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December 27, 2023

Ariel Roberts ’25

At the end of the semester, you will find many Cinema Studies majors holed up on the upper level of the Apollo Theatre, dutifully working away in the editing lab. This is the time when students in production classes are putting the finishing touches on their films, often into the late hours of the night and up until just before their screening date. I myself spent much of my time in the last week of classes working hard with my crewmates on chopping up and perfecting our short documentary. Even if you’re not a Cinema Studies major, you can still get a chance to have a taste of the Apollo for yourself, as Fundamentals of Cinema Production is an introductory class open to all students who would like to get their hands on learning to make their own film. No matter your major or interests, I highly recommend everyone who goes to Oberlin to take a Cinema Studies production class, and while I might be a bit biased, I do think Oberlin’s Cinema Studies department is something truly special and hard to find anywhere else.

At the beginning of this semester, I had little to no production experience, something that made me a bit apprehensive about working on an actual film. Fortunately, the Cinema Studies and AV departments helped every step of the way. There were weekly workshops held in one of the Cinema Studies sound stages, located on the fourth floor of Mudd library next to the AV department. Each week we dove into a different aspect of film production: cameras, lighting, sound, etc. We also had an editing workshop located in the aforementioned editing lab. At first these workshops seemed a bit of a pain as they were at 7 in the evening and ran for a couple hours, but they ended up being so much fun. Especially for me who hadn’t taken a production class at Oberlin yet, I had a blast learning about all the different equipment available and trying them out for myself. The lighting workshop was especially fun; it’s one of those aspects of film that you probably think the least about but has a huge impact on the picture. It was super cool to play around with the RGB functions on the LED lights to go from a red horror scene to a soft blue romance scene. These initial workshops were encouraged to be attended by any student in a production class, and it was fun to meet students in the other higher level production courses and hear a bit about what they were working on. For my documentary class specifically, we had workshops on media logging, the documentary film kit, and the documentary interview. These were all super helpful during our filming process in keeping us organized and making sure that the first shoot was one we were happy with so we wouldn’t have to waste time with reshoots.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to school for film was because I knew it would give me access to equipment I might not be able to get my hands on otherwise. Oberlin’s Cinema Studies department has grown a lot in recent years and the AV department and the Apollo are stacked with everything you could need for a film. For our interview shoots, some of our go-to equipment was lighting kits with LED lights, lavalier mics, and the advanced sound kit which has everything you could need for recording, including a very nice mixer. We also, of course, needed cameras, and some of the kinds available to check out are Black Magics and Canon C100s, and let me tell you, these are very nice cameras. You could shoot yourself eating lunch and it would look cinematic. Who knows the next time I’ll get to work with equipment like this; if I do buy my own camera soon, it probably won’t be that nice, so it’s really incredible to get to take advantage of this equipment. Even though we’re just students, our shoots still felt high quality and we had access to everything we needed.

When I was trying to refresh my memory on how to work the camera I checked out, I looked up how-to videos on YouTube, and did a double take when I clicked on one of the first ones. The person in the video looked a lot like one of the Cinema Studies professors, and that’s because it was! Turns out one of the most viewed videos on how to work the camera is on Oberlin’s Cinema Studies Youtube. I was very grateful I had an easily accessible refresher of what he taught us at the workshop, though I know he would be happy to help me in person if I asked. Learning how to use film equipment can be tough and complicated, but I always felt like I had a lot of support to help me through, whether that be through my teachers or classmates. I also learned quickly that filmmaking is a constant learning process, even for people who have been doing it for a while. I also recommend taking a Cinema Studies class if just for the faculty, because they are all so passionate about what they do (I’ve never met an Oberlin professor who wasn’t, but the film faculty go above and beyond). One of the biggest things you need when making a film is the support and motivation to keep going, and I always felt like the faculty were in our corner and more than happy to help us reach a product we were proud of.

At the end of the semester I absolutely loved going to the student screenings and getting to see all of the films. It made me so excited for the production classes I’m going to take in upcoming semesters. When I first got to Oberlin I really did not see myself as much of a production person, but now it’s almost all I want to do! Before I was rather intimidated by it, and I’m not going to lie, it is always difficult and stressful and a big bite to chew, but in the end it is so worth it. I mean, who can say they’ve made a film? I learned so much about telling a story and all the different techniques of making a film, and I also learned so much about myself in terms of my interests, passions, and strengths. There were some bad days where I was really worried about our film and felt really defeated, but in hindsight I don’t regret even the bad shoots because it was good experience, and honestly even when I was stressed, it was still so much fun. I thought about our film constantly, not even totally because I was stressed about it, but because I genuinely enjoyed working on it. My experience in my documentary class even inspired me to take a leap of faith, and now for winter term I’m embarking on a filmmaking program in Vietnam! I absolutely cannot wait to tell you about it. Until then, happy holidays and happy winter!

Apollo Theatre Cinema Studies Student Screenings 2023
Photo credit: Ariel Roberts


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