Film Capstone Projects Emphasize Need for Art and Creativity during COVID-19

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By: Kate Almquist, kate.almquist@go.mnstate.edu

Photos provided by the productions.

Every spring semester, MSUM seniors in the film department work on the production of a film for their capstone projects. This year, an extra level of pressure has been added as students work around guidelines and restrictions brought about by the pandemic.

Instead of using COVID-19 as an excuse to not go through with the films, students and faculty decided that to create art was more important now than ever. Film professor Raymond Rea included a statement in his syllabus that discusses the need for artistic practice while in an uncertain time.

“We strongly encourage students to consider the current health and social crisis as a moment for deep personal and collective self-reflection, re-conceptualization, creative innovation and, above all, social responsibility.” Rea wrote in their syllabus. “To solve the challenges of media creation during COVID-19 requires all of us to reconsider the very nature of the production process.”

Rea and his students knew that not making the films wasn’t an option, but to do so safely, they all had to be on the same page about necessary rules and precautions. Before anyone started production, each film crew was required to develop a safety plan that they all agreed to follow.

“We all understand that a ‘zero risk’ environment is not possible, so we aimed for a ‘minimal and justified risk’ atmosphere,” Rea said. “When I’ve been on sets, students are being very careful, and all of the safety precautions have been implemented.”

Rea also encouraged students to think about social distancing when they wrote their scripts so they could work that into their films more naturally.

“There are times when actors do have to take off their masks, so the characters shouldn’t get too close,” Rea said. “For example, there couldn’t be any kissing which, in previous years, has been a possibility. Part of it was about the writing and part of it was about the protocol on set.”

Each of the film crews and their team members faced different issues and challenges as they worked to complete their projects.

One of the films is “These Voyages Unknown” directed by MSUM senior and film production major, Kyle Odefey. It’s a live action and animation hybrid short film about a headstrong and defiant scavenger that must come to terms with her distant mother’s untimely death.

This project has been a long time coming for Odefey, who started to work on it in November 2019 when he  studied overseas in Lincolnshire, England through the MSUM exchange program. It was originally thought to be made as a live, 20-minute TV broadcast, but when COVID-19 hit in March, the whole production got cut off and Odefey was sent home.

While Odefey was disappointed that the project initially got cancelled, he decided to  work on it over the summer and pitched the idea for his capstone project in August.

“Since I’d been working on the project for a while and knew where I wanted to go with it, I think having that direction really helped get it to where it is now, despite the COVID challenges,” Odefey said. “It’s kind of bittersweet though because I’ve been working on it for so long and getting to see the final product is so cool. But I kind of wish we could just keep going.”

After he saw  his project fail once, Odefey was relieved to be able to see it through this time with his MSUM film crew over the past year.

“The fact that we overcame such a crazy time has just been fantastic and I’m very proud of my team,” Odefey said. “It’s been such a collaborative endeavor, and everybody had to carry their own weight.”

Another one of the films is titled “Close to Home”, directed by MSUM senior and film production major, Ace Steele. It’s about the importance of acceptance within society for the LGBTQ+ community and is based off of an activity used in Safe Zone training.

“We wanted the film to have a kind of a PSA added to it,” Steele said. “We want audiences to see it because someone they know may be going through something similar. We hope it’s a way to help open people’s eyes to how it would feel to live in someone else’s shoes.”

Like her peers and classmates, Steele was worried that the pandemic would stop her team from being able to go through with this project. Luckily, with some adaptations and restrictions, she was still able to create a film that she is proud of.

“Obviously, I wish we could have filmed this under different circumstances,” Steele said. “We had to limit the number of people on set each day and it was hard to find locations that would allow the actors to take off their masks while filming. But I’m just thankful that we were able to create a beautiful piece that I can’t wait to share with everyone.”

Another featured film is “The Star-Spangled Spaceman”, directed by MSUM senior and film production major Andrew Ramlet. It follows a high schooler who struggles to decide what he wants to do with his life. Then he finds a box of comics and an old radio at a garage sale that connects him to someone he believes to be a superhero, and they start to communicate through it.

“I’ve had the idea to do this film for several years now,” Ramlet said. “The original idea came to me because I’ve struggled with growing up and the uncertainties of my own future, as well as letting go of old interests, and I wanted that to be part of my final capstone project.”

Ramlet was disappointed that in some ways, he and his team were limited in how they could express themselves creatively in this process, but it didn’t discourage him from going forward with it.

“To be honest, I wanted to have bigger plans for this film, but I had to put those by the wayside when I realized we wouldn’t have the full experience that previous years had,” Ramlet said, “The focus became just getting it done, but I think the importance was still on making art.”

Ramlet credited the film’s producer, Riley Thelen, as the reason the film was able to be made because of his connections when they struggled to find locations to film.

“He’s 100% why the film got made,” Ramlet said, “I’m just so grateful to everyone who helped out with the project in one way or another, whether it be donations, helping on set, lending us their location, or even liking our Facebook page. Showing support to local artists is always appreciated.”

Despite the changes and hardships that they faced over the past year, these film students recognized the importance of art and were fully committed to rise to the challenge of creating the best possible work they could.

All of the capstone films will be showcased via a livestream on Friday, April 30 at 7 p.m.

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