Capstone projects test student creativity, tenacity
by Mattie Hanson
MSUM film seniors are feeling the pressure. In order to graduate this spring, the prospective film professionals must produce films for their capstone course. The class allows students to get a real sense of the team effort required to make a film.
The year-long course features a fall semester development and pre-production phase. Spring is dedicated to putting ideas into action.
With the end of the year coming up fast, it’s crunch time.
Teams are made up of writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, producers, production designers and sound supervisors.
Anyone can help groups by acting or being production assistants, but everyone in Brandau’s class must have the largest roles in the filmmaking process.
Writer and director Jessy Hegland and cinematographer/editor Michaela Fitzgerald thought of their concept before school began. Their film, “Shards,” is a combination of two plots they had come up with, focusing mostly on Hegland’s self reflection and acceptance. Hegland applied knowledge learned in a scriptwriting class when writing the film.
“Shards” is about a mirror that breaks, opening another world where a person interacts with reflections of herself.
“After each interaction, she’ll find a shard and eventually put the mirror back together,” Hegland said.
Hegland’s group consists of three other classmates, Nell Dobesh doing production design, Sam Camilli as producer and Danna Galeano as co-editor. Together, they began assembling ideas for which actors and crew members they wanted and places where they wanted to film.
The group was able to film on the Fargo Theatre’s stage, having full access to its lighting grid.
“Their tech guy was great,” Fitzgerald said. “He just sat off to the side and was using his iPad to control the lights when I told him to.”
Using mirrors required complex choreography and reworking to not get camera reflections in the shots.
Setting up and hauling equipment from location to location is also difficult. The groups needed to be careful handling heavy and expensive cameras, lights, microphones and props.
“All our sets, costumes and the rigs that held the mirrors we made ourselves,” Hegland said.
Fitzgerald used her own Canon 6D camera for “Shards,” along with some of the school’s LED lights, but other groups rely only on the school’s equipment.
Jamie Adams is the producer of her group’s film. Her group consists of director and writer Mindy Kraft, director of photography and writer Ashley Field and Miki Ogura, the editor and sound supervisor.
Their story, “Lost in Transition,” is about a girl who switches bodies with people for a living to help them get into shape. One day, while working out in someone else’s body, her client dies unexpectedly while in hers.
“The story is her trying to get her body back,” Adams said.
Like Hegland’s group, Adams’ was able to shoot in a unique location — Moorhead’s Salem Evangelical Free Church.
Both groups’ locations didn’t charge, but they were required to use their own money for set design, props, and keeping the cast and crew fed on set. As producer, Adams makes sure they don’t go over budget.
The “Shards” crew started out using its own money until Hegland started a campaign on indiegogo.com to help reimburse themselves. The website allows people around the world to donate money to causes like small business start-ups and music and film projects.
For both Hegland and Adams’ groups, the filmmaking process has been grueling, but they know it will be worth it.
“I don’t know how we haven’t all pulled our hair out by now,” Field said.
“I’m taking 19 credits this semester,” Adams said. “Sometimes, it’s a handful to balance all my school work, but you have to suck it up and push through.”
Hegland and Adams are considering submitting their films to local film festivals like the Fargo Film Festival.
“I hoped to make a wonderful, collaborative, artistic piece that would be unique and authentic to the viewers,” Hegland said.
Senior film projects will be shown in Weld Hall April 29.
At the end of the year, a juried exhibition will feature a handful of the films. Awards for categories like best director, best production design and best in show will be presented.
The teams behind “Shards” and “Lost in Transition” aren’t anticipating specific awards, but they would be validating after such long hours and hard work if given by the jury.