Students in the spring Advanced Digital Production course at Clark University might have felt a little intimidated when they heard who would be critiquing their semester-end film projects: a Hollywood actor and two professional filmmakers. But they soon learned how valuable such an experience could be.
“In critiquing student work, there's nothing better than having guests who specialize in certain disciplines: acting, screenwriting, cinematography, etc.,” says Soren Sorensen, a documentary filmmaker and visiting professor in the Visual and Performing Arts Department.
For the culminating project in his Problems of Practice (POP) course, SCRN 208, Sorensen required each student to write, direct and edit an eight- to 12-minute narrative film. At the last class of the semester, the students presented their work to their peers and to three film professionals: Lauren Adams, who plays Gretchen Chalker on the Netflix series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”; Jason Rossi, a cinematographer and photojournalist; and Derek Dubois, an independent filmmaker who teaches film analysis and screenwriting at Rhode Island College and Clark.
“Lauren, Derek and Jason each brought their unique backgrounds to our screening and discussion,” Sorensen says. “It's really a rare opportunity for film students to have that many expert eyeballs on their projects.”
In February, Sorensen invited Adams to conduct a workshop with the class on how to communicate effectively with actors and provided her perspective as an actor on receiving direction.
“Lauren listened to the ways student directors communicated with their actors and encouraged them to make subtle but powerful adjustments in the language they used in order to better achieve their creative visions,” Sorensen says. “I think it was enormously helpful for students to hear directing and acting tips from someone who spends as much time on camera as she does.”
Aidan Villani-Holland ’18, for one, found both experiences incredibly rewarding.
“It was a little weird at first being instructed by a woman whom I've been watching on Netflix, but once I got past that, Lauren was very helpful and approachable,” he recalls. “It is rare that I, as a student, am able to get direct contact with professionals in the filmmaking industry, let alone to get direct feedback from them on my work. The critique was nerve-wracking but ultimately incredibly helpful.”
The visits by Adams and the filmmakers also gave students an inside scoop on working in the film industry.
“For the students who want to go into filmmaking after graduation, visitors from outside the Clark University community represent what's possible as they begin their careers,” Sorensen says.
Villani-Holland said his main take-away from the course was that with a little time and no budget, you can create a small film that potentially has big impact.
“All it takes is a lot of planning and work,” he says, “and that's something I'll take with me into my future projects.”
Above, Isabel Szatkowski, center, reads lines with Misha Macnie, left, while Aidan Villani-Holland, second from right, and teaching assistant Mitchell Gamache film; meanwhile, Lauren Adams, center, provides feedback.