Students Aspire to Shoot Film

Published on website: September 14, 2010
Categories: Education , Johanna Gravelle , The StoryBoard Blog

While attending the 2010 UFVA (University Film and Video Association) Conference, I noticed that the love of film amongst the association members was more apparent than ever.  Even the latest and greatest digital capture offerings cannot diminish the emotional connection that people have with film.  In fact, I dare say, that many people are becoming fonder of the organic quality of film even as digital technologies continue to gain popular acceptance.  Even in this 'digital age,' film remains the gold standard of the motion picture industry and no one argues this fact.

While shrinking budgets and the comparatively low cost of digital cameras have resulted in some schools shifting away from a film curriculum, many schools have found creative, affordable ways to ensure that their students continue to have a hands-on film experience.  They know that learning on film teaches the discipline required to be a successful filmmaker.  It provides the necessary building blocks of a filmmaking education that no other medium currently offers.  Here are examples of how some professors continue to ensure that their students aspire to shoot film:

Super 8 in the classroom

Without question, this is the most affordable film option available.  Low cost cameras and film stock make this a good fit in school programs that have small budgets.  The unique film look that Super 8 delivers, makes it very popular with students.  The ease of use allows students to experiment with film in a low risk situation. 

Dr. Patti McCarthy from the University of the Pacific in Central California uses Super 8 to teach her students the basics of screenwriting, storyboarding, exposure and composition.  She believes that it is important for her students to learn to tell stories on film and Super 8 is a good fit.   Dr. McCarthy has a long history with this format as she worked with it while she was a student at USC.  Looking through the lens of a Super 8 camera allows one to see the world in a different way, a way that she wants her students to experience.  

The students start shooting in black and white, with no dialogue or synch sound.  They have only one roll, approximately 2 1/2 minutes of film to work with.  There is little room for mistakes when shooting in this style and this forces the students to approach the shoot in a very organized way.  When asked why she teaches on Super 8 rather than another capture medium, she explains "I do it for three specific reasons.  It's an affordable way to instill a sense of discipline in our students while they are honing their experience in the craft of filmmaking.  Working on film also most closely approximates best industry practices.  The third reason is that film offers more aesthetic options." 

Dr. Jonathan Fung also uses Super 8 in his classroom in an otherwise all digital film program at Santa Clara University.  He believes that shooting on film makes his students better filmmakers. The Super 8 projects that he assigns to his students are challenging and push the students to be creative.  The students must be disciplined during their shoot to ensure that they capture the story that they want to tell - Super 8 rolls are 3 minutes in length therefore the students must be well prepared as they cannot just let the camera roll as they do with digital cameras.  Because it was not an easy task to get the approval for a film course, Dr. Fung had to make some initial personal investments in the equipment before the school recognized the success of the course.  The school has now purchased several cameras and have built up their Super 8 infrastructure.  From the sounds of things, the Super 8 class is very popular.

35mm in the classroom

To many schools and students, 35mm seems like a format that is only used on high budget films in Hollywood.  But that is not the case in several film schools around the world.  Low cost options are available in this gold standard format. Terry Byrne, from The College of New Jersey has been teaching with 35mm cameras for years.  He uses low cost Russian Kinor Cameras which give his students an opportunity to shoot in the same way that the pros do.  During a very late, long and cold location shoot, one student asked Terry if this production was similar to how it was done in the "real world"?  When Terry answered yes, she exclaimed "Good, I like it!"

Roy Cross, Associate Professor and head of Film Production at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Montreal, teaches on 16mm and 35mm. In the Summer 2010 edition of Concordia University Magazine he states, "We take the cell phones and the video cameras out of their hands and give them a Swiss-made, 16mm camera with a light meter and say 'OK, we're going to make movies. 'It's really the beginning of their foundation and they build up from there." The founder of the school, Mel Hoppenheim, fully supports this approach, as also stated in the Summer 2010 edition of Concordia University Magazine.  "You have to start learning film the way filmmaking began.  Using a video camera is much simpler and the results are quicker to see.  When you get behind a film camera, you're not sure what you're going to get so you've got to be that much better."  After getting comfortable with 16mm, the student then progress to 35mm.  While some students might view film as an old style capture medium, once they experience it, they quickly fall in love and many are reluctant to go back to digital.

Student filmmakers invest a lot of time and money into their film education and they expect that they will be well prepared for the real world.  They also realize that students who learn on film have the upper hand over those that don't.  Kodak is committed to support and ensure that students continue to aspire to shoot film.  Check out the many online tools that Kodak has to help make it easier - www.kodak.com/go/education

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