by Caitlyn Murray–
Blacksburg, Va. — When people think of Virginia Tech, they often think of the engineering and business schools, as those are two elite programs within Tech’s academics. Very rarely, however, does the School of Performing Arts within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences come to mind.
Offering performance and technical focuses, the School of Performing Arts houses theatre, music, and cinema students. According to the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts website, around 250 students are majors within the school while approximately 200 students pursue minors. While cinema is not yet a major on its own, many students tack the classes on as a minor or are pursuing a theatre degree with an emphasis in cinema.
Contrary to popular belief, cinema studies exceeds well beyond simply watching and analyzing films. While scholarship is included in the curriculum, production and real-world application is the backbone of the program. Each semester, over 70 student films are produced. Cinema students are expected to produce at least two short films a year. “One film, per student, per semester,” said Charles Dye, assistant professor of cinema production. “ This is a huge challenge to pull off, but worth it.”
Currently, around 40 films are in production this semester. In Dye’s Fiction Cinema Production course, students are expected to not only write and produce an original screenplay; they’re also taxed to work crew on three other projects as a director, cinematographer, and editor. This ensures that students are given the opportunity to try their hand at every role behind the lens.
Students must cast and crew each production on their own. This proves to be a challenge as the School of Performing Arts only has a handful of actors within the program. More often than not, performance students are in numerous films at once. While this is typically the case, anyone is welcome, and in fact is encouraged, to participate in these student-run projects. Multiple audition nights take place each semester in order to cast the right people for these student films.
In order to bring these short films to the screen, cinema students have access to top-of-the-line cameras, audio equipment and editing software. Gear is distributed by a checkout system, though equipment is limited and requires some flexibility among students’ shooting schedules.
In some cases, these projects reach beyond Blacksburg. Last year, senior Woody Chapman’s film, “Fading Felt,” made its rounds among film festivals in the summer of 2016 and ended up being an official selection of the Richmond International Film Festival.
“[While] our program is very, very young, I think we’re going to see a lot of success from our grads in the future,” Dye said. “May we all become the filmmakers of our dreams.”