Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
North Lake College's video technology department students in June Owen's Workshop 1 & 2 classes put their skills to the test on the semester's final project: writing, producing, shooting and editing a short film. What started last semester an experiment in teamwork, has become a fully integrated part of the department's curriculum.
“[It] is the third major project that the Workshop 1 & 2 students do,” instructor June Owens explained. “It's a major short film. We have a huge crew, and we usually have an excellent camera.”
One of Owens' favorite aspects of the assignment is it allows students to gain hands on experience with equipment they normally would not have accesses to until they embarked on their professional careers.
“We have great equipment at North Lake College, but I try to give them a chance to have an experience with a big camera like an Alexa, which they do feature films on, or a 35 mm camera, so they actually work with film,” Owens said.
Until the spring 2012 semester the final workshop project was not a fully vested part of the curriculum, but Owens decided that the workshop could be restructured to better serve her students by reorganizing the course in order to nurture the collaborative spirit essential to working in the film industry.
“I'd always walk into the classroom,” Owens continued, “and say, 'Look around you; this is your crew. These are the people you are going to work with, even when you graduate from this program.' Dallas is a top ten market, but it's a very small community.”
The workshop's first film, Lucky Red, was a roaring success. Not only did the students take to it, but Panavision lent them a 35 mm camera, and MPS Studios in Dallas gave them the use of a dolly.
“After I did the first [film] as a group, the students all said, 'I feel like I know everyone in this room; I feel like we're a team,'” Owens said.
Owens believes the industry support of the film was based, in large part, on the potential that professionals see in North Lake graduates.
“Everyone in the Dallas knows that 98 percent of [students] work in the industry when they graduate. They believe in the students,” proclaimed Owens proudly.
After their experience during the spring, MPS was more than willing to help the students again and gave them access to an Alexa camera for their next film, Change.
An instrumental character in the success of this particular program is former student, Dillon White who wrote and directed Lucky Red. After graduating, White took a job at MPS where his professionalism and hard work helped foster the studio's healthy relationship with North Lake.
Owens' workshop is not the only part of the department that has changed in the past few years. The entire department has expanded into a new building jam packed with state-of-the-art facilities. Owens gleefully related that, before moving to the site, the department's studio was located directly beneath the jazz band's rehearsal space, rendering it almost impossible for students to have a quiet studio session.
With this increased access to technology, Owens continually challenges her students not to forget the principles that are the backbone of their work.
“I see so many bad films being made with big budgets,” Owens said sadly. “Being a documentary artist myself, I'm a strong believer in social media and YouTube. A lot more is possible now, but [students] need some schooling to learn the theory.”
Owens is sure the education at North Lake gives graduates an excellent preparation for industry work.
“We do both [art and craft]; we blend it. I stress real life in my classes. I will tell [students], if you're late to a set, you're fired. If you're sitting around a set, pick up trash. I teach it real. When my students are out there, they’re going to perform.”
But Owens made it clear that the true purpose of her student's education is to turn them into the next generation of storytellers.
“With so many bad movies being produced, it's important that this generation of film-makers starts to tell the stories that are worth telling. Stories that make people THINK, feel, cry, laugh, reflect ... and that is what these students are doing ... creating a body of work that will allow them to work in the real world and make something of substance and quality for the audience to see.”