By Jonathan Smith, Editor in Chief
Soda bottles lined the desk around the 20-inch Macintosh displays-workstations in the Industrial Technology building that would be packed and gone in 15 hours.
Sound clips and dialogue played over and over as editors worked to perfect their films, which had to be completed by the time the workstations were returned to Apple Computers.
With less than a day to finish, some still considered cutting entire scenes to reduce their films to no more than seven minutes.
“The fight scene is imperative,” thought one editor aloud, “but the chase scene …”
“The chase scene is my baby,” remarked the other editor watching over the first’s shoulder.
“We have a lot of work to do.”
For students involved in the university’s first FilmFest, Friday’s Premiere Night marks the end of a semester-long process that has taken them through the steps of creating a film.
For Doug Darby, multimedia coordinator for the Adams Center of Teaching Excellence, and others involved in FilmFest’s creation, Friday marks the beginning of the next and future FilmFests. But before getting too far ahead with plans for next year, Darby hopes students will be able to look back on their experience and use it in their education.
Bringing FilmFest to life
Lisa Phin, senior marketing and management major from Carrolton and student co-chair for FilmFest, recalled hearing about the competition for the first time from Darby.
“I remember him talking about launching something like this last semester, but I thought he was just toying with the idea.”
Even if he was toying with the idea, plans quickly came together. Darby announced official plans about FilmFest at the finale of Sing Song on Feb. 21.
Organizers originally hoped 15 teams of students would submit films and involve at least 30 participants. When sign-ups came around this semester, however, Darby said he was surprised by the turnout: 30 teams and 90 participants.
Students then participated in a training workshop Sept. 11, learning about issues ranging from copyright law to how to use the computer software.
Once students created teams with such positions as editors, directors and videographers, teams could check out digital video cameras and use editing software on Apple computers to construct their 5-7 minute films on the theme of “Light.”
Apple Computers donated computer workstations just for FilmFest and the Students’ Association put aside money to purchase cameras to supplement what the university already owned.
However, although students were ready to begin shooting, the computer lab equipment arrived several days late, leaving students from Sept. 15 to Oct. 14 to shoot and edit their projects.
Then, even the weather turned against them.
Darby said the roof in the Industrial Technology building, which housed the lab, leaked initially, exposing one of the most sophisticated computer labs on campus to harmful moisture.
Despite the initial turbulence, Darby said once students began working, their work amazed him.
“We’ve seen some amazing expression taking place,” Darby said. “You’re seeing deeper thought than I anticipated.”
Once completed, judges from around the movie and entertainment industry received the films by mail and viewed them. Judges include Nelson Coates, an ACU alumnus and a production designer in Hollywood (Runaway Jury, Antwone Fisher), and Rob Gibbs, storyboard artist for Pixar Animation.
Students will have the opportunity to see the culmination of all this work Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre.
“We want this to be a night that showcases the students’ work and the effort they put in,” Phin said. “We’re providing a medium to express that.”
Three finalists from three competition categories-entertainment, inspirational and informational-will be shown and a winner named from each. An overall winner also will be selected.
Prize packages for teams and individual winners in categories like best director will include a variety of items, such as Ipods, USB flash drives, Frontier Texas tickets and gift certificates.
When Darby talks about FilmFest he rarely spotlights the competition. His focus lies mainly on the skills learned and the opportunities to experience.
“We’re not only having fun and giving students a camera to shoot,” Darby said. “We’re building bridges and developing contacts in the [entertainment] industry.”
Even the way Darby structured how students would work on their films supported this goal. He spent time in the labs with students, but he has relied heavily on his student co-chairs, Phin and Matt Maxwell, sophomore electronic media major from Abilene, and student volunteers helping participants in the lab.
“It’s been students helping students instead of bringing in outside individuals,” Darby said.
Even though he did not participate in producing a film for the competition, Maxwell said the opportunity to plan and be involved has been perfect. He also interns at Highland Church of Christ and makes videos for the church, so he said he enjoyed the chance to put those skills to use as a leader.
“This is my first time to lead a group at ACU. I’ve been looking for something like that,” Maxwell said. “This is pretty much what I do for my church; it’s my job. Just to have a chance to be a part of this, it’s something very special for me.”
Darby already has begun planning possibilities for the future of FilmFest.
Already he has heard from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville wanting to know how they can make a competition like FilmFest work there.
He has discussed with Oklahoma Christian University about the possibility of making it an intercollegiate event.
He also said he has been encouraged to write a report about the whole process so others can see the learning techniques capable from FilmFest.
“If this is part of the ACU experience,” Darby said, “this is where many students will want to be.”
Because this is the first FilmFest at ACU, organizers already are looking for ways to improve.
“We have a very long list of ways to make it even better for next year,” Maxwell said. “Next year, we hope it’s just 10 times better.”
And, like a film editor pouring over each clip of a movie perfecting it little by little, Darby said he would look at the whole process to see how students can be engaged even more.
“Change, growth and creation are traumatic at times,” Darby said. “But you don’t see the full benefit of things down the line until you can look back and see how far you’ve come.”