Allison Royal/Courtesy Photo

Pressing her eye against the lens, communication studies senior Camille Clark leaned forward and adjusted the focus and exposure. “Action,” she said, trying to hold steady as waves crashed against the side of her kayak in Morro Bay.

This quarter, Cal Poly students directed and produced short fiction films that will be aired at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival March 15.

Clark is the cinematographer for “Last Call,” a movie about the last conversation between a formerly romantic couple. She said capturing some of the shots was a challenge.

“We did a kayaking scene and it was supposed to be like a flashback scene in Morro Bay,” Clark said. “That definitely was a struggle when it came to filming, especially since you’re on the water and everything.”

“Last Call” is one of seven short fiction films produced in the filmmaking class. The class deals with a variety of themes, including a Quentin Tarantino-style dialogue with a coming of age theme, questioning sexuality and terminal illness.

Graphic by Barbara Levin

Journalism senior Cecilia Seiter was the creative mind behind “Last Call,” and directs the short film.

“It’s such an amazing feeling to create something for the film festival,” Seiter said. “I’ve been making videos since I was a kid and have always wanted to become a filmmaker, so seeing something I’ve written and directed up on the big screen for the first time is huge. There’s a 100 percent chance I’m going to cry when it happens.”

As part of the Media, Arts, Science and Technology minor, students in Media, Arts and Technologies: Cinematic Process (ISLA 341) work creatively with screenplays while also learning the technical aspects of filmmaking as they collaborate to produce festival nomination-worthy pieces. Actors for the short films were cast from the San Luis Obispo community and the Cal Poly theatre department.

YouTube video

Video by Allison Royal

Randi Barros is currently the only professor for the filmmaking course. Barros, who is in her second year teaching at Cal Poly, is an award-winning film editor and screenwriter with years of professional experience. She said “Last Call” is an especially emotional piece.

“It’s a very poignant thing because you realize that she’s dying and it also kind of alludes to something in their relationship that died,” Barros said. “It’s a very lovely and quiet sort of film.”

Barros’ goal is to give students the full experience of creating a short film.

“It’s something that they don’t think about, how much detail has to be applied to each element and how much work it takes,” Barros said.

Students don’t only learn the technical elements of filmmaking, but are encouraged to explore their creative side.

“They get to see their words that they wrote in a classroom in a class assignment become an actual film, you know, it really brings these stories to life,” Barros said.

Learning collaboration

“Vixens” is another short film produced in the class. The storyline focuses on a girl experimenting with her sexuality.  

“I wrote the script that we’re filming and seeing the actors perform the lines, seeing it all during the filming process has been crazy,” journalism senior and“Vixens” director Georgie de Mattos said. “I just envisioned everything so vividly and watching it play out has given me a lot of inspiration and drive to have a film that will be great.”

While the creative side of filmmaking is important, Barros said one of the most essential skills students learn throughout this process is simply working together. Students work both with each other and with upper-division art students to assist with production.

Graphic by Barbara Levin

“Throughout all of it they’re connecting … I think that the collaborative element and the connections students have made are surprising to them as well,” Barros said.

Clark agrees that working with classmates is an important learning experience in the course.

“It gives you a chance to be creative and to work with other people and it’s hard when you have different opinions, but then also there’s a plus in that and you kind of think of things that you wouldn’t have thought of just on your own,” Clark said.

Filmmaking struggles

Students also learn how to address unanticipated setbacks throughout the filmmaking process. Clark said the group for “Last Call” encountered some problems while filming.

“The sound was a big issue … we did a whole three hour shoot and we realized that none of the sound recorded, it was all the background sounds of SLO and everything,” Clark said.

However, not all of the problems were caused by equipment malfunctions.

“As we were filming, this dude like out of nowhere shouted from his car in the middle of a scene, and so that was kind of a funny thing that happened,” Clark said.

Though there is no film major at Cal Poly, Barros said there is a desire and a need for more options in the curriculum to work with this type of media.

“Film is so up Cal Poly’s alley; it’s that combination of the technical and the engineering with also the storytelling and the artistic,” Barros said. “I think it would be wonderful to have a film major here.”

One of the people advocating for more opportunities at Cal Poly to learn and experience filmmaking is Jane Lehr.

Lehr is the Director of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program and oversees the course. She said students have enrolled from a variety of academic disciplines.

“I’m excited about both the skills that students are gaining and the technical and aesthetic expertise that are happening as part of the filmmaking class,” Lehr said. “The content of what they’re exploring is informed by thinking about challenges.”

According to Lehr, the technical execution of the films is excellent because of funding the program receives from the California State University Entertainment Alliance.

“We’ve been working as a group to really increase student access to professional software and professional equipment, and the students are demonstrating that our investment in that pays off,” Lehr said. “So we’re taking big steps and we’ll see what happens next.”

The documentary films produced by students will be screened in the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Mission Cinemas. Entry is free for students with their PolyCard. You can find the full schedule of events for the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival here.

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