Lights, Camera, Collaboration!
Nestled in the heart of the University of Windsor’s old drama building, behind an unassuming door with the words “Studio 5” in toy block lettering, is a room where students are learning how to manipulate time and space. This high-ceilinged classroom with cinderblock walls is filled with sophisticated equipment that captures light and assembles it into alternate realities. But you won’t find lasers or particle accelerators in this classroom space; this is the environment where Communication Studies Professor Min Bae teaches students the art and science of film and video production.
Bae teaches a suite of courses to undergraduate and graduate students. He knows from experience that the best way to teach video production is to have students do it themselves. His hands-on philosophy takes students first to traditional film technology which, according to Bae, has not changed in the last half century. “Traditional film technology is a good foundation because new digital technology changes so quickly.” It might seem counterintuitive to teach students something they may never again use as professionals in the world of video production. Bae says, however, that it’s important to remove students from the whirlwind of technological change so that they can understand the theory of film and video production. There are many students in video production who have never studied film before and Bae’s classes provide an opportunity for them to build a broader foundation for their work.
...the best way to teach video production is to have students do it themselves.
Bae applies his teaching philosophy consistently when instructing students at any level. He is able to do this partly because his professional work as a multimedia artist comprises the core of his pedagogical approach. He is currently producing a film that combines stop-motion photography of clay figurines with more traditional 35mm film and video of live, scripted actors on location in Detroit, Michigan. All of this work is undertaken in the Studio 5 classroom in tandem with the assigned projects that students complete for credit.
The 12-16 minute film, entitled Metro: Isolation, will take over one year to complete and has already moved from pre-production into the set-construction phase. An urban skyline and street setting made entirely of plaster is currently being constructed and will be the backdrop for the clay animation sequences filmed with Bae’s own state-of-the-art digital video camera. As students come and go over the semester, they watch the progress of Bae’s model city. The plaster and paint will eventually set the scene for what Bae hopes will be an environment that is reminiscent of almost any urban centre in America.
The story follows a single father and his two children who are coping with city life in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The narrative unfolds from the perspective of his physically-disabled daughter who watches as her father and brother struggle to make sense of the terrorist attacks as subjects in an urban environment.
He is the type of teacher who, if given a magic wand with the power to make his own life easier, would not limit his availability but would instead add more hours to the day.
Bae is writer, producer, director, and editor of the project. The mixture of stop-motion photography and 3D animation with analog film and digital video allows students to see many varied techniques. The multimedia format also provides an interesting opportunity in terms of feedback from the audience.
“As a filmmaker I always want to get the public’s response to my work,” says Bae. When asked if that response to his multimedia approach is always favourable, he chuckles and offers a simple “no.”
Public response is important because it allows the filmmaker to grow as an artist and as a communicator. This is, according to Bae, a major reason why he chose to place his students into groups at the beginning of the semester. Collaboration is important because it allows students to learn from each other; they must communicate their ideas to each other, work out compromises when many ideas are brought to the table and deal with accepting and implementing constructive criticism from their peers.
Public response is important because it allows the filmmaker to grow as an artist and as a communicator.
Yash Talwar is a student currently taking the second half of Bae’s 400-level Advanced Video Production. He says that taking Bae’s courses and experiencing Bae’s method of instruction have solidified his wish to become a feature film director. “When I started the class, I thought it was supposed to be strictly about video production. It has turned out to be so much more; it’s very challenging and fun.” Talwar says he enjoys the fact that the course is not theoretical, but “practical and hands-on.” He also stresses the fact that Bae’s own work on Metro: Isolation provides an invaluable opportunity for students to ask questions and learn by example.
The overlap between Bae’s professional work as filmmaker and his work as teacher is bittersweet. Unlike some colleagues across the University who deliver lectures, grade assignments, and hold office hours, Bae’s campus studio does not allow him to have quiet personal time for his own production. He must always be present when students are filming so that he can answer their questions and teach them how to do things properly. The necessity of his presence also limits the feasibility and usefulness of a teacher’s assistant because he must supervise all of the course labs and tutorials himself.
Bae is quick to point out that he loves being accessible to students and would never limit his availability. He has an open-door policy and students are welcome to drop into Studio 5 whenever he is working there. This is, indeed, one of his most admirable qualities. He is the type of teacher who, if given a magic wand with the power to make his own life easier, would not limit his availability but would instead add more hours to the day. Although he does not get to spend as much time as he would like on his own projects, Bae admits that the experience of teaching video production to eager students and the things that he, in turn, learns from them makes the sacrifice more than worthwhile.
Jeremy Marentette is a freelance writer and recent graduate from the Communication and Social Justice MA program at the University of Windsor.