Semester in LA students adapt to COVID-19 with production of a feature-length film

Many were disappointed to see the cancellation of the spring semester in LA program. However, seniors in the communications department are evidently excited to be able to work closely with professionals in the film industry.

By Giavanna Troilo

What do 22 film students who were set on spending their semester interning in Los Angeles, California, do when Hollywood shuts down? They make their own movie, of course.

For the past several years, the communications (now film & TV) department has sent over 20 of its seniors to LA to spend an immersive semester interning in the working world. The participating students have previously interned at places like Viacom and NBCUniversal. 

During the fall 2020 semester, it became clear that COVID-19 would prevent the program from running as usual. With the film industry at a halt and LA becoming a virus hotspot, the program had to adapt.

“COVID hits, productions close — Los Angeles essentially closed,” said film professor Barry Janes, who typically spends every spring with the students in LA. “Our big concern [was] what can we do for those students who had prepared so long for an engaged, professional experience in LA?”

The team of faculty in charge, including Janes, Chair of the Department of Film and Television Shawn Kildea and film and TV professor Jay Stern, met with Rider administration to discuss options for the students. They landed on the best option they could think of — a production of a feature-length film. 

“I proposed creating a film project in which students would get to work with experienced filmmakers on a professional-level project,” said Stern, who also is a professional director. “If we could not give them professional experience in LA, we could at least give them experience and training in conceiving, planning, shooting, and posting a professional-level film.”

On Jan. 4, under the direction of Stern, and with the help of industry professionals Joan Grossman, Alan Smith and Lauren Page Russell, the students began pitching concepts to the faculty and each other. The subject matter? The short stories of Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges.

“The stories are evocative and broad enough to be interpreted in many different ways,” said Stern. “They’re also short and mostly involve just a few characters, so we felt they could be achievable given our time and budgetary constraints.”

Now, with scripts at near completion, the crew has broken out into teams to tackle location scouting, casting, production design and scheduling. Production is set to begin in March.

As for the students, while in agreement that the forced semester was a major upset, they collectively express excitement for what’s to come.

“I am really thankful for what the professors have put together for this semester in place of the semester in LA,” said senior film major and assistant director for the film Victoria Francesca. “I believe that we are getting a thorough experience in what it takes to create a high quality and successful film, and we are only a few weeks into the process.”

Keeping the film local also allows for the involvement of students who could not commit to flying out for the semester in LA. 

“It’s pretty much a class-wide project,” said senior film major Austin Charlesworth. “It’s a good collaborative experience to have, as that is how the film world works—everyone coming together to make something great happen.”

The multi-faceted project also allows for students in majors other than film to contribute their knowledge and skills.

“Being a sports media major, I have not really done anything [in] filmmaking since high school, when I was heavily involved in that,” said senior sports media major Marcus Frierson. “This is like going back in time for me.”

As for a post-pandemic future, both Janes and Stern agree they are open to diving into a student-produced film again.

“This has been such a great and valuable experience that we have already started talking about how we can most effectively integrate it into our filmmaking program,” said Janes. “Stay tuned.”

Follow the filmmaking process on Instagram @cranfilmcollective.

Published in the 02/17/21 edition of The Rider News

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button