law applies in screen production and so there will always be problems they need to work together to solve. Having this experience at university builds their leadership and communication skills, and prepares students well for future work.”
Both Karen and Iqbal have been in the arts for their entire careers. Karen started out as a dancer before moving into film-making, editing and screenwriting, while Iqbal has taught at all levels and worked as an artist across theatre and cinema.
But industries outside film and television are increasingly seeking screen production skills, with many emerging opportunities for graduates. Both Karen and Iqbal love giving students a taste of the industry, and inviting them to join them on a life-long journey of understanding screen language and production.
“Creating compelling video is a huge growth industry, and I’m very optimistic about our students’ futures,” says Karen. “On their first day, I welcome the students to the screen industry, and I see them rise to that. It is a delight to see them again after their first year when they have been through some of the intensive units, and they are so much more grown up and ready to create more mature work.
“It’s an extraordinary privilege to teach at Macquarie, and to be part of a faculty that is willing to experiment with different possibilities for teaching.”