Pierce College transforms into a movie set

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Marji Harris / Staff Photo
Student director Jackie Laverne (right) reflects on how the camera becomes a storyteller. A scene through a camera takes an instant that a book would take pages to describe.

Technical film students shadow real-life director

Candee Bell / Staff Illustration

Finn Ho, Student Director

What is a good movie plot?

“I just like movies that as soon as the twist is revealed, I will go back and watch the movie. It turns into a different experience.”

Jackie Laverne, Student Director

Why be a director?

“Because I want the career path that will pay my bills and the career path that will make my life fuller.... I would rather tell the stories than be the story.”

Randy Johnson, Student Director

Who is your favorite director?

“Quentin Tarantino: He does fun, exciting stories. First, he is a writer. Then, he’s a director. I feel that he is an expert in both of those fields.”

Marji Harris / Staff Photos

Lights, Camera, Action! These are familiar director’s commands associated with places like Hollywood, but they are also becoming a regular part of the Pacific Northwest.

This quarter, five Pierce College film students have the opportunity to shadow a local film director, and they do not have to go any further than their own campus to do it.

Film professor Fred Metzger is partnering up with a local movie director to create “The Hunt.” It centers around two tweens who follow a phone app on a scavenger hunt. Part of the film is being shot on the Fort Steilacoom campus; some of the scenes have already been shot in the library.

The project has been weeks in the making. At the beginning of the quarter, Metzger asked for film scripts from students across the campus. From those submitted, he chose projects for his students in his technical film class to direct.

Then he got in touch with a local director, James Winters, who just finished another film project called “They Reach,” a horror film set in Tacoma. Winters was starting a new project and the two were able to work out an arrangement to shoot part of the film on campus.

Students in the film class are responsible for seeing their scripts become a motion picture. They have to pick those who will be in the film, choose a location, and do the final cuts.

With only six students in the class, Metzger is able to do more than usual.
“I can spend more time one-on-one with them, showing them editing and other techniques that I usually do not have time to do,” he said.

One of the benefits of shadowing a director is the opportunity to see cutting-edge technology at work. Much of Winters’ projects are made for streaming online, so he uses what is called a “red camera.” Designed exclusively for digital filming, it shoots in a higher resolution at 6-8K. Conventional camera equipment, also known as the “black box,” results in a grainy resolution, which is unusable for movie outlets such as Netflix.

A director often will do more than one “take” for a scene. The amount of work that goes into creating just a 10-second scene was a small surprise to one of the students in the class, David Zink. “I was blown away by at how much work there is in this thing. I am sure that I do not have any talent or patience for that direction. I’m a writer, not a film technician, he said.”

Jackie Laverne is one of the technical film students. She found the use of a red camera fascinating. “All the studios such as Amazon and Netflix have to shoot at higher resolutions. When edited, they edit down into 4K for high definition, it is what makes it crystal clear, makes it crisp,” she said.

The project itself has a surprising result for Laverne. She was expecting more emphasis on the equipment. In shadowing Winters, she discovered the camera does not just record scenes. “It shows you how to guide the viewer through the story [in a way] that is easy to understand, enjoyable, and helps with the creative part that creates the suspension of disbelief within a story line,” she said.

Finn Ho, one of the students in the film technical class, is looking forward to the partnership project. Watching how people interact on set gives him a first-hand look into what a director does. “I want to get a sense of what it is like to work on a professional set. I want to learn more about the technical stuff like color, logistics, and getting people together,” he said.

Randy Johnson is another student in the film class. He likes the idea of a shadow project because it provides a model he can follow. “It teaches me what to expect, what kind of a demeanor a director should have; it’s work. The director is the boss. Like in construction, there’s a contractor. I think that is a lot like what directing is, you’re the boss and what you say goes. Be a leader. What I would like to learn today the most is leadership,” he said.

Winters’ film project will be wrapping up sometime in the spring. As of yet, no release date is available.

The students’ class projects will be shown at the Pierce College Film Festival on March 15 and 16.