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In a running feature on this blog, I’ll be profiling Middlebury alumni (both from the FMMC program and the college at large) who are doing interesting things in the real world and whose work deserves recognition. This first entry is on Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo, class of ’03.

Ryan graduated during the last major transition in Middlebury’s film program, as we became an independent program in 2002 as well as welcomed two new faculty members, Christian Keathley and Jason Mittell. I had Ryan in one class and have stayed in touch to see how he navigated the world of independent filmmaking. Ryan runs a blog called No Film School, chronicling how he’s trying to become a filmmaker without going to grad school – it’s definitely worth reading if you’re mulling post-Middlebury plans.

His day job is doing web design for the online music company Rhapsody, but his major accomplishment is becoming a pioneering award-winning online filmmaker. With partner Zachary Lieberman, Ryan has co-produced, directed, and written The West Side, an excellent serialized “urban western” (starring fellow Midd alum Damien Washington). They’ve currently released 4 of 12 episodes, and I think any film student will appreciate its elegant style, sense of genre play, and unified tone – personally, I love the aesthetic and the allusions to one of my & Ryan’s common favorites, The Wire. If you haven’t seen it, definitely check it out!

The West Side is a great testament as to what can be accomplished with no-budget filmmaking, and it broadens the possibilities of online video beyond the viral sensationalism of most YouTube shorts. This innovative focus on quality over quantity has resulted in a number of honors – the series recently won The 2008 Webby Award for Best Drama Series, and Ryan & Zack were profiled by Filmmaker Magazine as one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film. You can read more about Ryan and Zack’s approach to filmmaking and online distribution in a four part interview I conducted with them last year. I think their accomplishments point to new possibilities for aspiring media creators in the digital age – and speak to Ryan’s strong education in film at Middlebury, even with “no film school.”