How Fire, Stress and Inexperience Make the Movie Worth It for Baylor Professor, Students
- Chris Hansen, director, talks through the scene with actor Drez Ryan on set. (Liesbeth Powers/Baylor University)
- FDM students receive feedback and pointers on sound for the next scene. (Liesbeth Powers/Baylor University)
- An FDM student tackles the technical side of filming. (Liesbeth Powers/Baylor University)
- Actor Drez Ryan responds to student questions as part of their behind-the-scenes footage. (Liesbeth Powers/Baylor University)
- Another scene from "Seven Short Films About (Our) Marriage" takes place in Klassy Glass, a local wine bar. (Robert Rogers/Baylor University)
- Director Chris Hansen watches the scene play out on camera. (Robert Rogers/Baylor University)
by Liesbeth Powers, student newswriter
WACO, Texas (July 20, 2018) – Day 16. The set is calm, quiet.
The film crew stands poised with boom mics, lighting equipment and cameras in an alley behind Dichotomy, a local coffee establishment in downtown Waco. Two men – the actors in this scene – stand in the center of the crowd, awaiting direction.
“Camera ready?” a voice calls.
“Ready,” calls another.
“Scene 7, take one,” is heard as the clapperboard snaps in front of the camera.
“Action!” the director calls.
The actors launch into a rehearsed argument.
The film, “Seven Short Films About (Our) Marriage,” focuses on the challenges of marriage. The idea was inspired by a friend’s social media post about reaching a milestone anniversary despite going through some difficult times, said director Chris Hansen, professor and chair of film & digital media (FDM) in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. His film crew includes more than 20 students and a number of FDM faculty.
“I think that a lot of movies about marriage tell a grand romantic story, and I feel like a lot of marriages are more everyday choices and difficulties that people face and work their way through,” Hansen said. “I was interested in telling that kind of story.”
There are seven mini-films, or chapters, within the film, which covers the course of one couple’s marriage. Having the story take place over so many years served as a challenge, Hansen said, but was the best way to tell it.
“The little things that people go through, they come up at random points of your lives and they don’t always have a typical movie structure,” Hansen said. “It felt like the best way to tell it was to find the pivotal points where things happen in a marriage that become pressure points for people. I felt like I needed to be able to jump ahead in their marriage and revisit them at various points.”
A Learning Environment
The dynamics on set tend to be less hierarchical for the making of an independent film, Hansen said, but it also depends on the personality of the director.
“When you’re working with students, you have to have the patience to let them learn, and we also have close relationships with our students where we are very invested in what they’re learning and their futures,” Hansen said. “Our relationships on the set are such with our students that it is not just us going and ordering people around, but it’s more of a learning environment.”
Rachel Jobin, a senior film and digital media major from Frisco, has had experience with short films, but she embarked on her first feature film as associate producer. Working with professors and other students made the process more relaxed, she said. There was less fear of job insecurity, and knowing the people around her made it a more forgiving experience.
“Professors are much more forgiving of your mistakes because they are ultimately more invested in you as an individual and want to nurture you as a filmmaker,” Jobin said. “They still care about making a great film, but they also care about you and your education, and they understand that mistakes are simply an aspect of the learning process.”
During the past decade, Baylor’s FDM program has established a growing reputation as a place where students with drive and talent can find their artistic voice and develop skills as storytellers. The FDM program’s graduates have gone on to careers as noted writers, directors, cinematographers and producers across the country, establishing a strong link between the Baylor name and industry success.
Jenna Van Kley, a senior film and digital media major from Powell, Ohio, had never worked on a feature film before. Van Kley began as part of the behind-the-scenes crew, then moved her way into the camera department. From there, she worked her way up to second assistant camera.
“All we knew was that we were going to get some sort of movie-making experience, and we for sure got it,” Van Kley said. “Now I don’t have to enter the industry blind. I know more about what to expect in the ‘real world,’ and I am a lot more confident moving into my final year of college and graduation.”
Collin Slowey, a junior university scholar from Bryan, served as script supervisor, or the person who makes sure there aren’t any plot holes and communicates the director’s thoughts about footage to the editor. During the shoot, Slowey sat next to Hansen and took notes on each take.
“I've watched a lot of behind-the-scenes footage from my favorite movies, and I was surprised by how similar being a part of a real project was to those ‘making-of’ documentaries,” Slowey said.
“Baptism by Fire”
Students spend a few days planning and being trained on what will be needed for the upcoming shoot, and they are expected to continue to learn on the job. Each location and set change trains students on new skills. On the first four days of 26 days of filming, the crew worked four overnights from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. for a large-scale college reunion scene in the outdoor area by Baylor’s Armstrong Browning Library. The third night of filming is most memorable to Slowey.
“It was a night shoot, so we were already really tired, but it was crazy how many things kept going wrong,” Slowey said. “Our equipment almost got destroyed by sprinklers, and a light even set some stuff on fire. Thankfully, we made it through without any real disasters.”
Hansen remembers this set as a challenge for everyone involved, but he was encouraged by the eagerness of his students.
“It was good because it was a baptism by fire for the students,” Hansen said. “A lot of the stuff we did after that seemed easy by comparison, but it was a tough way to start.”
For Jobin, the final day of filming, when they wrapped the final scene, provided her and fellow filmmakers a feeling of both relief and excitement.
“You could tell in that single moment how much the experience impacted all of us and how close we had become as a group,” Jobin said.
“Make the film right”
The next step for the film is a series of picture edits, before setting the final movie length. Audio correction and newly composed music scores are then added.
“Unlike studio films where they are trying to reach a certain release date, we are just trying to make the film right,” Hansen said. “It could take the next nine months, or it might be a little bit longer or shorter depending on how quickly people are working.”
When the editing is complete, the film will be entered into film festivals and eventually make its way into distribution. Previous films by Hansen have been added to iTunes and Amazon.
“Launching into a big festival can change how the film is perceived. Our hope would be to go into some really significant film festivals and then to get into distribution so people can see it,” Hansen said.
This is the fifth feature film Hansen has directed. One of Hansen’s most recent feature films, “Blur Circle,” received awards for Best Editing, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Feature and Best of the Fest at a screening during June’s ReelHeART International Film Festival in Toronto. It also won the Audience Award for Best Feature Drama at the Woods Hole Film Festival in 2017. Baylor FDM students also assisted with the making of “Blur Circle.”
Roll the Credits
“We teach students how to make films, but when they’re working on a project for class or fellow students, it’s very much on a small scale,” Hansen said. “We are still making stuff on a smaller scale, but it’s a much bigger scale than anything they have worked on before. For them, getting to see and work on a bigger scale and get a credit on IMDB and for the film that they worked on to be on Amazon or be in film festivals – I think it has a really significant impact on them.”
Over the years students have called this experience one of the best of their time at Baylor. During shooting this summer, Hansen already has received positive feedback via social media.
“Naturally there were some pretty stressful moments, yet I found myself enjoying even those,” Van Kley said.
Van Kley posted a few pictures from set on her Instagram page, claiming: “Theory confirmed – this is what I want to do until my bones are too brittle to carry a camera.”
ABOUT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES
The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments and seven academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.