Experience through production

Students work with professionals to produce short film for 20th year in a row

By Shelby Pendowski | 8/26/14 10:48pm

Twenty years ago, a Grand Valley State University professor by the name of Barbara Roos constructed a new type of learning environment by creating the Summer Film Project.

The program is a hands-on practicum for students to work one on one with professors and actors while learning about the film industry.

“It is a great way to bring in professionals and it is a chance for students to learn from professionals,” said Brian Gotberg, student crew leader. “I was talking to students who worked on it in the past … they said that it was the best experience that they had at Grand Valley and that is what got me into it.”

This year, 28 crew members banned together to complete “Lucky Jay,” a short-episode web series.

The comedic series is based off the experiences of writer and GVSU associate professor John Harper Philbin. Philbin worked closely with John Dufresne, a creative writing professor at Florida International University, and Angelo Eidse, a fellow screenwriter based in Vancouver. “Lucky Jay” weaves an autobiographical tale of Philbin's experiences as a professor and the tales of his colleagues and friends throughout the country.

“It was shortly after I read the script that I really knew I wanted to be a part of this film,” Gotberg said. “It was a bit edgy, and it was something that grabbed my attention.”

Although many students worked on this project, Gotberg served as producer and Alyssa Pecoraro took on the role of assistant director. The pair also served as crew leaders throughout the project.

“Something like this where you have 28 people … you get more people working together,” Gotberg said. “It is something new for students because they usually do everything instead of individual jobs.”

Each student was assigned a specific job to do throughout the entire production process. These specific assignments reflect the true film industry that hires people for individual roles, rather then in a class that rotates students into each of the jobs.

The crew of students, professors and professional actors worked together to complete this series. The most difficult part of the process, Gotberg said, was securing locations and coordinating schedules. Members of the GVSU community and those familiar with Allendale and Grand Rapids will recognize many of the locations featured in the film since the entire film was shot locally.

Students not only were given the chance to produce a film and to learn from individuals such as Vinny Walsh, who has worked in the Hollywood film industry and was director of photography for this project, but also from six SAG award-winning actors. The actors granted students a perspective into the true nature and tempo of the film industry, Gotberg explained.

The rigorous summer course is an opportunity for students to leave the confinements of a classroom to apply their academic knowledge to a post-college experience. Since the program’s conception, many other colleges have created similar programs.

“I really liked the real world experience you get,” Gotber said. “Every single year it is nothing but valuable for everybody.”

“Lucky Jay” is set to premiere in April 2015. For more information, visit imdb.com/title/tt3750818.

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