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Making Movies

Aug. 21, 2007


By David McKay Wilson

BB Enriquez swats the alarm clock screeching near his head. He rolls out of bed and within minutes is out the door, just like dozens of other Baylor students on a warm spring day. But instead of strolling across a tree-shaded campus with the chimes of Pat Neff ringing in the distance, Enriquez dodges traffic, then hops on the subway to his stop in midtown Manhattan, where he settles into his desk at Sirk Productions.

As part of the Baylor Communication in New York program, Enriquez, BA '05, spent the spring semester of his senior year as an intern at the award-winning film production company, which was so impressed with his work that they offered him a job after his graduation the following December. Today, Enriquez is working on a documentary based on a U.S. Marine's personal video footage of the Iraq invasion following the campaign from Kuwait to Baghdad.

"I love what I'm doing, and I love my colleagues," says Enriquez, 24. "In New York, it's important who you know, and then you have to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you."

As a junior at Seguin High School, Enriquez discovered his love for movie-making when his creative interests came together in a class film project. "We made a 30-minute cultural satire of MTV's Road Rules, complete with fake commercials," says Enriquez. Through the project he discovered an outlet for his passion for graphic design, music and broadcast journalism -- what he describes as a "'perfect storm' of artistic influences."

Enriquez came to Baylor in 2001, attracted to the university's small, personalized program in film and digital media, and is among a growing cadre of Baylor students who have been launched into creative positions in film and television following graduation. Their success comes as a result of the program's focused approach to exposing students to the latest technologies and techniques while offering competitive opportunities in major markets.

A New York state of mind

It can be daunting for students to make the leap from college to jobs in the film or television industry, but Baylor has made those students' prospects considerably greater through its Baylor Communication in New York (BCNY) program, which was established in 2003.

The program was set up by assistant professor Joe Kickasola after he saw that while Baylor students were well-trained and professional enough to compete with undergraduates from schools located in major media markets, they were unable to land high-powered internships that provide entry into the job market upon graduation.

"Many of the problems were purely logistical," says Kickasola. Even when Baylor students found an internship in New York or Los Angeles, the students then had the additional challenge of finding housing and possibly a car to make it all work in a city where they might not know anyone.

"Some did it, but it was a pretty big gamble," says Kickasola.

BCNY is patterned after study abroad programs around the world. Up to 20 students per semester come to New York, stay in student housing in the former St. George Hotel in Brooklyn Heights, take Baylor courses in communications and urban culture, and work in internships at top media outlets, public relations agencies and independent film production companies. Kickasola teaches classes and helps guide students to make the most of their stay in New York.

"Baylor has a vision that goes far beyond Waco," says Kickasola. "Our students are talented and well-trained and want to make a difference. This experience in New York gets them that much further in the world. It's a level of exposure that is critical."

High-tech training

That broad vision and attention to the individual student is part of what draws students like Enriquez to the Baylor program.

Baylor's Film and Digital Media Department engages students on many levels through courses in media theory and film appreciation, as well as film production, feature film writing, public broadcasting, and interactive media, which stresses the integration of computer technology in the development of interactive media.

Major advances in the industry over the past two decades have made it easier to produce and distribute video digitally, on personal computers, even on cell phones. With the explosion of video on the Internet, more and more people are producing content and cultivating general interest in making movies.

"The ease of acquiring powerful tools to make high quality videos and films has changed the entry-level skill set for students coming to Baylor," says professor Corey Carbonara. "The sophistication of new students is so much higher today, and our curriculum is dealing with this change by raising the bar."

Raising the bar is familiar ground for Carbonara, who has been training Baylor students for the 21st-century film and digital marketplace at the university for more than 20 years. He came to Baylor in 1983 after working for Columbia Pictures Television Group. In 1985, he joined Sony as a high definition (HD) product manager as the Japanese media giant was introducing the new technology to the world.

When Carbonara returned to Baylor soon after, he brought with him experience and expertise in HD technologies that continue to be trademarks of the program today.

Upper-level students have the opportunity to utilize HD equipment and editing techniques in their projects, and Baylor students annually make up the largest contingent of university interns at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention, working with Sony to demonstrate the latest cameras and technologies available at the yearly event.

"My first encounter with HD happened at NAB in Las Vegas," says junior Taylor Rudd, a film and digital media major. "A buddy of mine, Jon Davis, managed to get his hands on a compact HD camera for two nights. Several of us went to the Strip and shot a few hours of footage. The product manager who let us borrow the camera wanted to see the footage, so I edited a quick reel together and gave it to him the next day. He liked it so much he played it in Sony's theater and supposedly sent it to Sony Japan. The professors were quite surprised to hear what we did."

