Writing students get filmmaking experience with Internet video
By Rosemary Westwood
Lead Simon Basch playing "Shame Herbison" and Eliza Robertson playing "Kathryn," with Daniel Hogg, cinematographer,
during shooting of the UVic writing students' web video series Freshman's Wharf.
Writing instructor Maureen Bradley and a small class of students sit in a dark computer lab in the Fine Arts Building. Projected on the wall is the result of months of planning and hard work: the Freshman’s Wharf web series.
Freshman’s Wharf blends the screenplay of writing student Rachel Warden with the enthusiasm of 11 other writing students to turn words on a page into two short pilot webisodes designed for the quick click environment of the Internet.
The result is a quirky comedy about first-year student Shame Herbison, who gets off to a rough start at UVic. The production quality outstrips others in the burgeoning genre of webisodes, says Bradley—even though the whole project took only two months.
“We’re at that paradigm shift [with video and the Internet] and we don’t know what it’s going to become. I think it’s a really valid area to play around in and to try to make high quality work in,” says Bradley.
The idea came to Bradley—herself an award-winning independent filmmaker—when she reflected on the challenges that face screenplay writers who want to follow the process through and actually make a film. She held a competition for ready-to-go scripts, and Warden’s was chosen.
“I wanted the student to do something they could get immediate gratification for and immediate attention for,” Bradley says.
The shoot was also a chance for Bradley to get behind the camera and do one of her favourite jobs: directing.
The class began as a volunteer opportunity to work on a film and learn all the ins and outs of pre-production, filming and post-production. But students soon realized the experience would make a great directed studies course, and a new class was born.
“It’s a very rare opportunity,” says Warden. “Filmmaking is collaborative, so when student writers want to get their work produced, they sure can’t do it alone.”
The project came together in short order thanks to the help of numerous community members, local actors, faculty members, the donation of a score from David Parfitt and equipment from Cinevic Society of Independent Filmmakers. Bradley’s recent Canada Foundation for Innovation grant for $390,000 also helped fund the film.
But the real source of the class’s success is the enthusiasm and commitment of students.
“Knowing this is possible with the limited budget we had and with a group of people who are passionate about writing and about filmmaking—it’s pretty awesome,” says Megan Russell.
For Russell and fellow student Eliza Robertson, the class was a chance to try filmmaking for the first time. Robertson both acted and learned the ins and outs of recording sound while Russell worked in the lighting crew.
Student Clay Murphy had some experience with managing equipment on set and says the class honed those skills.
But the course’s main draw for students was a chance to see how their work can come alive—a result often hard to come by for playwrights and screenplay writers, Bradley says.
“I wasn’t familiar with the genre of web-isodes, and I think it’s something that is becoming more prevalent. Anyone can make one,” says Robertson. “You don’t have to be in Hollywood.”
The class has been so successful that students have decided Freshman’s Wharf should keep on going. The group has formed Writers Room Productions and hopes to film more episodes in the fall.
For now, though, they have the gratification of an international audience for the launch of their first filmmaking effort.
Watch Freshman’s Wharf online: www.youtube.com/TheWritersRoom