Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Film/video Preproduction

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Film/video Preproduction

Article excerpt

Students who aspire to a career in production and who attend a regional undergraduate institution such as the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh face a number of educational disadvantages: 1) their school carries little clout on a resume, 2) they have to contend with limited production facilities and equipment, and 3) they have few industry contacts to mine upon graduation. These liabilities are compounded by the students' lack of financial resources, which is in part why they attended a local public college in the first place-as opposed to, say, Northwestern University.

There is one great equalizer, however: if a student can emerge from college with a vital, urgent, imaginative film (which, ideally, has garnered recognition at a national festival), doors will open. The student can use the film to gain entrance into a top California or New York graduate program-where industry contacts are readily available-or the student can parlay his/her sample reel into a challenging industry job.

Unfortunately, the curriculum at UWOshkosh failed until recently to provide students with such an "equalizer" opportunity. Within the film component of the Radio-TVFilm major, for instance, there were only two production courses. The first one surveyed the techniques used to visualize thought and emotion (such as framing, movement, and angle) while students practiced continuity filming and editing with Bolex cameras. The second course taught the procedures of sync sound production. While learning how to master sync sound equipment in this course, students attempted to produce a sample reel piece.

With the bulk of this latter course devoted to equipment operation, it is not surprising that most of the films produced were haphazard. Many were spoofs of Hollywood films or television programs, many were straight attempts to mimic Hollywood fare, and too many unconsciously sustained the white patriarchy propagated by industry entertainment. Very few projects offered a conscious point of view.

The first attempt to redress this problem was to create a one credit Fall Semester workshop in which students could spend all 14 weeks producing an advanced project. Students pitched their ideas to their classmates, projects were moved into production on the basis of balloting, and the first month of the semester was dedicated to developing, writing, and visualizing each script with close faculty supervision.

The subsequent films produced through this course often featured strong scriptwriting, imaginative direction, and ambitious cinematography. But many problems remained. We discovered that the projects selected for production were not necessarily the best conceived but, instead, the best pitched. For two years in a row, a student with a broadcast sales emphasis gathered the most votes for his proposals. Another student, who had written a thoughtful, imaginative script, failed to collect a single vote after making an ineffectual presentation. (The script was eventually produced through an extracurricular student organization and the completed film won the Grand Prize at the National Broadcasting Society annual competition; it also gained the student entry into the Florida State University graduate program.) There were also problems pertaining to script development: if a script went through multiple drafts, production was often delayed until well into November. In the ultimate Midwest horror story, one script which centered upon an outdoor family reunion was shot on successive weekends in November. By the second weekend, Oshkosh was buried in snow. The final film utilized shot/countershot combinations in which blue sky and grass framed one character while swirling snow surrounded the other.

Worst of all, many of the best scripts became maimed through inattention to what might be called the production variables-in other words, all production elements nor tied to cinematography (such as performance, wardrobe, art direction, locations, sound design, and graphics). …

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