SCENE 1: MEDIA LAB – MAY 2018 – EVENING
Night cloaks the campus in deep blue, all sound drifts away, darkness slumps over the railings, and spills across the tiled floor. In the slumbering school hallways, a single classroom door is awake. Golden light radiates from the window. Faint noise can be heard from outside. H215, THE MEDIA LAB, reads the classroom sign.
The outside world is still and silent, inside is a completely different scene: it is a whirlwind of bulky equipment, scattered tables and chairs, and students filling every corner of the room. A clock looms above their heads – 9 pm, 10 pm, 11 pm – as the night gets later and later, the room grows more alive. When conversations erupt, they involve everyone at once; laughter and discussion consume the room; even the lone authority figure, Mr. Shackelford, sports swimsuit trunks, yells in an Essex accent, and is fondly referred to as ‘Shack’.
Filmmakers, all of them, working to meet a deadline. Filmmakers uploading high-quality film, editing with precision, replaying scenes over and over with scrutiny. Filmmakers brightness grading, mastering sound, and correcting shot composition. Filmmakers, on their brightly lit screens, creating worlds of light, noise, and drama from mere digital files.
This is the paradoxical reality of filmmaking at SAS: it is free, easygoing, uplifting, yet strict, serious, and operative. In this piece, we’ll explore the atmosphere of the film classes at SAS – and why we should be excited about its future.
“I’ve always been passionate about film”, remarks senior Jensen Tan, fresh from the Advanced Film class and his SASinema Festival debut. “My dream is to pursue it at a film school, such as NYU Tisch. This class helped me understand the realities of being a filmmaker; it’s not easy.”
The difficulties of film are true for every film student. Time, effort, and dedication are required to fill every role on set. “When I was directing my short film, Proxy, I was spending more hours working than I ever had on an AP class.”
“Personally, film is challenging because it has more meaning than homework or tests. When you’re creating something, you want it to be good – at any cost” says sophomore Timmy Kang, Director of Photography of Sleepover Screams. “You try your best to perfect every shot or edit a scene flawlessly. In this class, I could spend hours and hours on a project without feeling like its ‘work'”.
Students from the Advanced Film and Film classes ubiquitously agreed that the production process is time-consuming and laborious. At the same time, the common perspective is that if it is to create something memorable, enjoyable, and shareable, it is worth it. While it is demanding, professional, and formulaic, it is still an art where creativity and expression take center stage.
The equipment used in both the introductory and advanced film classes is impressive, to say the least.
‘Lights, camera, action!’ is more than just a phrase for these film students: film shoots consist of crews with specialized roles, such as Cinematographer, Director, and Boom Operator. Each scene is illuminated by permutations of large lights, diffusers, and reflectors.
Students are able to capture up to 4K footage on the Black Magic Ursa Mini, a highly professional cinema-styled camera that is currently used in the most advanced film offerings at SAS. Students manipulate depth of field with a range of prime lenses, familiarising themselves with each lens and its purpose. Introductory students will be the first to use the new Sony mirrorless cameras this semester. High-end accessories available to students this year include a dolly and track, a jib arm, stabilizers, and several new software tools to enhance the production process.
Behind the scenes in the Media Lab is very much as it was described earlier. It is chaotic, yet organized; spontaneous yet intricately planned; serious yet silly. For many, this class becomes a community for like-minded filmmakers to collaborate or simply coexist. While under the careful guidance and instruction of Shack, students are free to take artistic risks or spend extra time after-hours when needed.
On set, however, it is more student-run. Often it is only students who are setting up, directing, and acting in the films. Students work from the beginning to the very end of the production process to grow their knowledge of each and every stage.
Overall, these filmmaking classes transcend every expectation for an elective course. As much as written assignments and tests are the norms, they do not push forward development in critical thinking skills, adaptability, and creativity as much as working on a film project. The collaborative, communicative nature of this class cultivates students who are open-minded, optimistic, and ambitious.
When they see their final films being displayed on the screen, the only ‘movie magic’ is realizing that an idea they had formed can translate into a piece of entertainment, of art, worth sharing with others.
Due to the acclaimed success of the first annual SASinema Film Festival at the end of the school year, in which over 20 films were screened, we have every reason to believe that filmmaking will continue to grow and become a powerhouse staple of our already cutting-edge arts program at SAS. With an influx of new directors, producers, and cinematographers joining the course this year, we can only wait in earnest anticipation for the next blockbuster short films to be released.