Toby Lawrence

Digital Filmmaking & Video Production

Associate Program Chair of Media
The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston

San Antonio Digital Film & Video Production Instructor Toby Lawrence

Let your passion be your guide. Toby Lawrence , Associate Program Chair of Media
, The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston

Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

When I was six, my family went to the opening night of Star Wars. I was completely drawn into the story and, as far as I was concerned, I was Luke Skywalker. I mean, what six-year-old doesn't dream of saving the universe? I got involved with music and drama in school, and began to realize that my way of using "The Force" would be to make movies of my own.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

I believe educators should be transparent about their own processes and work. I bring the real-world, rubber-to-the-road context of my own experience to the curriculum, and I find that students are more engaged for doing so. It helps me develop each student's vision and potential in a way that translates out in the competitive world of filmmaking.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

The best example is the short media project. Students produce their first fully-informed project from script-to-screen as a director/writer/producer. They secure the talent, crew, and location releases, and edit and present their finished projects for the screen. I serve as the "guide on the side,” mentoring them through the process.

How do you inspire students to push themselves beyond their perceived limits?

I often recount past professional experiences to assure students that I’m not asking them to do anything I haven’t already done myself. We work together to find solutions to their creative challenges and realize their vision "on time and under budget."

How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?


One of the first—and most crucial—things to understand about filmmaking is that it’s a collaborative art. The hard work and talent of many are behind any great film. I always encourage my students to reach out to peers from other disciplines to enlist their expertise.

What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?


Film is a passion art. Filmmaking requires grit and determination to actualize that passion. It also relies on its creator to use ever-changing technologies, software, and work-flows not available in the past. This evolution means greater accessibility and ease of use for student filmmakers seeking to fulfill their dreams. But it’s our responsibility as educators to help them balance all that technological freedom with the core principles of filmmaking: screenwriting, producing, directing, editing, cinematography and lighting.

What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?

Let your passion be your guide, but always remember to balance it with common sense.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Teaching is not just the transmission of knowledge. The standard should be to create an environment that stimulates intellectual and creative growth, encouraging students to develop through their own initiative.