A look into the media department

By Morgan Hodder.
When one thinks of a movie making degree, course titles like “screenwriting” and “history of media” come to mind. However, many people outside the program would be surprised to hear that the movie making program is actually split between the communications department and the business department. Just like filmmaking itself, the program is split between the creative side and the technical, business side. There is only one teacher to instruct all four classes offered under the business department, and that is Bob Backstrand.
About a year and a half ago Backstrand took up the filmmaking teaching position at BCC to replace the internationally acclaimed and Emmy-winning documentarian Phil Lucas. While some would say those are hard shoes to fill, Backstrand has been a corporate filmmaker for twenty five years and has a lot of say in forming the video production curriculum. In his year and a half teaching at BCC, Backstrand said he has been reviewing and reworking the curriculum to accommodate his students and the ever-changing filmmaking technology.
Cory Bishop, a student striving for BCC’s movie making associate’s degree, said that the program is decent, but some students feel they aren’t getting what they paid for. “We’re looking for skills that are required to enter this industry, like how to do studio and on the field shooting. We’re halfway through the program and just getting to the juicy parts.”
Backstrand said that in video foundations students get exposure to a myriad of genres of two dimensional arts, from Van Gogh, Rembrandt, to modern 21st century art. “If you understand how visual artists communicate, you will be able to communicate as a filmmaker yourself.” said Backstrand. In this class students go out to collect photographs and bring them back for a class critiquing and deconstruction to discuss the important aesthetic distinction between a snapshot and art. Backstrand also provides guidelines to one of the elements essential to filmmaking: maintaining an audience’s suspension of disbelief.
In audio and recording students learn to tell a story using only audio, similar to NPR type talk shows. “We want to [illustrate] a world in an audience’s head with audio. We’re really shooting [to make something on par with] the War of the Worlds radio show.” said Backstrand. A student will pitch an idea for one these audio shows and the class will critique it, and then a group of students will begin working on producing it.
Video editing and producing teaches students the mechanics and rules of editing. They are initially supplied with footage in the first half of the quarter and taught to edit it to attain the appropriate coverage. Students then work on their own filmed footage for their final class project.
For the last class in the chain, students work on applying all their gained skills to make a film. If a student has a vision, they can pitch it to the class, and the class normally produces it as a team. Sometimes Backstrand said he will bring in clients from local nonprofit groups and assign a group of students to work with the clientele to produce the best corporate video possible for them.
David Over, a student in the same class as Bishop said that a lot of students in Backstrand’s classes are here as a requirement for a different degree or are trying to just make the grade. “We don’t care about the grade though; we want to learn the skills we need.” said Over.
Over said it would be nice if the curriculum could include covering topics like how to shoot a scene, camera placement, audio recording on set, lighting, and how to get funding for their productions. Bishop thinks it would be great if they could have more focus on the business side of preproduction and postproduction, such as how to create the necessary paperwork and get it all organized. Bishop also hopes that one day the program will include a class demonstration on the equipment for filmmaking, instead of students being expected to check it out and shoot their scenes on their own time.
Bishop said he’d like it if BCC could get another teacher to help Backstrand, or at least a teacher’s assistant equipped with technological knowledge and ability to help students load their videos onto the computers. It seems there is a need for dialogue between the students in the program, and those who make the curriculum. But with BCC facing budget cuts, it may be difficult for the program to get necessary funding to improve its curriculum. Backstrand is already trying to cut costs for both students and the program by using alternative classroom materials.