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Freshmen filmmakers race the clock in weekend warrior competition

Freshman RTVF student Laura McGehee faced a daunting challenge: make a short film in a single weekend that included bubble wrap, a sculpture near the Block Museum and the word “palindrome.”

Her solution? A funny and very clever SNL-style video called Bubble (W)rap, a video “rap” about a girl with bubble-wrapped hands who learns that her lifelong disability might just be her greatest asset.

McGehee was one of 37 freshmen who took part in the Weekend Filmmakers Initiative, a way to get freshmen involved in the School of Communication’s Department of Radio/Television/Film community by letting them check out cameras and challenging them to film and produce a film in just 48 hours. The films were screened at the end of the weekend and judged by a panel of RTVF faculty and students.

“Community is a big part of this,” said Erik Gernand, a RTVF lecturer who works with freshmen and conceived and coordinated the event. “Filmmaking is such a collaborative effort. We want students to begin to forge relationships, both professional and personal, early in their time here. Hopefully, those relationships will last throughout their tenure at Northwestern and even beyond.”

The Bubble (W)rap team, McGehee, Alex Heller, Laurel Cohen, Madison Ginsberg and Jamie Lee Cortese, won the challenge and a $250 grant to work on their next film. McGehee said the project was a great introduction to RTVF.

“Erik and the other professors who introduced us to the [initiative] and all the equipment were very welcoming and genuinely excited that we were participating,” she said. “The other members of my team were all amazing during each step of our production…and the professors and members of the RTVF community that came to the screening just to support us really showed me that the film program here is a place that encourages and rewards the hard work of others. The RTVF program is truly a tight-knit community of creative and talented people.”

The chance to work independently on a film project is usually a privilege reserved for upperclassmen.

“Many freshmen don’t have the chance to get their hands on equipment or write their own scripts until they take RTVF 190 in winter or spring quarter,” said Madison Ginsberg, an RTVF freshman and one of the producers of the event. “The Weekend Filmmakers event was a great opportunity to do both of these things and to gain experience as soon as possible.”

The Weekend Filmmakers Initiative is one of several programs designed to bring freshmen into the fold of the RTVF department.

“Movies With A Prof” brings freshmen together with RTVF professors to watch movies at local theaters and discuss them afterwards at a restaurant or coffee house. In addition, Gernand has organized several field trips that take freshmen to see screenings at the Chicago International Film Festival or special events at the Music Box. Gernand also teaches a special freshmen section of RTVF 260: Foundations of Screenwriting.

“It’s great to have a class where freshmen can be with each other and bond together,” he said. “Our focus here is on the experience of first-years and how we can continue to make that experience better and more rewarding for our students. It’s about learning to make films, but more than that it’s about learning to collaborate.”

RTVF chair David Tolchinsky said these programs help freshmen find their own community.

“I think it’s very important for them to feel like they know a professor and to make that connection,” he said. “I think any time you can break down something into smaller bits and then move outward, it can help build community. First you identify yourself as RTVF or film people and then as School of Communication people and then as Northwestern people. In other words, hopefully when freshmen feel a strong sense of identity and belonging, they feel empowered to experiment and explore outward.”

Bill Bleich, associate RTVF chair, who also served on the jury for “best-in-fest,” said he was impressed with the professionalism of the films he saw.

“I thought the quality was amazing, especially considering they had only two days to put the films together,” he said. “It was certainly a difficult decision to pick a winner. That said, one film prevailed with the jury. Without question it was a stellar program in terms of student/faculty engagement — especially in the way the first-year students interacted with each other. I can’t think of a better example in community building than this one. It was an absolute joy start to finish.”
-Cara Lockwood