Know a budding Steven Spielberg? Want to help K-12 students prepare for success in filmmaking, television, and other media arts?
The gathering of several hundred scholars and practitioners at the 2005 University Film and Video Association (UFVA) conference in Chicago, Aug. 1-6, was just the place to stock up on wise counsel, but some of the suggestions might surprise you.
“Make sure your prospective filmmakers study literature,” advised Bruce Sheridan, the New Zealand director, producer, and writer who now heads the film and video department at the prestigious Columbia College Chicago, which hosted this year’s UFVA conference. “Make sure high school students do lots of reading and writing. Because if all students know is what they’ve seen, their visual imagination will be strictly derivative.”
Developing the next generation of filmmakers is important, he says. “Film and video aesthetics and practice are going through unprecedented transformations as part of what I think of as a ‘New Humanism’,” Sheridan said upon taking the helm of his department in 2001. “Education has to both influence and serve that evolution.”
Today, Sheridan personally reviews applications to his film school, and he says he’s found two common denominators among students who are accepted and make the grade.
The first predictor of success is that incoming students have had a thorough and close relationship with the technology required for the media arts. The second is that they’ve been nurtured by at least one committed teacher.
At Columbia College, Sheridan makes a concerted effort to enhance innate creativity and instill technical skills in his students. The emphasis is on collaboration, he said, because filmmaking today is team endeavor. “We are aggressively pushing our students to think of technical issues as creative issues,” he explained.
Students bring their own creativity to Columbia College, but they find a treasure trove of technology to translate that creativity into art. Eight floors of the Ludington Building at Columbia College house cutting-edge equipment and software–from Avid Xpress Pro systems to a top-of-the-line da Vinci color-enhancement system. The film and video resources are extensively networked to streamline project transfer, maximize storage capacity, and make the most efficient use of resources.
With the school’s experienced faculty and extensive technology, students gain experience and understanding as they study in eight separate concentrations: animation, audio, cinematography, directing, documentary, editing, producing, and screenwriting.
Attendees at this year’s UFVA conference were able to tour some of the Columbia College facilities and compare what they saw with their own equipment and resources. According to UFVA President Karla Berry, associate professor of media arts at the University of South Carolina, the organization boasts 1,000 members. Formed by film producers during World War II, UFVA has 110 institutional members, mostly colleges and universities.
UFVA is funded in large part by contributions from sponsors such as Avid and Kodak, both of which have demonstrated a strong and lasting commitment to the organization, according to Berry. Both firms were on hand at the conference as participants as well as sponsors.
Avid hosted a presentation by Tina Hirsch, a director of the American Cinema Editors, an honorary organization for outstanding film editors. Hirsch–noted for her participation in the creation of the West Wing television series and the film Dante’s Peak, among other productions–demonstrated the key role of the cinema editor.
At the conference, she discussed her attempt to save a prospective HBO series in trouble. After HBO had rejected the initial production, she was brought in along with a new director to re-cut a pilot episode of a show called “Love and Madness,” starring Joanna Kerns and Gregory Harrison. It was a comedy turning on the love/hate relationship between a couple approaching their 20th wedding anniversary.
Hirsch showed the pilot before the re-cut to the UFVA audience, and then presented the reworked version. By inter-cutting scenes, providing relevant musical accents, and presenting the story in a nonlinear fashion, she was able to speed up the pace of the pilot, make the audience care more about the characters, and enliven the humor. Even so, the pilot never aired, suggesting that even the most accomplished editors ultimately are constrained by plot, characters, and writing.
Kodak’s Entertainment Imaging division sponsored a presentation by cinematographer Michael Goi titled “Learning from Film in a Digital Age.” Goi, himself a graduate of the Columbia College, had this observation:
“The film school deans and teachers at this conference carry the heavy burden of preparing the next generation of filmmakers to master the collaborative art of visual storytelling. Whether their students are future writers, directors, actors, or producers, it is important for them to understand the role that cinematographers play as authors of the images.”
Determining what to do with those images was addressed at UFVA as well. For reasons of cost, film students most often shoot their productions using 16 mm film. To have a viable commercial product, however, the film customarily needs to be on 35 mm film, which is approximately twice the cost. One major session was devoted to the step-by-step procedure for using digital technology from Avid as the intermediate process for transferring sound and images from one type of film to another. Learning to do this is important, attendees explained, because it enables film students to market their work more effectively.
