Film students work together to learn, improve their program

ON THE SET: Co-directors Stephen Interrante and Sarah Moshman look on as director of photography Anais Ganouna shoots a scene of Quantum’s production “Peter and Wendy.” Courtesy QuantUM Film Society.

Despite state-of-the-art equipment, top faculty and recognition from prestigious film festivals, some students are taking their education one step further and putting it in their own hands.

University of Miami motion pictures students attended the School of Communication’s Dean’s Forum last week in order to voice their concerns about the quality of the program. The students’ concerns revolved around three main issues: the lack of technical skills classes, the small number of sections offered for each course and the validity of the mandatory second major.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of resources put behind the film studies program,” said Sam Grogg, dean of the School of Communication.

The school recently invested $800,000 in post-production equipment – including non-linear editing and sound editing gear – $500,000 in production equipment, $200,000 in grip and lighting equipment, and acquired an archival collection valued at around six million dollars. The school also added a Ph.D film studies program and has hired new faculty, including award-winning director Lisa Gottlieb.

The faculty, according to Grogg, are also engaged in redesigning both the graduate and undergraduate curriculum through a two-committee process that has been going on during the last two years.

“We’re clearing the board, clearing our mind and starting from scratch,” said Anthony Allegro, director of the motion pictures program.

A proposal for a new curriculum is scheduled to be presented for consideration this fall and will likely be implemented by the fall 2009 semester.

“We’re responding to the change in technology,” added Grogg. “And the curriculum hasn’t been static.”

For students such as senior Peter Saroufim, however, the change is not coming fast enough. Saroufim, a member of the student-organized Quantum Film Society, said some members feel that the lack of training in necessary technical skills such as art direction and set design, as well as assistant directing and scheduling, are hindering their likelihood of success once they leave the school.

Senior Jay Hirschfeld, an official representative of the Quantum Film Society, said that it would be “impossible” for the program to change rapidly.

“You can’t expect change to happen in two, three or even four years. I think the change that we’re talking about is so massive that it’s going to happen slowly – it’s really a complete redesign of the system and the film school itself,” Hirschfeld said, adding that he “values Grogg’s support.”

Yet with one class offered this semester with a maximum of 15 students each in cinematography and editing, the academic needs and demands of the 270 students in the undergraduate program remains in question.

According to the MyUM Course Offerings Web site, most classes in the motion pictures program are either full or have a handful of seats open. Higher level classes have only one or two sections open to 15-30 students. The lack of multiple sections for higher level classes is also a concern among the students.

“The computers don’t track demand, they track results,” Grogg said.

Grogg added that adjusting to course offering demands should be addressed faster and can be resolved immediately. According to Allegro, there are also faster mechanisms to create specific courses that the students want, as long as there’s a visible demand for it.

The school’s required second major within the College of Arts & Sciences is also a sour spot with the program’s students. The second major requirement is embedded in the legislation that founded the School of Communication in 1985. The founders thought that there “ought to be a strong academic component to a communications degree,” according to Allegro.

Today, however, students not only in the motion pictures program but across the school complain that having to complete a second major is stopping them from taking more classes in their communications major.

In return, this is prompting a school-wide evaluation of the requirement. Yet, those who advocate its preservation argue that having a second major gives more depth to a student’s education, as well as provide a backup plan.

“[Film] is my passion. I feel like I’m paying all this money to come here and I don’t always get to learn what I want to learn,” Saroufim said.

Quantum, an organization now affiliated with Hurricane Productions and therefore supported by the university, was founded in 2004 by class of ’07 alum Mark Zuckerbrow. He initiated the group in order to allow students to have complete control over film making, providing an out-of-class experience. The Quantum Film Society, which was formed last spring as subset of Quantum, provides learning experiences through workshops, tutorials and seminars specifically designed to address the needs of its members by allowing students to organize and create as many projects as students are willing to complete.

“If someone comes in saying they want to learn how to shoot against a green screen, we get the people who know how to do it and we make it happen,” Saroufim said.

With barely more than 10 members in the beginning, the society today has grown to more than one hundred members and produces two large scale films each semester. According to Saroufim, students join the society in order to “get all these things we don’t always get in class.”

But whatever their discrepancies, both students and administrators agree that the program is working hard to improve. Under the leadership of Grogg, the school has hired top faculty from all over the country and has provided the students with top-of-the-line facilities and equipment that are up to the standards of the professional world.

“There’s no way that this program isn’t going to be of the highest caliber while on my watch,” Grogg said.

Moreover, there is no denying the results. Every year when University of Miami students show their films in Los Angeles, the film community buzzes at the quality of the work produced at the school. Both alums and students alike have also received awards for their work.

“There are issues with the program but as far as I’m concerned, this is still the best school in the world,” concluded Saroufim.