The Python in Film School

The way a programmer thinks is not so different from the way someone in the film industry thinks.

by Tessa Keough

Illustration by Alex Hanson

Few people would expect a film student to add a course in Computer Science to their schedule. However, since my university’s individualized program allows me to focus in film and explore other subjects, I was able to do so. From a pure “I need a job when I graduate” perspective, I took the class in order to add software development to my list of skills, knowing that this would make me more marketable, contemporaneous, and would distinguish me from others in the film industry. There are few professions that do not require interacting with a computer in some way. With technology advancing daily, it is becoming more and more important to the electronics we use, and how to manipulate them to our advantage. Computer science is essential for this.

Given this reality, my competitive edge in my field is my newfound knowledge in computer programming. All aspects of the entertainment industry, from film to the theatre, are heavily influenced by computers (i.e. special effects, film editing, lighting).  Anyone that knows computer programing does not have to accept applications at face value, but can be empowered to alter or create applications that do exactly what their imagination and creativity dictate. Computer programing opens up opportunities to a filmmaker who is versed in how to visibly and audibly engage and entertain an audience beyond what someone else has developed or thought might be useful.

This past semester, I ventured out of a prescribed curriculum to take an introductory computer science course. In this class, I learned how to write programs in basic Python, a high-level program language. By the end of the class, I was able to create small programs, such as an easy card game or a simple drawing. I would consider myself a novice at Python, but my ability to learn these skills in such a short amount of time made me less intimidated by coding and gave me a sense of accomplishment, along with a desire to continue programming.

I realized that programming is not all that complex. Coding is similar to relating a task to someone who has never done that task before: you cannot assume they know anything, and each aspect of the task has to be broken down into manageable pieces. One must know exactly what the outcome should be, think critically and logically, and write the required steps in a language the computer understands. I never would have thought I could think in such a structured manner, but now I know that I can.

Programming allows someone with expertise in a specific field, like film, to utilize computers to execute computer functions, accomplishing a specific outcome. My ability to do this empowers me to do what I want and makes me unique in my field. The way a programmer thinks is not so different from the way someone in the film industry thinks. Both fields require patience and the breaking down of large projects into smaller, more manageable parts. It’s a matter of problem solving— a skill that I am developing through my classes in film and coding, and one that I will continue to flex beyond my time in school.

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