On a quiet night when most students were returning from the rays of Cabo San Lucas or the comforts of home, three of this semester’s cinema production units gathered in Norris Theatre to showcase their work and briefly bask in the enormity of their achievements. Diverse in subject, each film was produced in CTPR 310, Intermediate Film Production, a course best known for treating students like a rock tumbler treats a hunk of granite.
“It’s a hell class!” Professor Eugene Lazarev thundered to an audience of student crews, friends and family. “This is a big, very essential step into the filmmaking world. Hell, hell, hell.”
Though the course is four units, it entails more labor and innovation than some students face in their entire college careers. Each class member is assigned a partner at random for the entire semester. Their task: to create a 16mm short film, five minutes in length, with professional actors and crew procedures. One student writes and directs while the other photographs and edits. Midway through the semester, after the film is complete, the partners switch roles and do it all again.
“Probably more than anything else, 310 is a celebration of the art of collaboration,” said Professor David Maquiling before the screenings.
The students seemed to agree, continuously thanking their partners for everything from lighting expertise to therapeutic succor.
“When I was freaking out, calling [Justyn Ah Chong] 10 times a day, he’d say ‘Relax, it’s gonna be alright,’” director Ryan Woods (’11) said of his partner.
The most common hardships of production concerned transportation. Barbara Lago, cinematographer for the Western Father/Son, was faced with getting her heavy camera and lighting equipment to the heights of Griffith Park.
“I basically had to hike two miles uphill with c-stands [rigging equipment], a tripod and more,” Lago said. “Because you can’t bring a car beyond the limits of a state park, we had no other choice.”
Director Jonathan Brebner (’11) traveled as far as the San Gabriel Mountains to capture locations for his film.
Others had to substitute familiar locales for settings, such as Cassie Brooksbank (’11), who was forced to substitute Bovard Auditorium for a pulsing rock venue in Sold Out! When Alexander Gao (’11) admitted to shooting his existential action picture around 23rd Street without a car the audience gasped.
Equally painstaking was the creation of sound, all of which was — in compliance with the terms of the assignment — recorded in the editing labs, from spoken dialogue, to the flutter of cards in Paige Cohen’s lusty poker thriller, Hold Em’. Such sounds are created by a process called Foley design, in which artists devise a way to physically create their desired audio using objects, and record it with a microphone.
While the unsavory aspects of 310 production have a habit of overshadowing matters, some students noted the surprising ease of other procedures, such as securing interesting shooting locations.
“CBS gave us great help,” said Phillips Shum (’10), who went through the company to secure permits for shooting his film. “They set us up with everything, including the metro.”
Across the board in content, the screened films were a testament to the ingenuity and adventurousness of their makers. Brebner’s Unbound featured a young man whose exception from the laws of physics influences his love life in unpredictable ways. Homeland, directed by Apo Welatparez (’11), illustrated painful chapters in the history of Kurdistan through narration, an intense chess match and flashbacks to different invasions. Shum’s Last Stop examined emotional isolation in the big city through the story of a pickpocket, entranced by a beautiful target.
Comedy was also well represented. Woods’ Jack’s Big Move featured an icy barista and her hot chocolate-guzzling, Milton-esque admirer, doomed from the first tube sock shot. Gao’s bittersweet An Internal Affair featured John Woo-inspired action sequences imagined by a video store clerk, discontent with constant demotion and timidity. Finally, junior Edwin Eversole’s A Misteak offered the thoughtful notion that stuffing a raw steak down one’s pants may not be advisable before a date.
In the Norris courtyard, the crowd convened for refreshment and good cheer, before retiring off to respective residences for the necessary wrap parties.
Still, while the filmmakers deserved their champagne interlude, it won’t be long before their cars are once again stuffed with equipment and their backs aching from long days on their feet. Such is the marathon lifestyle of a production student. But most of the students wouldn’t have it any other way.
“No matter how stressful it gets, my homework, ultimately, is to make a movie,” Lago said. “How cool is that?”