Baylor's emphasis on High Definition sets its graduates apart by giving them hands-on experience with the same advanced equipment used by many major production studios. "Our students have been very competitive because they are so well-trained on current technologies," says associate professor Chris Hansen. "They are well-prepared in other ways because we've taught them well, but having those abilities with the latest technology often gets them in the door--it's what makes them people of influence later." Students participate with faculty in cutting-edge research, finding new applications for HD technology for digital images on computers and other portable media devices.

That technology is constantly changing, of course, and Baylor is staying up with those changes.

"Our 'angle' is  to  select one or two  aspects of the media industry where new technologies are disrupting traditional methods," says professor Michael Korpi. "Where there is disruption, there is also opportunity, and by focusing on these areas we can help Baylor graduates compete effectively in the major media job markets like New York and L.A. ... In the past, pursuing this angle has involved work with HDTV and digital nonlinear editing. Currently, we are working in the areas of digital cinema, simulation environments and home/personal media networks."

"We want to be way ahead of the curve for our students so they'll be able to make a mark," says Carbonara.

Main feature

Keeping ahead of the curve also means working on television and movie projects while still at Baylor. Students have the opportunity to shoot and edit their own films and short projects as well as work on feature-length films.

"My primary attraction to Baylor's film program was the combination of pioneering HD research and the level of student interaction with department projects," says senior Josh Marshall, a communication studies major and recipient of the Pearson Memorial Film Endowed Scholarship and the Plitt Theatres Employee Endowed Scholarship. "The opportunities that students in the film program have here are really unparalleled, as the professors are constantly providing projects such as feature and short films, documentaries, media and technology research projects, etc., that really offer students the chance to play important roles and gain real-world experience."

Films like Hansen's The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah, shot in Waco as part of a summer class in film, employ students in all capacities. Hansen hired a director of photography to shoot the movie with Baylor students serving as the crew, working on lighting and sound and assisting in the production.

The mock documentary, which was shot on a bare-bones budget of $18,000, takes a satirical look at how people use and abuse religion and fame for their own purposes. It played at more than a dozen film festivals, including ones in Dallas and Los Angeles, and was recently picked up for distribution by Reel Indies, a division of Mill Creek Entertainment.

Movies with a message

In addition to having a grasp on technology and gaining the technical skills needed to produce high quality films, Hansen hopes his students will leave Baylor with a deeper appreciation for the medium itself. "A lot of schools can teach you how to do something interesting on film--visually stunning, good story--but we are also trying to help our students understand the nature of communication in this medium from an ethical and spiritual perspective," says Hansen.

Rather than avoid what is sometimes seen as an industry at odds with traditional Christian values, Baylor film and digital media students are challenged to become fully engaged in what is arguably one of our society's most powerful mediums.

"One of the  more interesting  characteristics of visual media is that they have an almost automatic tendency to make bad or evil things appear interesting, and the converse tendency of making good or admirable things look boring or trite," notes Korpi. "This makes ethical and effective use of the media much more challenging for Christians."

English professor Greg Garrett examines the spiritual messages delivered in a wide range of movies in his recent book, The Gospel According to Hollywood. In a world starved for faith, Garrett says films can provide a vital link to the sacred.

"We Christians do ourselves few favors by refusing to engage the culture, especially when that culture could help lead a broken world in the direction of faith and wholeness," Garrett writes.

This fall, movies will be at the center of a multi-disciplinary seminar led by Hansen called "Film and Global Culture." It's one of three Engaged Learning Groups set up by Baylor for select groups of about 50 students who will live in the same wing of a residence hall and participate in weekly seminars during their freshman and sophomore years.

Hansen, who is teaching the course with assistant professors Jim Kendrick and Xin Wang, says the course will explore the dialogue between culture and film around the world as viewed through a variety of academic disciplines and cultural perspectives. The course will include a trip to the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and a campus-wide film festival at Baylor, which will be planned by the students.

"For me to go to a school like Baylor that is built on Christian beliefs is more encouragement to my walk," says junior Bernard Garceau, a film and digital media major. "[Film and digital media] is a relevant subject that offers a huge impact to Christians (in my case) to minister and be a light in an industry so far from anything but darkness."

"Film is one of the most significant and accessible art forms in the past 100 years," says Hansen. "I want my students to be aware of the complexity of the messages in film and how they can impact culture in a meaningful way."

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