How cool is it to speak with directors and ask them questions about their films? Very, right? And how about if these directors came to screenings at your school?! This happens nearly every other Friday at COM’s Department of Film and Television’s Cinematheque series.
Cinematheque gives students the chance to hear from people in the television and film industries; directors, products, writers, or even actors. The events vary in topic and type, some including screenings and others including more of a Q&A format. With about five held each semester, students have ample opportunity to gain insight into what really goes into creating these projects.
“We try to make it a more interesting experience than just passively watching,” says Paul Schneider, chairman of the Department of Film and Television. Schneider explains that they typically have one of the creators of the project over so that students can get an inside look at how the material was created. That way, students can ask them questions about certain decisions the creators made and why.
The series is curated by Gerald Peary, a film critic and documentarian who goes to a tremendous number of film festivals throughout the year. Topics come from either films that Peary has seen and thought were worth bringing back to BU, or sometimes successful alumni who are willing to come back and share their stories.
The most recent event, “An Evening with Eliza Dushku,” took a look at some of the actress’ roles. Dushku is most well known for her role as Missy Pantone in Bring It On. However, her acting career includes an extensive list of films and television shows, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dollhouse,” in addition to guest roles on “White Collar” and “Ugly Betty.”
“We don’t have that many actors come in,” adds Schneider, explaining that it is interesting to hear from actors to learn more about their career paths and points of view. “That’s part of the fun of it.”
The goal of the Cinematheque series is to give students a “connection with what’s going on in the real world,” according to Schneider. That is why they often bring in fairly young, independent filmmakers who haven’t been out of school for very long themselves. An example of this includes three BU alumni who, earlier this semester, showed select episodes from their popular Web series, “Allston Xmas.” (For a full schedule, visit this page.)
Whether it’s a documentarian following a kidnapping or the production designer from “Life of Pi,” students are sure to hear from some interesting and successful professionals who are working in the industry as they speak. “It’s an educational experience that goes beyond simply watching the show,” Schneider says.
We hear a lot at COM about the shifting media landscape. Every day, new technological advances are making it possible for us to produce and consume media in ways we never have before. Keeping up with technology is essential, but no matter what industry you're in, one thing is clear: telling a compelling story is at the core of everything we do. COM's newly re-launched MFA in Cinema and Media Production, spawned out of this philosophy, provides an advanced degree for students interested in taking film beyond its fundamentals and honing their storytelling skills.
"What we have come to realize is students now are much more technically sophisticated," says Jan Egleson, Associate Professor of the Practice in Film & Television. "In the old days, film school's function was to teach people arcane technology. Students today are much more adept at using equipment but they still have the difficulty of telling stories. That's where we've been pushing the program." Though the new MFA does also involve technical skills, they mainly function as support tools for the film's overall objective. "The focus is storytelling and the skills of fiction film-making," Egleson says. "You're working with actors, breaking down scenes, and structuring a story to convey it visually."
Prospective candidates for the program, which launches in Fall 2015, are required to come in with a baseline of both technical and storytelling skills. Whether they've learned it on their own or through an undergraduate film program, they must demonstrate they've already mastered the basics to apply to the films they'll work on during the course of their MFA. When accepted, students already know their designated film making role, whether it be director, producer, or cinematographer. This fall, three producers, three cinematographers, and six directors will join the crew. Before first semester, students are asked to pitch three film ideas, which are continually honed and vetted until arriving on one film concept that will be the focus for the duration of the program.
As the film landscape continuously changes, so do the types of films students will work on. "We're platform agnostic," Egleson says. "If you come in and say I want to make a web series - ten, 10-minute webisodes - you can do that. If you want to make a 30 minute film, that works. As long as you can convince us of the clarity of your vision we don't care what the platform is. That's the shift." If you're dead set on working towards a full length film, you might work on a section of it or a shorter version, says Egleson, which is how many full length features get their start.
The new Cinema and Media Production MFA will continue its adaptive response to the new world after the switchover from conventional film to digital media. "Once that happens, it becomes very apparent to everybody that the focus needs to shift to the ideas behind this stuff. It's very liberating," Egleson says. "It means we can now be a laboratory for visual storytelling."
Are you excited about the new face of the MFA in Cinema Media Production or have you thought about applying? Do you think it will support the changing film making landscape? Learn more here.
The Redstones Film Festival is held each spring semester by the Film and Television Department at COM. The festival showcases works submitted by both graduate and undergraduate students. Films are awarded based on several categories: best film, best cinematography, best screenplay, best editing, best sound design, Fleder/Rosenberg best short screenplay; the festival is basically like the Oscars of Boston University.
