BELLINGHAM - Veteran television executive Bob Goodwin says it took him five years to get a solid understanding of the varied array of tasks to create a show. Now he's offering a crash course at Western Washington University to teach the same thing in five weeks.
As Goodwin sees it, most college film courses teach the art and the history. He teaches the business.
Goodwin, who now lives in Whatcom County, served as executive producer of the television megahit "The X-Files" for a number of years.
After graduating from UCLA with a major in English and a minor in film, he began his career with a job in the CBS mailroom in Hollywood in 1966, doing the heavy lifting in a facility that served Columbia Records as well as local television and radio affiliates.
"They would be getting boxes of LPs that weighted 800 pounds that I would need to deliver all over the building," Goodwin said.
In those days, even the heavy labor jobs at CBS required college degrees, because the company did all its hiring from within, and the mailroom was the bottom rung of a ladder all the way to the top. Goodwin and his three mailroom cohorts all had their eyes on more glamorous jobs, although the others had been in the mailroom for more than a year.
Goodwin said he landed a production assistant job in two weeks. As he tells it, he walked into the boss' office and said, "I don't know what you're waiting for. Will you stop wasting time and just give me the job?"
It worked. Goodwin spent the next 18 months working on a local documentary show called "Ralph Story's Los Angeles." He also started writing screenplays for independent producers and managed to sell 11 of them, although only one got produced.
Over the next five years, Goodwin worked in a variety of television jobs. He estimates that it took him about that long to get a good understanding of the jobs that different people have to do to bring a production to a large or small screen.
"It's a business that is so collaborative," Goodwin said. "If you really want to be one of the top people in that business, you really have to know what the other jobs are."
Goodwin taught his first class last winter, a 10-week session that included five weeks of lecture followed by a five-week class project collaborating on a 10-minute film. He figured that most of the learning took place during the film production, so the lecture portion of the class is winding up on the cutting-room floor.
In winter 2014, he will be offering two opportunities to participate in a film-making project as part of a three-credit, five-week class, with one session Jan. 7 through Feb. 7, the second from Feb. 11 through March 14.
Goodwin warns his students that a career in television and film is anything but secure, and often less than glamorous even for those who get work. A generation ago, most television shows were produced in New York or Los Angeles. Today, he said, production companies go wherever the tax incentives are greatest, and production assistants may be living in RVs on location.
"If you want a long, lucrative career, don't go into show business," Goodwin said. "You can do really well for five years, and then be dead in the water. ... If you are passionate and this is all you want to do for the rest of your life, I can't tell you no, because I did it."
BOB GOODWIN'S WWU FILM CLASS
Title: "How to Make a Movie."
Prerequisites: None. Open to registered students and others.
More info: wwu.edu/ee/ayss/movie.
Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.