Department of Theatre and Film
Partnering With Theatre Film Program Comes of Age
Through a merger with the Department of Theatre, Bowling Green State University’s film program has come of age as film majors now can choose a production or film studies emphasis. There's a rich experience to be had for the undergraduate who studies film here, and faculty members are aware of the opportunities and excited about their mission as educators.
BGSU will use one of the most effective models for a film program, one that combines theory with the practical and which, like the University of Southern California and New York University, comes from its theatre program. According to Cynthia Baron, assistant professor in the department, who holds a Ph.D. in film, literature and culture from USC, “A lot of curriculum across the country that focused on students acquiring technical expertise in film consistently left out the theory—the understanding of dramatic scene structure, screenwriting, working with actors—that is so well developed in theatre.” Undergraduate film majors arrive highly skilled in terms of using cameras and editing software. Now, BGSU’s program will expose them to a more complete understanding of the vast film process, from learning how to break down a scene and make good choices about shot selection to making promotional videos for the department.
Dr. Baron believes her theatre colleagues already can see the potential for the field of performance studies: the ability to capture on film what has always been ephemeral and a stumbling block for the analysis of stage performance. Students will have records of their work. Theatre faculty will have concrete details about performances; material they can research, study and critique; and an actual text for study of the craft.
New film faculty members Daniel Williams, assistant professor, and WBGU-TV’s chief cinematographer Jose Cardenas, instructor, emphasize the collaborative nature of film. All elements of life come into play and with them the potential for a fluid campus-wide interchange as students take electives in history, photography, literature, etc. “Students will learn the difference between the ‘look’ for the stage or a film close up,” Cardenas says. “They’ll study the important and often subtle details, the metaphors of character that play a part in set design and construction.”
Under Cardenas, students also will study classical painting and the Dutch masters to learn about color and the use and direction of light to gain an appreciation for the aesthetics of cinematography.
At BGSU, the interdisciplinary and global nature of film has always been recognized. Department Chair Dr. Ronald Shields credits Dr. Ralph Wolfe, emeritus professor of English and curator of the Gish Film Theater and Gallery with really advancing film studies. “What he’s been able to build in the Gish Theater—the kinds of films and events—is incredible. Students are exposed to an array of screenings five times a week,” Shields says.
Senior film student Jay Ellison, Medina, Ohio, originally came to BGSU because he saw more opportunities than at a school like NYU where one could get lost in the crowd. “Here you have all the locations and resources for making independent films without the hassles of shooting in L.A. or New York. There is still the intense competition, but here it’s more intimate,” says Ellison.
Unlike the opportunities available for cinema studies, when Ellison arrived at BGSU, there were no film production classes. He had to create his own. In doing so he became, according to Shields, “the example of the kind of film student we want to attract: industrious, committed, responsible.”
President of the University Film Organization, Ellison did an independent study his sophomore year. He analyzed three styles of film and produced three films utilizing what he’d learned, all without using campus equipment. Eventually, Ellison was hired by WBGSU-TV and was able, after a year, to use the station’s equipment, but went to his home high school to edit. Since then, the University has been able to purchase film equipment, including three film-editing stations.
In October 2002, Ellison brought in the NextFrame International Traveling Festival of Film & Video as part of an internship. The festival’s huge success demonstrated the necessary student interest to make the film production major a reality. Ellison coordinated another festival last October, adding a digital filmmaking workshop taught by his high school teacher, media specialist Alex Gabrielsen, and a film production/distribution workshop taught by ex-Toledoan and current vice president of Digital Domain, Kevin Cooper, who produced Secondhand Lions.
Cardenas learned about gaps in film education from his own experience, colleagues and job applicants he interviewed for film positions at Fox Studios. He has a great deal of L.A. film and video production experience as a lighting designer and camera operator. Cardenas wants to give students a taste of film production outside the classroom so they can decide if it’s what they really want. He’ll play a crucial role in three film courses, teaching students the traditional, costly, but more organic Hollywood craft of shooting on film, as well as the digital computer-based format.
Williams, who will first teach sync sound production, has done a number of short films. Two, shown at various festivals, were part of his MFA experience at Howard University, and two are in post-production. He will add to the reality of the film culture, encouraging students to think visually and creatively and get their work shown by submitting to festivals.
While Williams realized he could make films on his own, he also found that route brings certain realities, and he will stress to students the risks, the built-in struggle to find money, skillful use of resources, and the probability that such films often will not be huge box office hits. He also will provide the perspective of a working African-American filmmaker who investigates structure and the theme of communication in his films, and has a keen interest in the portrayal of African-Americans in motion pictures.
There is more good news for the combined department. According to Shields, theatre and film majors will have a home that will be a focal point for creativity and digital technology at the University, when a new state-funded $8.7 million building is constructed near the College of Musical Arts in 2006.
With a wing for film and computer art, equipment for the study and production of both film and video, and the expertise of its film faculty and internationally renowned performance studies scholars, it’s evident that given time, BGSU could build a reputation alongside USC and NYU for the education of not only independent filmmakers, but professionals in all aspects of the industry.
-- Melanie Stinson ‘78
Above - Jay Ellison and Jose Cardenas
Below- Daniel Williams