This year’s 1st place winner and the winner of Best Screenplay, was Bryan Sih (COM’14.) His film Winter/Spring, was about a Spanish-speaking couple working on a farm.
What inspired you for this film?
Lots of things. I started thinking of parenthood after reading Sherwood Anderson’s The Untold Lie. I began questioning the bringing of a child into the world when adults are just as confused as a child. Immigrants always inspire me with their bravery and often-tragic necessity to seek an alien world, and so I included that in the film. Then there are the actors themselves, since the film relies on improvisation, they are responsible for a lot. Unfortunately, I wrote the whole script for the spring. When we scouted the farm, it was covered in three feet of snow that refused to melt so I rewrote the film on the spot.
How long and what type of preparation did this film take?
I started preparing the script in December and we were still writing into April. I like to lock myself into a room, get a large piece of paper and write the scenes in blurbs all over the page. It usually lasts a few days and I am constantly rewriting it. I am a terrible writer, so the real preparation begins with the actors. I also have the actors work beforehand. For Winter/Spring, they drove up to the farm together without the crew and when they arrived on set, had formed their own private language. It made them come across as a self-enclosed unit.
First place winner Bryan Sih (COM’14) flanked by his actors, Herlin Navarro and David Quiroz
What is the message that you wanted to portray in this film?
It was more a question: what does it mean to be ready for parenthood? It is a film about being on the cusp of great life change and not fully being ready, but learning how to work through this struggle together, with tenderness, forgiveness and communication.
You don’t speak Spanish, but your film is in Spanish with English subtitles, why is that?
I grew up in a diverse town with many immigrant families, they’re part of my world. The couple in this film is isolated somewhere in North America, and they’ve retained their spoken language. The film focuses primarily on their relationship actually, not ethnicity. Also, directing in a language you don’t speak makes observing the things that matter all the more vivid.
What does the future entail for you now that you’ve won the Redstone?
The Redstones gave me a camera to shoot more films with, so I hope to be more productive. I’ve learned so much from my experience with Winter/Spring and can’t wait to dive into the next project.
One of the greatest components to Boston University College of Communication’s Journalism graduate program is the professional project. When I say “greatest,” I don’t mean easy, fun or relaxing. As with anything great comes hard work, and that is exactly what the professional project showcases. After three semesters worth of classes, sleepless nights, and every ounce of blood, sweat and tears you have finally reached the end. You are now a mere shadow of what you were when you first entered grad school, and your professional project is your opportunity to show everyone else that transformation.
What is a professional project? I will explain. All candidates for the MS in Journalism must submit a professional project in their final semester. Each student arranges for a faculty member to be their adviser for the project. Upon completion, students are expected to endeavor to sell or place their work with a professional news organization.
Third semester Broadcast Journalism student Ashley Davis set out to accomplish one of the most daunting tasks and most impressive professional project to date— The Midterms 2014, a live coverage production of this year's midterm elections. I shall elaborate.
Monday, November 5 at 6 p.m., the night before Election Day, a dress rehearsal took place. About 60 BU students (both grad and undergrad) were involved, including an impressive number of BU COM faculty and staff. Everyone had a job to do. Some were helping in the studios, a handful of students (selected by Ashley after auditioning) were anchors at the National Desk and others were scattered throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and even D.C. to act as call-in reporters for the live production.
Ashley went over every aspect of the entire coverage the night before and explained exactly what needed to be done. After she sent the troops on their way, she remained at COM to get ready for Tuesday, November 4. This was her professional project, and since everything was going live, there wasn’t any room for mistakes, as per usual.
Tuesday, November 4 came quickly. Some people were asked to report to the studios several hours before going live at 9 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., the anchors prepared their cut-ins—pre-made news packages (stories). These packages would air in-between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m., mixed in with some live shots, on-cam anchoring and reporters calling in from different headquarters around Massachusetts.
I spent my time on COM’s third floor in Room 321, where I worked with others to help Professor Susan Walker push out live content and numbers for the anchors to live report as votes came pouring in from states across the nation.
Here is a breakdown of The Midterms 2014's amazing team and their various roles:
On campus at COM, in Studio East/West:
First Block: Anchors Supriya Muppala and Peter Zampa
Second Block: Anchors Taylor Walker and Justin Shrair
Third Block: Anchors Mikaela Lefrak and Jamie Bologna
During this block, Kate Kahn — BU professor and former Senior News Producer for WHDH-TV (NBC-Boston)— served as the live shot producer, coordinating all the live reporters. Andre Khatchaturian and Louise Liu— both Broadcast Journalism students at COM— were anchors at the National Desk. Lauren Westberg— Broadcast Journalism grad student— was a live reporter and interviewed Professor Groshek, Professor Carroll and Tom Fiedler—the Dean of COM.
