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Conversations on collaboration with film alumni

Remember that great scene at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life when the good people of Bedford Falls dropped by George and Mary Bailey’s home with baskets of money to save them from financial ruin?

“Mary did it, George! Mary did it!” said Uncle Billy.

Mr. Martini broke his jukebox for the change. Sam Wainwright authorized his office to advance George up to $25,000.

The same sort of thing happened for the BFA senior film students at the School of Theatre, Film & Television. Their projects were interrupted by a pandemic. They didn’t have access to equipment to complete their thesis films for the annual showcase I Dream in Widescreen, and all looked hopeless.

I Dream in Widescreen
Aug. 8-9, 2020 @ 3p PT/6p ET
Presented on the TFTV YouTube channel

Then the word went out. Arizona film students needed help and the Arizona film family responded. First up, TFTV professor Lisanne Skyler tapped Scott Weber, who earned Emmy awards for his work on Lost and Westworld. Weber is the father of Jonathan Weber, who graduated from TFTV in 2011.

Weber was happy to assist, mentoring each student and doing the sound mixing for all 14 films in close communication with their directors. That crisis was averted.

Next dilemma – how to move the event from in-person to online. The word went out and TFTV alumni agreed to participate in an exclusive series of conversations with industry luminaries: preeminent directors, editors, writers, agents, casting directors, and actors.

That brings us to the very happy outcome of this heart-warming tale – an amazing lineup.

Special guests for this year’s virtual I Dream in Widescreen event include Netflix’s Head of Original Film Scott Stuber, film editor Lindsay Utz (American Factory, Miss Americana), director Tyler Gillett (Scream 5, V/H/S), Sundance Film Festival Short Film Programmer Mike Plante, WME agent and partner Brad Slater, casting director Eyde Belasco (Sorry To Bother You, Transparent), producer Allison Vanore (After Forever), writer/producer Peter Murrieta (Mr. Iglesias), emerging directors Darious Britt (Unsound) and Christopher Nataanii Cegielski (Reagan) and actors Vinessa Vidotto (Lucifer), Kyle Harris (Indoor Boys), Carly Natania Grossman and Michael Schulz.

Jeff Yanc (MA, 1997), the program director at The Loft Cinema, will host. He too is an alumnus. It will be one giant virtual film reunion.

“They’ve certainly called in a lot of heavy hitters, past alumni who have really been hitting a big,” Yanc said. “What I’m really looking forward to, I think it’s the first interview, it’s Tyler Gillett and Lindsay Utz.”

Gillett (BFA, 2004) has been tabbed to co-direct Scream 5 and Utz (BA, 2003) edited the Oscar-winning documentary American Factory.

“I went to school with Mike Plante (BFA, 1994),” Yanc said. “I’ve worked with him in various capacities. He used to work at The Loft. He was the projectionist.”

Now he is the senior programmer for short film at the Sundance Film Festival.

“I think talking to someone who’s a programmer will give students a different look at something else that you can do in the industry besides just making films. I don’t know that everyone always thinks about that,” said Yanc. “I do a lot of interviewing of students and they’ll ask, what does a programmer do? Is that a thing? How could I do that? It’ll be cool to hear Mike demystify it and explain how he got into Sundance.”

Christopher Nataanii Cegielski (BFA, 2014) had a great experience with I Dream in Widescreen when he was a student. He wore a suit and a bolo tie to the big event.

His film Bloodlines did well; it was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival. He was named a Sundance Film Festival Fellow and received a Time Warner Fellowship. He obviously knows what it means to have an in-person experience.“

For me, the cap-and-gown graduation wasn’t really my graduation.
I felt like I Dream in Widescreen was actually our graduation ceremony.

“For me, the cap-and-gown graduation wasn’t really my graduation,” he said. “I felt like I Dream in Widescreen was actually our graduation ceremony. It was very exciting because I couldn’t wait to show people what I was working on, what I was spending all my time on. That’s why I was studying film, to figure out if I could actually do it or not. You get this cool opportunity with I Dream in Widescreen, and get your friends and your family and people from the community into a theater and finally see firsthand how people react to your work.”

Cegielski understands the disappointment of what this year’s crop of new filmmakers are feeling because he also had projects interrupted or cancelled because of the pandemic. But he sees the benefits of this year’s virtual version.

“When I was in film school, the number one thing I liked to do was listen to other filmmakers who have gone through similar experiences, and hear what they did to get here, how they went about it,” he said. “Hear what trials and tribulations they had to overcome in order to get to where they needed to be.”

Cegielski said that kicking ideas around with others helps with creative decisions on a film.

“The cool thing about film is that it’s such a collaborative process. It’s really about creating relationships, about nurturing those relationships, about building those relationships. You can do so much of that remotely, but there’s nothing better than being in the trenches with a couple of other creatives. Being on set or being in the editing room or being in the mixing room and not knowing what’s the best direction to go, and relying on your fellow creatives that you’ve chosen to be on this team with to help you.”

Someone who has made a successful career of collaborating is Tyler Gillett (BFA, 2004). He is one of the founding members of the filmmaking collective Radio Silence. His recent film credits include Ready or Not, V/H/S, and Devil’s Due.

Gillett, who is now directing the Scream franchise reboot, is thrilled to be a part of the Widescreen weekend.

“I love that the community has continued on, even with all of these new challenges that we’re all collectively dealing with.

“I’m thrilled that there’s an alumni community taking shape. I’ve always been blown away that the graduates that were in my class have all gone on to really make lives for themselves in this business, many of whom I’m still very close with and know on a friendship level. I’m just thrilled to see that there’s a lot of success coming out of the program. I hope that continues.”

His favorite part of the student film process was the real freedom to experiment.

“What I remember so vividly about working in the program was having this freedom to just kind of go wild. There was an opportunity to take a lot of risks, and really that takes some weird creative swings.”

Not to mention the opportunity to fill a lot of roles, which he has done with his collaborative groups – Chad, Matt & Rob on YouTube, and with Radio Silence.

“From our very earliest projects, we just threw ourselves into every part of what it takes to make a movie, from the writing to the lighting, to the sound mixing, editing, even down to the craft service stuff,” he said. “There wasn’t a role in the making of a project that we weren’t really intimately involved in.”

Gillett echoed what Cegielski said about the collaborative process. He and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin are both helming Scream 5.

“Every project is a series of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands and thousands of choices. Matt and I have very much split duties in everything. Prep is a hivemind, the two of us are like banging our heads together and making all these decisions collectively.”

Looking forward to this weekend’s event, Gillett sees good decision-making at the film program at Arizona.

“I think that we’re entering a new kind of era of storytelling where I think we’re finally paying attention to a wider range of interesting voices. I see that in the program. I see the program nurturing those voices and I’m thrilled that so many interesting shorts are coming out of the program.”

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