Taking Their Best Shot: Digital Film Students Focus on Acquiring Practical Experience
By Cooper Nelson
GCU News Bureau
Assistant Professor Gregg Elder’s digital film and production class sounds more like a Hollywood set than a classroom full of rookie filmmakers.
“Assistant director, block out the set so your electricians can know where to light,” Elder ordered his students during an exercise at GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production building.
“Director of photography, make sure the scene looks the way your director wants. Director, get your actors in character and have them rehearse their lines.”
GCU’s film program is designed to function like a professional film set. Elder has edited, produced or directed 22 films and a host of commercial film work in his career, so he understands what it takes to prepare students to work on real-world projects after graduation.
Film and production students have worked on local projects that range from reality TV shoots to short films. But that may just be the beginning.
GCU’s program, which emphasizes all aspects of filmmaking rather than just editing or directing, has grown to include nearly 100 students – comparable to film programs at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona. GCU’s program could grow even more as students recognize they have greater access to filmmaking equipment than they might at other popular film schools.
“Students are encouraged right away to use the cameras on outside projects to help them build their reel and portfolio,” said Elder, who taught at DePaul University’s film production program in Chicago and worked on films in Los Angeles before joining GCU in 2006.
“I’d rather have students using the cameras and getting experience than them sitting around collecting dust,” Elder said. “I think that is what creates the culture of our program that brings students in.”
Many students have taken Elder’s advice and sought professional projects outside of class. They include filming workout videos for an iPhone app, shooting a promo video for an Arizona horror book publisher, shadowing the Phoenix Suns film crew, and assisting with a short film titled “Cognac,” produced by Stephen Baldwin.
Film students also assisted a Travel Channel crew on a four-day shoot of a new series, “Baggage Battles.” Assistant Professor Todd Schoenberger worked as assistant camera operator and four students served as production assistants.
“It’s a big (TV) channel, and that allowed me to meet directors from New York and Los Angeles,” said Chris Riley, a senior student production assistant who also had the opportunity to work as assistant camera operator. “Those connections are awesome and something you need in this industry.”
GCU’s program also allows the University to assign students work on commercials and clips of campus events. Film students are responsible for shooting Chapel services, basketball games and promo videos for prospective students.
“We have (film majors) that are working almost everything on campus possible,” said Claude Pensis, dean of GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production. “I see us utilizing them on every aspect of the University that needs film.”
The film program will continue to grow n January, with the introduction of online courses for screenwriting and pre-production for motion picture and photography.
“We are noticed around town, and that’s great because the program is not very old, but the big push now is to be recognized nationally,” Pensis said.