Categorized | Arts & Culture

Film Fiends

[film]It’s not everyday you see your floormates milling about your dorm dressed in various costumes: a giant gingerbread man, American Indians wearing feathers in their hair, a couple of cowboys. One Saturday, I was indeed caught in the middle of such a strange group, and I was confused. Halloween had already passed – no, it wasn’t a late costume party. As cameras and lights on stands were set up around me, I finally figured it out: it was day one of the filming of iDream of iPod, and my costumed floormates were the cast members.
The film was the brainchild of English film studies sophomore Tristan Johnson, film studies and Spanish junior Sandra Jurado, telecommunication and information junior David Imach, hospitality business junior Dominic Sawaya and mechanical engineering freshman Dom Jursic, all members of the MSU Filmmakers Club. The film was part of the club’s “8 Shot” project, for which members created films that consisted of only eight shots. Every Monday at 8:15 p.m. in the basement of Morrill Hall, an eclectic mix of students can be found, and their principle connecting factor is their love of film. What sets the Filmmakers Club apart from other clubs is their passion and devotion to the art. The club extends beyond mere appreciation of film – the members actually get to participate in the art.
“What I love about the film club is that I’ve met so many people like myself,” English film studies senior Jeff Beachnau said in an e-mail interview. “Growing up and turning into the film lover I am today, I didn’t really know too many people that had the same passion for film as I did. Now at MSU, there are so many people that love movies, we can talk about anything film related, mention our favorite films, our favorite actors and directors and we’ll all know what each other is talking about, and what I love most about the club is that though we talk a lot about movies, we also make movies.”
Beachnau’s passion for film came at an early age, the way that some people grow up loving a particular sport. At the age of 12, he was first drawn to the movies nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. [dvd]“As all the scenes passed by I was amazed I hadn’t seen or even heard of so many of these films,” Beachnau said. “I watched the clips wanting to see all of those movies. The next month my dad bought me The Deer Hunter and Chariots of Fire for Easter. I watched those Best Picture winning films and realized that films could do something more than just entertain. I started collecting all of the Oscar winning films and started watching more of the classics. Along the way I realized I wanted to make movies.”
This desire to make movies attracted Beachnau to the Waterfront Film Festival in Saugatuck, held each June. The festival, which was started in 1999, calls itself a “middle coast” for aspiring filmmakers who want to show their work to sophisticated audiences. “Everyone was so nice, they were all open to helping aspiring filmmakers like myself,” Beachnau said. “I talked to one particular filmmaker who was at the festival with a short film he directed and starred in. He lived nearby my hometown and invited me over to the set of a horror movie he was starring in. So about a week after the festival, I went to the set of an independent horror movie and got to watch. They even let me help out a little bit, sort of as a production assistant for a day. I had a great time, I got to talk with a lot of the crew and I got to see what it’s like to make a movie.”
Through the Filmmakers Club, Beachnau’s film-making experiences are always different. He’s worked on a music video for a local band, a short comedy and general dialogues, which are a single scene of dialogue that often spurs other film projects by other members. This sort of creativity and active participation is what drew English film studies senior Chris Harrison to the club when he first came to MSU. With the club, Harrison has made about ten short films in all kinds of genres.
“The people involved are all very passionate about film-making, and you couldn’t ask for better people to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” Harrison said. “There are all kinds of people in the club, those with lots of experience to those with none, but the heart and effort they all put into a production is inspiring, and that kind of attitude spreads. They make it fun, they make it competitive, and that gets everyone excited about making movies – that kind of excitement is what makes the film club such a great place to start.”
Like Beachnau, Harrison developed an acute appreciation for films early. He started making films in his basement with his brother when he was 10, and his love of the art has only grown since then. “I’ve wanted to be some sort of entertainer as long as I can remember. The first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was probably when I decided that filmmaking was what I really wanted to do,” Harrison said.
Before coming to MSU, Harrison attended Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts in Southfield. He worked in television, but decided that it just wasn’t where his interest was. “When I realized TV wasn’t my cup of tea I came here to State for my film theory degree,” Harrison said. “I found out about the film club through my orientation. I joined because I thought it would be a great way to meet people who want to do what I want to do, and it couldn’t have worked out any better.”[attitude]
The consensus among members of the Filmmakers Club undoubtedly points to one man as the enabling power and inspiration for everyone involved: the club’s faculty advisor and professor, Bill Vincent. “[Bill Vincent] has been not only a great source of knowledge, but he’s a great actor and an incredible writer,” Harrison said. “He really understands the passion needed to excel in filmmaking, and he has kindly let me use his equipment and his home to shoot stuff. He has also generously cast me in a couple of his shorts. Plus, he has introduced me to local indie-horror great Jeff Burton, and a personal idol of mine, co-writer of both Army of Darkness and Spiderman, Ivan Raimi. Bill’s help and support has been irreplaceable, and the film club would not be where it is today if it wasn’t for him. He is a key asset to both the film club, and the film program here at MSU.”
Around the club, Vincent is more than revered for his talents. He has been with the club since it was started, and he is hailed as a master of sorts, partially due to the success of one of his former students, Sam Raimi, who directed all of the recent Spiderman movies (including the third installment of the series, which is currently in post-production and is set to come out in 2007.) But the respect his students have for him goes beyond his famous former pupils.
“Bill Vincent was my first film professor I had,” Beachnau said. “It didn’t take me long to befriend Bill, and now he’s become a very good friend of mine. He’s more than just a college professor, he’s someone I can go to anytime and talk with, whether it be movies or anything going on in my life. He’s a very smart man and a very nice guy and has inspired me to become his next successful pupil. He’s taught me new ways to look at films and interpret them, how to write screenplays, and how to prepare for working on a real film set.”
This semester, Vincent is on sabbatical, but that hasn’t stopped him from advising the film club. Though he is the faculty advisor, Vincent prefers to see the students take the initiative with the club. “I’m always willing to help wherever I can, especially with the equipment,” Vincent said. “I do a lot of acting for them and try to go to the meetings. The club’s been lucky recently to have a few very good presidents who have been proactive and pushed the club into making movies.
“I hope spring semester will be active,” Vincent said. “It’s hard to put the time into making films, especially with all the classes and social activities that students have. [Participating in the club] is one way of finding out if people are serious about filmmaking – you always find the time to do what you want if you are truly serious about it.”
[video22]The club’s plans for the rest of fall semester and into spring semester are packed with film projects. Currently they are working on short silent films, and a general dialogue project will follow. The club is also considering a feature length film as a project, as well. Johnson already has plans to start filming his silent short film, and his fliers calling for extras are posted all over our dorm’s halls. When his filming gets under way, at least I’ll know why my dorm is all dressed up – and maybe I’ll even make a cameo.

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