Digital Film Program Thriving, Growing With Abundance of Opportunity

March 26, 2012 / by / 0 Comment

By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau

Action footage from Cactus League games. A talk show featuring mixed martial arts fighters. Indie films, digital shorts, and videos for an iPhone app.

GCU digital film production students jumped on quite a few opportunities this semester as the program develops into one of the largest programs of its kind in Arizona.

Digital film production student Mike Myers, 21, shoots video at a Los Angeles Dodgers spring training game at Camelback Ranch in Glendale.

The digital film production program will include about 100 students by the fall semester, a comparable number of students to the film programs at Arizona State University and University of Arizona, according to Assistant Professor Gregg Elder.

But unlike larger schools, GCU students face less competition to use equipment such as cameras and lights. Elder said his goal is to give students of all ages and skill levels the opportunity to build their digital film portfolios.

“They get to figure out who they like working with, what they’re good at and what makes them more marketable,” said Elder, 39, who came to GCU in 2006 after helping establish the digital film program at DePaul University in Chicago.

Students are asked to make their first film, a 30-second short, in the first week of class. While class projects keep them busy, they’re also encouraged to explore opportunities outside the classroom.

The digital film production program is in its second year, part of the College of Fine Arts and Production. The Media Arts complex on the west side of campus houses studios and is where students edit video.

Some students complete as many as 18 projects in a semester, ranging from shorts to professional-grade or feature-length videos. Some also are exploring storytelling through documentary videos, working with Phoenix Children’s Hospital and local non-profits on video testimonials. 

Elder credited Claude Pensis, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production, with giving film program staff the freedom to develop the program with curriculum similar to many of the top film schools in the country.

Elder said the idea is training students to connect with the audience and “to be the creative mind behind the project.”

Mike Myers, a sophomore digital film production major, sat down at a sports bar with some college buddies earlier this spring and noticed his video footage being played on MLB Network.

Like many GCU film students, Mike Myers is involved with multiple projects outside the classroom.

Myers, 21, came to GCU having already established his own small video production company. This month, he shot Cactus League spring training game footage and interviews for media companies that cover the Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants — including an interview with Giants pitching ace Tim Lincecum and the Athletics’ press conference to introduce Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

At one ballgame, a producer worried about losing a cameraman to a sudden schedule conflict. Myers was asked if he knew anyone from GCU who could fill in.

“Within a half-hour I found someone who was available,” said Myers, an Arizona native who has worked to refine his skills through GCU with the hope of one day working on feature-length motion pictures.

“When you have a better network it helps you move up and makes you more valuable to companies,” Myers said.

Myers has been working with other digital film production students on developing a mixed martial arts TV show concept that includes bios of fighters such as Ryan “Darth” Bader and Aaron “A-Train” Simpson with the hope that it could be picked up by a major media company. 

The film program also has benefited non-film students at GCU who need quick, efficient help with the video component to their projects. 

David Madrigal, 25, a GCU exercise science major who plays baseball for an independent league team in New Mexico, developed a smart-phone application to help athletes get “physically, mentally and emotionally” prepared for their workouts. He sought students from the digital film production program to help shoot videos demonstrating techniques for more than 40 workouts.  

“They did more than I expected,” Madrigal said.

The iEliteAthlete app caters to athletes but also to military recruits, police officers and firefighters looking for an assist in preparing for their physical training tests. The app is still in development, and Madrigal is seeking investors.

GCU is a sponsor of the upcoming Phoenix Film Festival. Elder said he expects more students to submit projects to festivals in the next year.

Digital film production classes are scheduled to go online this fall, when the program’s first student is expected to graduate.

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or

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