Just a glance at Craig Rice’s resume is frightening – he’s done so much! And a casual conversation with him is exhausting – he has so much to say! Luckily, for MCAD’s benefit, he applies plenty of this experience when he teaches.
Two years at MCAD, topped with a degree from the University of Southern California’s film school, have led to decades of service to MCAD, of many kinds. He’s been on the Board of Trustees, for several years; he’s guided projects and initiatives; and most importantly, he’s taught students about how films get made and stories get told.
Rice’s own creative story starts even before MCAD, because of his supportive parents. “By the time I was five, I knew what a director’s job was,” he explains. And from my dad (a city supervisor and small-business owner) I learned: ‘get a good tailor; get a good lawyer.’” His laughter is contagious.
As an MCAD student in the 1970s, Rice benefited from an open curriculum that saw film as “not just a storytelling medium, it’s like a musical instrument. It’s just like photography, a neutral tool that can do anything.” At the same time, he was a guard at Walker Art Center, seeing hundreds of experimental and foreign films – “there was this incredible bathing in the art form.”
Transfer to USC meant a shift from art to commerce. “They told you: ‘This is a technical school. This is the way you get into the Hollywood system. That’s what we do here. If that’s not what you want then this is not for you.’ So, it was a good experience for me, a real good balancing act. And I think I would have been different if I hadn’t come from an art school.”
Rice has used his multiple educations and talents in impressive ways. He’s directed and produced for HBO. He’s been an assistant director on loose-jointed indie films. He’s been a producer on studio films. He managed Prince’s Paisley Park studios; he ran the Minnesota Film Board; he worked for MCA Records in California and for Joseph Papp’s famed theater company in New York.
His seasoned career makes him mildly skeptical about upstart efforts. “I was working for this internet movie startup company in Austin, Texas, in 2000. This was before the bubble broke. These people were barely in their twenties, and they had an IPO with $30 million to spend on short films. They kept talking about getting money for the project. “And I said, ‘No, that’s just getting money. How are you going to make money?’ They hadn’t thought about that! They had all these servers and offices and nice cars, and they never made a film!”
His pragmatic focus doesn’t preclude inspiring new generations of artists. “My favorite movie is Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night, about filmmaking. I love it to death. It’s a movie lover’s movie, but it’s also about making. And that’s what Americans are – we’re makers of things.
“. . . So the students are smarter now, they know what they want to do quite clearly. But they also need the inner passion. So I tell them, ‘You’re not a screenplay writer, you’re a writer. Just write stories. And the technology today allows earlier entry into the business – that older apprenticeship model isn’t followed.” And I tell them, because they will be professionals, that “what makes professionals professional, in film or in pro football or whatever, is that you get paid not to drop the ball. You want to move ahead? You need to keep at it, to sustain what you can do, in multiple forms.”