Collaborative classroom production

MFA screenwriting cohort and undergraduate production students develop web series

RTF advanced narrative production screengrabs

The social distance and virtual classrooms created by COVID-19 resulted in collaboration among production and screenwriting classes in the Department of Radio-Television-Film.

Every semester, Cindy McCreery’s MFA screenwriting cohort puts together a TV series. This fall, they focused on a web series anthology and pitched their ideas to undergraduate production classes led by Miguel Alvarez and Nancy Schiesari.

The undergraduate directors in turn pitched their vision for how to produce the ideas, and the faculty matched up the writer-director teams.

Adriana Serrano’s production design class developed film sets and design. Serrano said the teams were reduced to small, two-person groups to comply with health and safety protocol, and many tasks were delegated to classmates online such as producing graphics or finding props.

“All the students had the freedom to decide if they wanted to take part in the physical production,” Serrano said.

The overall series focuses on a therapist who has a twin sister who starts impersonating her and seeing her clients.

“The ‘bad twin’ gives very real and often not the greatest advice. Sometimes this advice can be exactly the truths the client needs to hear and other times it’s the worst possible thing to say.

“I think the audience can expect to laugh, be scared and hopefully will have their own escape from reality!” McCreery said.

The web series goes live this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. CST. View the collaboration and other works created in the Department of Radio-Television-Film online.

Here is some insight from the faculty and filmmakers:

Cindy McCreery

Nancy, Miguel, Adriana and I really wanted to find a way for our students to feel connected -- not only to each other, but to RTF as a whole. We decided to do this collaboration to help connect the students so they would not feel so isolated during this challenging time.

It wasn’t always easy, but the students were so collaborative and excited about the material that it was very inspiring. Being creative was a great escape from all the stress in the world.

We all had to be open to collaboration to encourage the students to do the same. It’s not always easy to be flexible with your own vision or ideas, and I know it was challenging at times for the writers and the production students to learn the art of give and take.

Echo Nguyen, director

It was an accomplishment just to be able to create a film during the pandemic — and safely at that. I’m so happy that so many of my friends were able to work creatively and make amazing films during this wild time.

I hope that the viewer can have a great time just laughing at how (for lack of a better word) “cringey” the whole situation and story is. My aim is that the audience can relate to the loneliness that (the character) feels as well as her need for a companion to understand her.

Nancy Schiesari

To work collectively felt right in a film school. It came closer to replicating the experience of making a film when all departments work in tandem during production.

I am most proud of the students’ willingness to try something new.

Regardless of the trying circumstances brought on by COVID-19, where meetings and rehearsals shift to Zoom, the students managed to find their way to make it happen — bringing all the disparate parts of a film shoot together. They succeeded in making films that were faithful to the intention of the writers while making the treatment of the story their own.

I hope our experiment becomes a model for future endeavors with or without the limitations of COVID-19.

Adriana Serrano

By our classes working together, we created a sense of community that is important in filmmaking. At the same time, students are also getting to identify each other’s talents for future collaborations.

This is a model that I hope is reproduced in other semesters at RTF. To me, it is crucial that the students learn to collaborate as teams. This model lets them find a focus on a specific skill while developing a more professional environment in the classroom.

I was really impressed by the creativity and willingness of the students to adapt and collaborate online while working under very tight schedules.

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