Interview conducted by Jody Michelle Solis
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What’s new at the Ohio University Film Division?
Steven Ross: The Film Division continues to be a hotbed of creative activity. Our MFA graduate students and BFA undergraduates (through OU’s distinguished Honors Tutorial College) are in constant pursuit of excellence and originality. The three-year MFA (and BFA) sequence moves from foundation building in the 1st year (with our infamous “boot camp”), to growing levels of specialization in the 2nd year, and culminating in the thesis work of the 3rd year. In the 3rd year, students may opt to direct his/her own thesis film or commit to a non-directing track. The track options are Cinematography, Post-Production, Screenwriting, Feature Narrative and Feature Documentary, each requiring specific course work and portfolios. In the past two years, two teams of students have completed narrative feature films.
The Film Division offers a significant number of standalone teaching opportunities for both our MFA and MA (in Film Studies) students. MA students teach film studies elective classes in their research area – generally two per semester and often more in the summer. MFA students teach classes in screenwriting and 16mm filmmaking. Additionally, through our ongoing and thriving partnership with the School of Media Arts and Studies, our MFA students teach as many as nine classes per year in Adobe Premier, Pro Tools, short form screenwriting, and field audio/video production.
The School of Media Arts and Studies’ offers a one-semester OHIO-in-LA Program that is designed to give students an intensive experience of living and working in Hollywood’s media and creative industries. A Film Division MFA student is chosen each semester to accompany the undergraduate group and oversee the making of the short film.
Several years ago, the Film Division entered into an educational partnership with AICE (Association of Independent Commercial Editors), a marketing communications trade association whose members are independent creative editorial, design, visual effects, color grading and audio post production companies. This has been a fertile source of a number of internships for students in our program and for a number of post-graduates.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: Can you share with us some of the changes you’ve seen with OU’s Film Division over the years?
Steven Ross: Students who attended the Film Division pre-2013 would not recognize the school. We have moved into two new spaces that allows us to provide state of the art post-production facilities, a world class screening room, and ample production work spaces.
Keeping pace with the ever-changing developments in technology remains a challenge for every film school. With our inventory of cameras (RED Scarlet, Canon C200, Sony EX3) and an extremely competitive inventory of production equipment, our students are well-equipped to make their films.
Through an initiative led by faculty member Rafal Sokolowski, our casting options have extended well beyond the borders of Athens, Ohio. Relationships have been forged with casting directors and talent agencies in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Columbus.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What is the Film Division’s philosophy regarding education and teaching?
Steven Ross: For three years, our student filmmakers get an opportunity to totally immerse themselves in a creative bubble. They do this while developing a wide range of skillsets that they will take to the “real world” after graduation when they, like all other film school graduates, will have to invent a new life. From the structured design of the 1st year, the program moves in the second and third years to a period of greater freedom of choice, personal responsibility and creative achievement. The goal of the program is to demystify the process and to create self-sufficient, complete filmmakers.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What other points of pride could you mention?
Steven Ross: Almost all of our graduate students continue to receive generous funding packages that include three years of tuition waivers and graduate stipends. Our students are making quality work as evidenced by the numerous acceptances into domestic and international world film festivals.
Our faculty has been extremely productive in the last few years. Rajko Grlic’s eleventh theatrical feature, The Constitution, has won numerous festival awards, including the Grand Prize of the Americas at the 40th Montreal World Film Festival and Best International Feature at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The film will open theatrically at Lincoln Center in New York in the upcoming months. Tom Hayes continues to tour with his documentary feature, Two Blue Lines, which examines the political and personal challenges of Palestinian people from the years prior to the creation of Israel to the present day told primarily through the narratives of Israelis whose positions run counter to their country’s official policy. Rafal Sokolowski is in the final stages of completion of his feature film, 22 Chaser, starring Sense8 and Tony-nominated actor, Brian J. Smith.
Our alumni are also shining. Ed Lachman, twice nominated for the Academy Award for Cinematography (Far From Heaven (2002), Carol (2015 was this year’s recipient of the American Society of Cinematographer’s Lifetime Achievement award. Brianna Bennett was named the Vice President of Drama Development at CBS Television. John Veleta was a recent recipient of an Emerging Cinematographers Award from the International Cinematographers Guild.