The presentation–called “Mindy: A Post Production Workflow Case Study”–traced the steps in a successful student project from Super 16 mm film origination to 35 mm print via a 2K high-definition (HD) transfer. The images were initially transferred to Betacam SP format for offline editing, explained Columbia’s Charles Celander. After picture-lock (completion of the visual aspects of a film), he said, selected scenes were re-transferred to HD on a Thomson Spirit DataCine, a kind of modified movie projector. Credits and subtitles were added using Discreet Fire, a non-linear editing and finishing system from Autodesk, after a tape-to-tape color correction. After a dirt removal pass, said Celander, the images were output to D-5 (an HD format) and then recorded to 35 mm film.
“Transferring Super 16 film to HD was a way to maintain professional-looking images through an affordable digital intermediate process,” Celander explained. “Using the Avid Film Composer meant we could work at 24 frames per second, which simplified matters greatly. We try to teach our students to be problem solvers. This project was a great opportunity to involve a lot of students. We plan to use this film and the methods we developed as an example for a long time to come.”
HD was a primary topic of discussion at the conference, and JVC was on hand to demonstrate its latest cameras and camcorders, including a new HD Cinema production camera with full HD recording at 24 frames per second.
In several UFVA sessions, Kodak demonstrated its new Look Manager System. According to Kodak, the system allows cinematographers to create, pre-visualize, communicate, and manage how a film looks from preproduction through postproduction.
The look designed for any scene can be locked into an exportable file, the company said, which can be easily shared with other system users to produce the desired look in a collaborative environment while viewing consistent images that maintain the creative intent. Individual film frames can also be printed and used as a visual reference. Once a look is set, Kodak said, the system will deliver uniform results on many display devices, including computer monitors, standard and high-definition video, and film and digital projectors.
During the UFVA conference, Kodak announced the winners of the 2005 Eastman Scholarship competition for film students: Delphine Suter of San Francisco State University and Matthew Ardine of Emerson College. Sutter won an $8,000 scholarship. Ardine won a $4,000 scholarship.
The student competition reportedly drew 49 submissions from 35 schools throughout the United States and Canada. Accredited film schools were limited to no more than two nominations each.
“We are committed to providing practical support for the next generation of filmmakers and their mentors at this critical juncture in their careers,” said Colette Scott, worldwide manager, Education Segment, Kodak’s Entertainment Imaging Division.
Scott said judging was based on sample reels submitted by the students, recommendations from faculty, and academic achievements.
Roy Cross, of Concordia University, won the Kodak Faculty Scholar Award. Cross, an assistant professor at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University in Montreal, won an $8,000 production grant to support his project. The 10-minute, black-and-white film will be shot on 35 mm format and taken to release print using low-budget and hand-processing techniques. His goal is for the project to become the basis for a new production course in 35 mm filmmaking.
Attendees at UFVA also viewed screenings from the touring student film festival known as NextFrame, which spotlights animation, experimental, documentary, and narrative work. According to the Temple University-based organizers, the festival offers low entry fees and few restrictions–such as length and format–to encourage the most diverse entries possible. Unlike a traditional festival, the NextFrame award-winning films embark on a yearlong international tour. The chosen films screen in dozens of cities throughout the United States and around the globe, the organizers said.
The goal of the festival is to connect student filmmakers and provide screening opportunities.
Visiting university campuses, museums, and media arts centers, NextFrame offers audiences a glimpse of the next generation of filmmaking. Schools and organizations can book the tour by contacting the organizers. Student work in NextFrame also is eligible for prizes of cash and products based on judging by a jury of noted film makers, video producers, and curators.
Columbia’s Sheridan summed the conference this way: This year’s UFVA provided faculty from leading film and media schools around the nation a chance to share experiences, confront challenges, and brainstorm new and better ways to educate and empower the filmmakers of the future.
University Film & Video Association
Columbia College Chicago Film & Video Facilities
University of South Carolina Media Arts
NextFrame Student Film Festival
American Cinema Editors
Avid Education Solutions
Kodak Student Filmmaker Programs
Discreet Fire from Autodesk
Spirit Datacine from Thomson