With about 500 attendees from more than three dozen different universities and organizations, UFVA is a fantastic opportunity for collaboration. And I’m pleased to say, our faculty had some of the most interesting presentations in the program!
I got a chance to attend presentations from half a dozen faculty members from Dodge College, and their fascinating research and lectures showed off just how influential and busy our professors are in the larger fields they teach in.
Professor Gulino and his colleague gave an interesting talk exploring the connection between psychology and storytelling. As screenwriters, they have had a first hand view of the commonly repeated stories, told across cultures and eras. This is a trend written about by authors and researchers for decades: that the same basic patterns exist in the way we humans tell stories since the beginning of civilization. Given that most of the stories humans tell follow the same basic archetypes, mainly the mythic hero put into impossible circumstances and overcoming insurmountable odds, is there any biological evidence to suggest that we’re hard-wired to see the world in the same way? The short answer, is yes.
Professors Scott Arundale and Dan Leonard gave a very detailed presentation on the production techniques used at Dodge when on the soundstages. Specifically, they demonstrated the software we used which allows students to review the footage they have captured on-set, well before it goes into the production process normally called ‘dailies.’ Given that we use mostly all-digital production pipelines now, we have the ability to preview images the cinematographers capture well in advance of the normal film0-based pipelines, which means the production team can catch mistakes and make corrections in almost real time. This allows the teams to be much more nimble, making changes to the camera and color correction on the fly, and results in a much better quality product, and significantly, far less overhead in money and time.
Jeff Swimmer and Sally Rubin gave a talk on the documentary program at Dodge College, explaining how it was started, what students do in the various programs, and the challenges students face in the production of documentaries both locally and globally. Both gave some incredible advice for other professors trying to start similar programs at their own schools, including the securing of funds from charitable donations, which comprise the basis for all of Dodge College’s specific programs. Prof. Swimmer described the international focus, most notably Destination: Africa, a documentary class which embeds small groups of students in foreign countries throughout Africa on a rotating basis each year. Similarly, Sally Rubin described the Community Voices program, which encourages students to network with local non-profit organizations in Orange County, to produce short documentary films. Both programs seek to give the filmmaker students the skills to face real-0world challenges they will face as filmmakers, for example overcoming the desire of their subject organizations to give them limited and biased access to their personnel and clients, the dynamics of team management of finances and equipment, and how to think on their feet when encountering obstacles – as often occurs when placed within unfamiliar cultures.
Professor Emily Carman explored the dynamics of teaching Film Studies to film production students, and gave advice to her colleagues who may be trying to start similar programs in their own universities. Since all the film majors at Dodge must take the same introductory classes to make sure they all speak the same vocabulary, the student population often have divergent goals within the same class, which can be distracting to the students and the classroom. Professor Carman has developed a technique she describes as ‘pairing’, in which the concepts she aims to teach are demonstrated in both classical and modern films. For example, to teach the use of montage (or editing complex sequences of shots together to tell a story visually), she teaches sequences from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin – one of the classical cannon of films – alongside similarly connected sequences from Aronofsky’s Black Swan – a modern classic in it’s own right. To teach the development of the long shot and complex depth of field, she pairs The Third Man with Children of Men. It’s an ingenious technique that embraces the students’ interest in recent works, as a means to grab their attention, while celebrating the roots of cinema, and asking students to draw connections between the two, which will then go on to inform their own works.
All in all, even though I couldn’t attend every single presentation by Chapman Professors at UFVA, I was astounded at the depth of their creativity and resourcefulness. It made me want to enroll in their classes, myself!