Tom Ptasinski graduated from Chapman in 2008 with a B.F.A in Film Production, and since then has gone on to write ten feature screenplays, and direct several festival award winning films, web series, and stage plays. Tom is now back at Chapman where he currently teaches film production as Lead Instructor for the Dodge Summer Film Academy and as an adjunct lecturer at Dodge College in his spare time. We had the opportunity to hear from Tom about his experiences on both sides of the classroom at Chapman:
Can you tell us why you pursued the degree you pursued at Chapman?
I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker since I was eight years old, and decided early on that I would go to film school for college.
I actually transferred to Chapman from Syracuse University. Syracuse was a good film school, but they were teaching a different kind of filmmaking, more auteur/East Coast “you do everything” style. I was interested in learning and working in a more industry-based model with script development and film crews. I did my research and found that Chapman offered everything I wanted under the Film Production degree, and that’s what brought me over. Plus it was on the sunny west coast 🙂.
What was your career path like and how did you get to where you are now?
My career path was adventurous, to say the least. My first job out of school was with the film producer David Foster (Mask of Zorro, The Core, The Thing), who I met when he was mentoring at Chapman. I was his assistant and then moved into developing projects for him. After that, I started working post-production at The Dr. Phil Show on the Paramount lot. Contacts I met there led to all kinds of production jobs all over the world in various roles. I also worked with some of my close friends I made at Chapman producing commercials for a while. Now, I’m a screenwriter and director while I teach at Chapman. I was fortunate after Chapman to get a wide-ranging experience and education on all facets of the business, something I try to share in my classes today.
What advice would you give to current students hoping to work in the industry?
I’m just going to start listing:
- Be ready to work hard for long hours.
- Learn to listen and anticipate what is needed, that kind of ability is invaluable in an office or on set, it’s how you can prove your reliability, get noticed, and land future jobs.
- Be humble when you’re starting out, know that there’s always something to learn and there’s a big difference between being confident and cocky.
- You will get fired. It happens more often in this industry than in others and it’s fine. It’s usually not because of you but because of other factors beyond your control.
- Take care of yourself, be sure to surround yourself with a good support network and take periodic breaks to enjoy life and give yourself a little mental rest. Filmmaking is exciting, but it can also be taxing and the hours can be brutal so it’s important to pace yourself.
- Your careers may take a while to get going, don’t be hard on yourself if you’re not where you want to be right away. A lot of friends and fellow Chapman alum who I entered the industry with me started off in one career or department, but found passion and success doing another. There are so many different jobs and opportunities nowadays waiting for you, don’t feel limited to find success on one kind of path.
Did you ever think that you would end up back at Chapman teaching?
Honestly, I kinda did. Is that weird? It was just this feeling I had when I was going there that I would be back some day sharing what I learned.
What motivates you to teach?
The look in someone’s eyes when you introduce them to an idea or concept that blows their mind and could change the way they think about a topic or the world. That was what I valued in the great teachers I had (many at Chapman). They opened my eyes to ideas I might not have encountered on my own, and enriched my life because of it. It’s something I try to live up to. Teaching also gives me the opportunity to learn from the students and broaden my own horizons, they teach me as much as I teach them, it’s a clichéd saying that also happens to be true.
What have you learned from being on the other side of the classroom as a professor?
That there just isn’t enough time to share all the information I’d like to share about what I’ve discovered and experienced making movies and working in the industry. I do my best but given our limited time together, sometimes we only get to scratch the surface.
Also, that no matter what technological advances we make and no matter how sophisticated the equipment, software, and delivery options become… you still have students who wait till the absolute last minute to do their projects. Never fails 🙂