University’s hardest cinema course parallels real-life production experience
by Andrew W. Henderson
The two rooms are next door to each other, but they come from different worlds.
The first, a girl’s bedroom. Floral print dresses and neon tops hang in the closet opposite the purple-sheeted bed. Candles and books are organized neatly on a small but elegant wooden desk. Personal photographs hang on the wall next to the small window.
The second, not even a ten-second walk away, a raving nightclub. Lit only by black lights and frenetically spinning lasers, a neon-painted skull scowls down at the room. Next to the skull, brightly painted hand prints cover the wall, glowing in the eerie blue light. A young woman with a glowing yellow necklace preens and poses in front of an imaginary lover.
In fact, neither room is actually what it appears to be. In reality, they are part of a vacant house in the North Side of Pittsburgh, which is currently being used as a set location for “Ash,” one of Point Park’s Production 3 (P3) films this semester.
According to Point Park’s website, P3 is one of the most difficult and challenging classes in the cinema program. During the course of the semester, students write, produce and shoot original short films, which will be shown in a screening event in December.
Most of the students involved are juniors, but some are from other classes. Students take on the roles of producer, director, screenwriter and more across the crews of several films. A total of six films will be produced and presented this semester. Each film receives a budget of $2,000, which is overseen by the producer.
Back in September at one of the first of their weekly meetings, all of the films’ producers sat spread around a small classroom looking fervently into phones and laptops. A few good-naturedly bickered about file formats and methods of editing.
These student producers take their films very seriously because it was not an easy process to get into the room in which they now sit.
Last spring, potential producers had to apply to cinema faculty for their desired job, just as they would in real life. The jobs were assigned based on the candidates’ resumes and reels, as well as work from past semesters.
Cinema students submitted scripts into a competition, the winners of which were presented to the chosen producers. The producers then competed with each other to be able to work with their favorite script. Much of this process occurred last spring, allowing the filmmakers to meet over the summer to perfect their scripts and make their plans.
The fruits of this process are easy to see. When the producers talk about the films that they are working on, passion and pride are evident with every word.
Frank Segat, a junior cinema productions major from Milan, Italy and producer of “Ash,” said that it was the emotional elements of that particular story that drew him to that script.
“I said to the other producers, ‘That’s my script,’” Segat said. “‘If you want to fight me for it, go ahead.’”
Fortunately for Segat, he got the script he wanted. In fact, each of the producers were able to move forward with their first choice of script.
After the scripts were chosen and the casting process began, the producers, who had been in competition with each other up until this point, became a team, supporting and encouraging each other at every turn. They worked tirelessly to audition casts and lock down locations.
Once the actual filming begins, the producers will conduct business just like they would in a professional setting, making sure the shoots run correctly, efficiently and in accordance with union laws.
“Our goal, as professors, is that when they set foot on a real film set, they are ready for the organized chaos they are about to witness,” assistant professor Laura Boyd, said.
Because of this, P3 is designed to replicate real-world film procedures, and will hopefully result in real-world quality films.
Working as a producer for a P3 film is no easy task, but for some of these students, it is the kind of opportunity for which they have been waiting for quite some time.
Matt VanWormer, a junior cinema major from Pittsburgh, started his road to becoming producer of the P3 film “A Little Respect,” but it was far from direct. After a brief flirtation with the idea of a career in the culinary arts, VanWormer found himself adrift, doing manual labor for a party rental company.
“One day, I was driving home and I just decided I didn’t want to do it anymore,” VanWormer said. “I decided that I would rather try something that I always wanted to try in my life and that I loved.”
After his epiphany, VanWormer found himself at Point Park studying film. He says that he grew up watching movies and has always been interested in the idea of movies. Despite some apprehension, he decided to follow his passion.
“I would rather fail at it and try to be happy than be miserable doing manual labor and breaking my back for the rest of my life,” VanWormer said.
The producers, as well as their casts and crews, will get to present their hard work to an audience at the end of the summer during the P3 screening event.
There will be a total of six films screened at the event, representing the work of seven producers, six directors and six screenwriters, as well as numerous other students, actors and volunteers.
The films range in genre from superhero comedy adventure to romantic tragedy; from family drama to post-apocalyptic fantasy.
The screenings will be held at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 12 in the GRW Theatre. The event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and seats are on a first come, first served basis.
“There is a lot more work that goes into this than people realize,” VanWormer said. “Everybody loves the end result, but not everybody’s aware of what goes into it.”
Published by The Globe Newspaper at Point Park University on November 18, 2014