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Student filmmakers see their own movies on the big screen

By Katherine Hedland Hansen '88

A lot of college students dream of being filmmakers. A group of would-be directors, actors and screenwriters got the chance to debut their work on the big screen last spring.

Kirk Isakson’s Advanced Video Production class started with original scripts and ended with a showing of three short films developed by students at the Blue Mouse Theater in Tacoma.

“To put it in a real movie house, and on the full screen was pretty impressive,” Isakson said.

The students were thrilled with the opportunity.

“We were really given a lot of freedom,” said Jaro Savol ’06, who served as director of photography on one short and editor on another. “It was fun to do something that was completely our own.”

The course started with 14 students.

Watch the student film on-line. (Windows Media Player required)

“I was pretty blunt and up front with them,” Isakson said. “I told them it will require sacrifice. It will require you to give up a social life. It will require dedication and commitment.”

Four students dropped out.

But the remaining 10 had the passion to complete their original movies and put in grueling hours in the process – from holding auditions to scouting locations to editing film.

“I don’t know if I would say it was fun all the time because we worked really hard, but it was worthwhile,” said Megan Coughlin ’06, also an editor.

All students came to class with an original script, then three were chosen by the group to be made.

They learned filmmaking takes more than just a camera and a great idea. They had to deal with the logistics of people’s schedules, bad weather and finding ways to get the shot they needed in a public place while random people walked into scenes.

Many took on roles they never held before. Savol was an editor on Matt McVay’s “We Interrupt This Program.” They said they benefited from the collaboration.

“As an editor, you work for the director. You want to get the pictures that are his vision,” said Savol, whose dream job would be to make documentaries about nature, science and education.

McVay said having an editor eyes made his film better.

“Jaro came up with a lot of good ideas I wouldn’t have thought of,” McVay said.

Coughlin enjoyed working as an editor and coordinating with the director.

“I like to be behind the camera,” said Coughlin, who hopes to make documentaries for a nonprofit organization and spent the summer working with AIDS orphans in Africa.

McVay is involved in University Theatre, so he acted in one film and directed his own. His 21-minute film details a student, Josh, struggling to balance work, relationships and school. When things begin to unravel, he gets a message from an odd figure in his television set. Josh begins to question his sanity until the figure’s messages becomes frighteningly accurate.

“I wanted to do a short before the class,” McVay said. “I actually got my idea from watching cartoons and saw one with an evil TV talking to people. The story took a different approach once I started writing it.”

He says the course reinforced his passion for filmmaking.

“This is what I want to do,” said McVay ’06. “It was really good experience to have free reign.”

The other films produced by the class are “George & Darryl” by Britt Neufer ’06 and “Limbo” by Tony Downs ’06. Others who worked on films were Kyle Duba ’06, Adam Fallert ’05, Dan Hould ’06, Caitlyn Stoskopf ’08, and Ann Sweeney ’05.

In Neufer’s film, two buddies sit at a bus stop and people watch. The main character stereotypes the people he encounters there, saying they are lazy, unhappy and unwilling to make their lives better. His friend tries to tell him he’s a cynic.

“Limbo” is about people in the early 20s stuck in “the rut of life.” Over a game of poker, characters are introduced in voiceover as what they want to be – a writer or a musician – and what they actually are doing – working retail and telemarketing. The main character narrates about the last night he sees these friends and in a tragic turn, some are forced to re-evalute their lives.

The stories are dark, including some harsh language and addressing difficult subjects. The students say they told stories their generation can relate to. Isakson said the topics aren’t surprising given how students are at a point in their lives when they question what they want to do and what their futures hold.

Isakson used the Blue Mouse screening as an opportunity for community outreach. Jennifer Eddy ’06, a student volunteer who was not in the class, invited students from area high schools to the screening, at which the PLU group answered questions about the filmmaking process. More than 100 people attended the screening in May. A couple weeks later, one of the younger students called Isakson, who invited him to come to campus to tour the video facilities.

“There’s a whole new world of wanna-be filmmakers on the campus,” Isakson said.

McVay and others have made other films on their own, and a group of recent grads are making movies with Dead Gentlemen Productions, which started when they were students at PLU.

“PLU for a small school actually has the technology that a lot of larger schools don’t,” Isakson said. “As long as we have students with imaginations and as long as we have students who want to share that imagination, filmmaking will never die.”



© Scene 2005  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Fall 2005

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