Candidate Headquarters: Students were placed at all of the following locations in order to quickly report polling results back to BU’s College of Communication.
Steve Sisto— MA 6th Congressional District, Seth Moulton Headquarters
Paul Dudley—MA Governor Charlie Baker Headquarters
Ashley Paul— MA Governor Martha Coakley Headquarters
Christina Erne—The Casino
Hayley Crombleholme—MA Senate Edward Markey Headquarters
Noelia Valero—Washington D.C.
Rachel Mccubbin—NH Senate Scott Brown Headquarters
Nikita Sampath and Rebecca Sananes—NH Senate Jeanne Shaheen Headquarters
Keri McAlpine and Kathlene Gibbs—MA 6th Congressional District, Richard Tisei Headquarters
COM Professors Involved: The following faculty and staff members stayed hours and hours after they should have gone home. Instead, they helped make sure this live-production was nothing less than exceptional. Just one more example of COM's professors doing all they can to make their students succeed.
R.D. Sahl- Broadcast Journalism Professor
Susan Walker- Broadcast Journalism Professor
Christophor Cavalieri- Film & Television Professor
Jacob Groshek- Emerging Media Studies Professor
John Carroll- Mass Communication Professor
Kate Kahn- COM Professor
Technical Operations Team: Quite possibly the most important part of this production, these students and staff members worked hard to make sure everything in the studio was functioning and the coverage aired without flaw.
The Midterms 2014 was an immense success. Ashley Davis could not have done a better job handling such a high-stress situation, nor could she have selected a better team. Ashley never lost her composure, always made time to answer questions and kept very calm throughout the entire evening. She had so much responsibility lying squarely on her shoulders, but yielded excellent results.
Watching Ashley’s professional project come to life makes us first semester grad students realize that this time next year, a similar task is awaiting us. Although it was a little intimidating, I now feel inspired to find a professional project in which I can showcase all I have learned throughout grad school. No other institution would provide the resources, the studios and opportunities to create something so impressive and professional. Now, not only does Ashley have a remarkable production to add to her resume, but she also made history happen, right there on the third floor of COM.
Ashley Davis’ final professional project is currently being edited. Check back here to view the final publication and follow her on Twitter @ashley_m_davis to see what else she is up to.
On Wednesday, December 10 from 5-7 p.m. in Room 209, the College of Communication's Department of Journalism is hosting the Journalism Graduate Showcase. The event will feature journalism graduate students presenting excerpts of their professional projects. Seniors, graduate students and faculty members are all invited. Adult beverages will be served, so please bring your ID.
Interested in one of BU College of Communication's graduate programs? Tell us which one and why in the comments section below. You can find out more information on our website, so be sure to check it out here.
On various Fridays throughout the semester, BU's Film and Television department at the College of Communication hosts free premier screenings of innovative film and television programs. This screening series is part of the department's Cinemathèque: meetings and conversations with filmmakers/television-makers. The series' curator is Gerald Peary, a cinema professor at Suffolk University and a long-time film critic for the Boston Phoenix. He chooses his BU programs based on his extensive contacts in the professional film world and from his travels to film festivals around the globe.
For each featured production, a special guest (the producer, filmmaker, etc.) is invited to COM for the screening. During the screening, film students quickly escort the filmmaker to a brief interview shoot. Afterwards, a Q&A is held to provide more information to the audience regarding the production process.
However, it wasn't until after this year's first screening that the After this year’s first screening, the Cinemathèque team decided they wanted to shoot interviews with the featured guests. Clearly, figuring out the production technicalities for these interviews would not be an issue, but what they did need was someone who could ask the right questions.
Without much thought, fingers pointed in the direction of third semester Broadcast Journalism graduate student, Alistair Birrell. “I thought it would be a good way to hone my interviewing skills,” he said.
With only a fifteen minute window, Birrell must make sure he steers the interview in the correct way. “Where are you from?” Ross asked Birrell during the interview. “I’m from Scotland, but we can talk about me later,” Birrell quickly responded.
After each interview, students on the production team edit the video down to around three or four minutes. All interviews are featured on the Cinemathèquepage, so be sure to check out Alistair's full interview with Ross.
Overall, this program is an excellent example of COM's Film and Television department preparing its students with hands-on, practical experience for the ever so competitive entertainment industry. These are lessons no textbook can teach, yet something every student should experience.
Take a look at the 2014 Cinemathèque schedule here to see what will be screening over the next few weeks. Although these screenings are designed to primarily benefit Film and TV students, they are free for all BU students and professors as well as the general public.