While the outbreak of COVID-19 has halted movie production in Hollywood and around the world, Cal Poly students continue to create films.
“It’s been very challenging but also it’s kind of fun just to see what we can do with the different circumstances,” English senior Karina Williams said.
Williams is just one of 18 students taking Interdisciplinary Studies in Liberal Arts (ISLA) 341, Media Arts and Technologies: Cinematic Process, the second part of a two-quarter series where students learn the fundamentals of screenwriting and producing films. The class is also collaborating with Art and Design 483, Advanced Video Production.
Williams is working on a film she wrote called “In the Long Run” about a woman whose kidnapper returns after being released from prison. However, Williams had to rewrite the film in order to adapt to social distancing regulations.
She said the biggest challenge is she and her group members can’t all be in the same place, so communicating different roles and responsibilities is difficult.
“Everyone is dealing with something during this pandemic time because everyone’s lives have been flipped upside down,” Williams said.
Liberal arts and engineering studies junior Zen Tran also chose to rewrite her original script to make filming easier during quarantine, and would still be about something that was meaningful to her.
Tran’s film is entitled “Heroes,” and tells the story of two siblings and their mom, a single parent and a healthcare worker. The eldest sister steps up to take care of the younger sister because their mom is always working to provide for the family. Tran said the mom and the older sister are both the “heroes” of the story in their own way.
“I wanted to highlight the idea of unsung heroes and the heroes of our lives that we don’t really think about,” Tran said.
The story is based on her own life and it is unintentional that the mom is a healthcare worker in light of the coronavirus, but Tran said it only makes the story more important because of the current pandemic.
The instructor of the class, professor Randi Barros, said she wants students to continue to try their hardest to make the best film they can, but her level of expectation is not the same as it would normally be.
In the first part of the class, ISLA 340, students are given the entire quarter to write screenplays for the second part in 341. With only a few weeks to adapt the films, Barros said the scripts may not be as nuanced or complex as the original ones.
Typically, Barros said, the class works with actors from the community as well as the Cal Poly Theatre and Dance Department, but now students are having to work with non-actors, casting people that they live with or are quarantined with.
“They want to be good at it – they want to support the project but also, you know, they’re not experienced and nervous,” sociology junior Cole Fukai said.
Fukai is the screenwriter and director of a short film called “Haven,” in which two of the main actors are his close friends. The story highlights an anxious new college student about to leave his home town, but before he goes, he meets a mysterious stranger in the woods who helps him figure out his worries.
Fukai said the film is based on his own personal experience and that the stranger represents someone he would have liked to have in his life before going to college.
He said he wrote the film in the previous class, but had to adjust it heavily for quarantine. What was originally going to be filmed at a national park was filmed in Santa Cruz, and scenes where characters were previously close in proximity to one another were adjusted so they will not interact as intimately.
Fukai said he and his other team members also wore gloves and masks, and tried to stay six feet apart when filming as a safety precaution.
“The circumstances have made us much more organized,” Fukai said.
Fukai said they did not have the time to improvise and faced pressure to get it right the first time, so they prepared by planning every shot for a particular time of the day.
They made a checklist and checked it twice, Fukai said.
“It’s making us more cautious, but I think that that’s working to our advantage because it means we’re more likely to be able to get it done in the time that we have,” Fukai said.
Equipment-wise, Fukai said they are working with what they have: borrowing a DSLR camera, impromptu sound equipment, and using what they can to make it work.
This is the first time Barros will be accepting films taken on iPhone cameras because not everyone may have access to the proper equipment.
Students are hosting a free Zoom screening of all eight finished films Sunday, June 14 at 5 p.m. Interested community members can attend the screening through Zoom, as well as a Q&A session with students at 7:30 p.m. Those who can’t make the viewing can view the films once they are published on the student-built website.
Correction: This article was updated to reflect that ISLA 341 students collaborated with ART 483 students to create films.