With the cancellation of all in-person classes for the remainder of the semester, many programs that are more hands-on and rely on spaces to express creativity have proven to be a challenge to transition to the online format and for the students taking classes in these programs.
Film classes are no different. In regards to film studies classes, Johann Dery, associate professor of film, said, “Our classes in film study—history, analysis and theory—are being offered using Canvas, Zoom and links to films online. Faculty have had to adjust syllabi to make sure films are available to screen, and that students can study and discuss them in a productive way.”
However, the shift to online classes presents a challenge to film production classes that rely on studio space located on campus. Dery said, “Our film production classes rely on the equipment in the Media Arts Center, which we [have] been without since spring break. Some students were mailed equipment like cameras and sound recorders in order to complete their projects.”
“As a production instructor, I have struggled to provide the same kind of experience for my students because so much of our learning is hands-on. In class, we take out the tools and practice using them. I have had to come up with other ways to deliver the same content: recording my own tutorials, citing online materials, sharing practice files and creating ‘mini-lectures’ using PowerPoint. All of these are delivered via Canvas and then we use Zoom for occasional meetings,” Dery explained.
Dery said, “Lastly, our senior capstone and seminar students will be presenting their final papers, panels and films online this semester.”
As for the student end of the transition, some students feel frustrated by the transition to online classes. Sophomore film student Tessa DesMarais said, “Two things have changed drastically since school went online. First is the screenings. You don’t quite realize how much you miss being in a room with other people until you watch everything alone. Almost every film ever made was designed for an audience, for that crowd reaction of fear or laughter.”
According to DesMarais, “I feel more connected to the film—I don’t need to moderate my reactions anymore, or glance at a friend when something’s funny—but it’s also much easier to become distracted. When you’re in an audience you hold each other to an unspoken code, a promise to be quiet and pay attention—or at least not be disruptive. The screening is at an appointed time and you’re there and you try not to leave the room if possible and you don’t eat.”
DesMarais added, “But I find myself on my phone or tempted to pause screenings to do something else. And of course, I watch with headphones, not speakers, so I notice different things in the sound design.”
DesMarais also takes two production classes. “Holy moly, this stuff is impossible at home!” DesMarais exclaimed. “I’m almost always the writer/director/producer. My job entails getting a script and getting locations and getting a schedule and getting people there on time. When you live at home, you have one set (the house) and, if you’re unlucky, one viable actor (yourself).”
“So you do literally everything yourself. I have access to a camera, a lighting setup, a Zoom recorder, mics and editing software. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for someone missing any of those… I care a lot about the things I make and I try to ensure every project is up to my high standards, and with these circumstances, you either have to let the quality take a massive hit or triple your workload for every production. It’s certainly exhausting,” said DesMarais.
Along with the loss of in-person classes comes, according to some students, a loss of quality in class. DesMarais said, “At home, your best ‘enrichment’ options are to make more extremely limited films and maybe get feedback from your professors who are already overloaded teaching online classes.”
Sophomore Michael Kearney also shares some frustration but sees a silver lining. Kearney said, “Taking my film classes online has definitely changed the classes completely. Before, we did a lot of hands-on work learning how to use the equipment, but now we basically film projects on our own with whatever materials we have. In some ways it’s nice because it shows us how to make films on our own, but not having face-to-face interaction for critiques and less available equipment is definitely a bummer.”
“The film studies department is proud of all the flexibility and resilience that its students, faculty and staff have shown in this crisis, and we can’t wait to all be back together again,” Dery said.
Tom Benoit can be contacted