A program led by “real working professionals who have practiced the craft, and love to share, love to mentor, love to facilitate.”
Picture this: It’s the late ‘80s, and after a head-spinning 90 interviews with media companies all over town, you’ve finally scored a position at a storied-but-small studio. You’ll be the new guy on a team of just eight creative executives.
“I had the best graduate school,” Adam says of his years working under Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg at Walt Disney Studios. “It’s hard to remember that once upon a time, Disney was a small company that had never released a movie that had grossed more than $100 million, that had a very small output.”
If this first job was Adam’s graduate school, Katzenberg was his lead advisor. “He taught me how to approach movies, how to make your word your bond, how to know what is the right role for an executive and what is overstepping the creative bounds. How to approach story in inventive ways, how to respect talent, how to manage people.” Adam spent seven years at Disney, where he worked on such film as Dead Poets Society and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Eight people became 130. And as the studio grew, Adam grew too, ready for the next step in his media career.
Adam eventually went on to become President of National Geographic films, spearheading the American distribution of March of the Penguins. Over three decades since starting at Disney, all of them spent working in media, Adam has seen the industry change in massive ways — not the least of which is its domination by his once-small “alma mater.” As time went on, earning a film degree became the proscribed path into the media biz. But, he noticed, there was a chasm between the film industry’s real-world needs and the preparation students were getting.
“By and large,” Adam tells me, “when people graduated from film school, they did not know enough for companies to hire them.”
In order to bridge the knowledge gap, graduates need some kind of formative career experience. But scrambling to wedge a foot in that proverbial door often means accepting low-paying — or even unpaid — industry positions. Add to that equation the towering student loan debt that will be familiar to most university graduates, film school or otherwise, and you’ve got a heck of a Catch 22 on your hands.
“Film school is just too expensive,” Adam observes. Many graduates, up to their eyeballs in debt, can’t afford to have a period of low-paying, on-the-job learning post-graduation. Without the income to pay down debts and support themselves, Adam noticed, many promising talents abandon an industry that thrives on fresh talent. “That feels deeply unfair.”
Adam turned to some trusted colleagues, and some trusted institutions, in hopes of creating a new option — one inspired both by his own early industry training and his later career experience as an educator.
“Learners teach you how they want to learn. How they need to learn,” Adam and his colleagues realized, “which is not by having people lecture at them, but by having access to information, often in a peer-to-peer circumstance, and going out and doing stuff. Experimenting, trying, feeding back. Experience, experience, experience. And then finding ways to show others what our experience has been. That’s how we really learn.”
The MediaU team designed a curriculum around that non-hierarchical philosophy. Rather than a lecturer behind a podium, courses are led by “real working professionals who have practiced the craft, and love to share, love to mentor, love to facilitate.” These professionals share real working examples, but most importantly, they then offer the learner opportunities to practice the lesson themselves and come back and say what happened.
Trying, succeeding or failing, comparing notes, and then trying again. It’s a lesson Adam’s been learning all his career. “That’s what this business is about. You just keep moving on, one foot in front of the other, one experience following the next.”