Students Get Experience for Life Making First Feature-Length Film

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Movie extras Erin C. Perkins (left) and Jason Zehner wait to be called for their next scene.
Lights! Camera! Action! In a matter of minutes on a mildly warm summer afternoon, the peaceful courtyard of the Stopher-Johnson complex is transformed from a quiet sitting area to a bustling movie set.


About 12 students from the HD Production, Practicum in African-American Affairs course in the Department of Pan-African Studies are on set applying their technical skills and knowledge to create the final scene of "Breaking News,” the first full-length feature film created by Kent State students.

The martial arts whodunit has a production crew of more than 30 staff and a cast of more than 10 actors.

The film project is composed of three different courses offered spring, summer II and fall semester of 2010. The courses are a collaborative effort by the Department of Pan-African Studies and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a combination of two existing courses in both departments in which students develop short films.

The film project is being led by Traci E. Williams, a lecturer in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Department of Pan-African Studies. The other course instructors include Assistant Professor Dave Smeltzer and Instructor Matt Pallotta from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“Most of courses are based around broadcast, but we are starting to finally break more into video production. And we are trying to develop an ongoing [film] course,” says Pallotta. “We want to develop an intensive, hands-on program within the school that includes coursework already established within the sequences.”

The three-course program allows students to do pre-production work in the spring, followed by production work in the summer and post-production in the fall.

The curriculum for the film project was developed to help train students preparing for film careers in front of and behind the camera. Students wrote, organized and are directing the movie.

“The great thing for the students is that they are learning what it really is like on a film set,” adds Pallotta. “Part of learning how to be a good filmmaker is learning how to troubleshoot when a problem arises, which is what the students are doing. All the typical things that happen when working on an independent film have happened — changing locations last minute or having to replace an actor — and the students are doing a great job.”

The diverse cast includes Aungelique Scott, a junior theatre major from Akron.

"I would like to thank God, my family, Traci Williams and the entire production staff of Breaking News. … It’s been a wonderful experience,” says Scott, of her first time on a film set. Scott has been acting since she was a child, and up until now has done mostly theatre work.

The character that Scott is portraying in the film is a stretch from her low-key and personable demeanor.

“Her name is Delia, and she is a cunning and mysterious person, who loves revenge,” Scott says. “She’s a lot of fun to play.”

Scott says that being a part of the film has allowed her to live out her passion.

"I love creating art in whatever form I can,” she says.

Chelsea DeScenna, senior fashion merchandising major, knows the feeling.

“It’s been such a great hands-on experience to see how a set runs,” says DeScenna , who handles the styling on set and wants to work as a costume designer. “I’m enjoying working with everybody and getting thrown out there in a good way.”

She added that the experience on set has only solidified her determination to have a career in the film industry.

“I have no doubt this is where I’m supposed to be,” she says. “Everyone on set is using their abilities and knowledge to put their own personal touches on this film.”

For Kelly Thewlis, a 22-year-old senior electronic media major, working on set has taken her where her video productions classes left off.

“Video production touches on everything, but there needs to be more depth,” says Thewlis, who is the film’s director. “Without this class, there’s no way I would be prepared to work in the film industry.”

“The number of people and amount of work that goes into making a film are phenomenal,” she continues, adding that it takes an array of skill sets to bring a film to life. “A considerable number of majors and types of careers go into filmmaking.”

From scriptwriting, casting, photography, wardrobe and makeup to public relations, each student has a crucial part of the filmmaking process.

“It’s been a stressful class, and we’ve really pushed through everything. And in the end, we are going to make a good product,” Thewlis says.

Although this is a new program, the students are hoping it can lead to a film certificate program that the university can offer to future students.

“We hope the three courses will serve as a prototype for a film program,” Thewlis says.

Following the post-production course in fall 2010, during which the film will be edited, the students are planning to have a red carpet premiere for the city of Kent and the university, and possibly distribute the film for other audiences to enjoy.

By Erin C. Perkins

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