Lights, camera, action - Take two

Advance cinema students are given time to complete their senior projects.

By Gene Wickham, Staff Writer

Illustration by Gene Wickham

When Valley College courses were ordered to move online in April to complete the remainder of the semester through distance learning, a few made it onto a short list of exempted courses including the advanced cinema production class.

The Advanced Cinema 125 class — Film Production Workshop — is part of a few select classes which were not mandated to finish on Zoom when California ordered the closing of businesses and schools in mid-March due to the pandemic .

Media Arts Chair Eric Swelstad quickly surveyed the department. “We talked with the students, we talked with the faculty and we thought, would it be in the best interest of the student experience to give the students a few extra months to finish their films and the consensus was yes,” he said. “So we're giving them a little extra time to try to make these films as good and complete as they deserve.”

Swelstad discussed the situation with Valley President Barry Gribbons to explain the nature of the production class and its requirements. He explained the advanced students needed additional months to complete the shooting and editing of their film projects, something Zoom couldn’t facilitate. Like most advanced classes, the final semester has more to do with using what you have learned rather than a textbook lecture approach. Because of the close crew interactions, working during the pandemic would be impossible.

“We realized with COVID, with the shutdown, you can't do that. You can't work with people. You’re not supposed to be interacting with people,” Swelstad said. “What we decided to do is delay the class’ completion, hoping that we could reopen, not the college per say, but hoping the government will [eventually] be more flexible with the distancing so people can work.”

Between the beginning and advanced courses, the department has about 100 students in the production classes. Swelstad has about 40 students in his 101 class. Their projects are usually about 90 seconds in length and are rudimentary to begin with. He mentions that Zoom has worked out well for his beginning cinema classes and they have responded positively to the online changes.

By the time students reach the advanced production class, they are required to produce a five-minute thesis film with a more professionally scripted project using experienced actors, music and lighting.

Swelstad described the overall philosophy of the department. “We try to give them the experience that they would have professionally. In a professional film, you don't do everything yourself. You have a crew. You have a lot of people you work with and work for.”

The Advanced Cinema production class currently has about ten students with projects in various stages of completion. All the students finance their own projects and are required to work as crew on each other’s films.

After completing their classes, many seek employment in the entertainment industry while others continue their cinema studies at USC, UCLA or Cal State Northridge — a school which has been rated highly by the Hollywood Reporter.

The department’s semester screenings have also been put on hold due to the pandemic. The screenings, which typically showcase the completed films from the previous semester, are usually shown in Campus Center’s Monarch Hall or the Music Recital Hall. Films from fall 2019, scheduled to screen in May, have been delayed until a fall rescheduling or a possible online presentation.