Coming Soon: Major Motion Picture (Camera)

White-Flag-Stills_04Cue the digital – video production at GCC has come a long way since 1960s hula-hoops and grainy film strips.

In fact, a major motion-picture star is making an appearance on campus. And it won’t be in front of the camera, or behind the camera. It will be the camera itself:  an amazing new device named “Red.”

The recently acquired camera is just one part of a massive facelift going on in the GCC Video Production Technology program, which even has a new name:  Digital Cinema Arts.

The new name reflects a new focus. A new curriculum and course competencies will offer two tracks of study:  Film and Video. The Film track will focus on those students shooting for the big screen – the movie industry. The Video coursework will stress commercial work (corporate video, television commercials and some TV broadcast news).

Lovinder Gill, the program’s director, says the curriculum will be significantly more intense than before. “These changes are taking our program above and beyond other colleges in the valley,” he said.

Gill says the key to success is focus. With excellent video journalism programs available through the A.S.U. Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and elsewhere, it makes sense to consolidate resources at the community college level.

Program changes parallel evolving industry

Gill is intent on broadening students’ perspectives and changing their mindsets about where their future career opportunities might lie, especially with news departments shrinking and corporate jobs increasingly uncertain.

“There’s a whole big world out there to explore,” he said. “I like to see light bulbs going off in their heads.” For instance, the student whose dream was to run camera for Suns basketball team might look beyond that, to owning his own camera truck and offering video services at a variety of sports venues.

Learning on the latest technology is essential career preparation for those pursuing the two-year Associate degree in film or digital production, says Gill. And he’s committed to excellence.

About the program

The renovated GCC program will feature a full TV studio in space that is being entirely gutted and redesigned this summer. Next year, it will have 5 new soundproofed editing suites with high-quality equipment, along with a storage cage to secure equipment, a control room and an open area for five to ten students to work together on group projects. The goal is to emulate how professional facilities are run.

In their first year, students will learn everything on high-definition Panasonic cameras, similar to those used by corporate video departments. Second-year students advance to professional gear. They’ll be able to check out an equipment kit, and accompanied by a faculty member, shoot their projects on the Red cameras.

About the camera

So what exactly is the big deal about the new camera? Well, the Red is the camera system being used in most major film and video work right now.

Based on modular components, it allows the user to mount accessories (recording devices, viewfinders, etc.) and to replace various components as they are upgraded and improved.

The camera records two video streams in parallel, allowing a normally exposed track and an underexposed track to be blended together later to recover highlights. Other advantages:

  • interchangeable lens mount system, allowing for the use of industry-standard lens types
  • recording of footage to data files on disk or flash-based digital storage
  • four recording channels of high-quality digital audio, to record at several resolutions
  • data displays to help monitor quality in the field
  • software to upgrade features over time
  • more natural approximation of a film camera’s motion blur

Net effect of this technology? The look of high-quality film. “The results are just gorgeous, and the level of quality, even in student projects, will approach professional,” said Gill.

Notable works using the camera

In 2012, the director Peter Jackson used it to shoot The Hobbit series. More recently, it was used to shoot the American political-comedy film, The Campaign, which starred Will Ferrell and takes place in North Carolina. The Campaign was written by a classmate of Gill, Shawn Harwell, who also happens to be on the GCC Digital Cinema Arts Advisory Board.

Gill, who recently went to L.A. to be trained on the Red, will be joined by adjunct faculty members. “We have a small, but focused team,” said Gill, who has taught for 10 years. He has a background in filmmaking and has worked in TV as an associate producer and owned his own production company, which did corporate projects, including a two-year project documenting the ascent of Mt. Everest.

The GCC program, which just moved into the art department two or three years ago, has a mix of students, including both veterans and tech-savvy students.

Cross-pollination benefits students

To share resources, two of the classes will be taught in the music department, including sound design for commercial applications.

GCC has been working with Scottsdale Community College in designing the new program to ensure that when students graduate, they’re ready to go on to a four-year program, to begin work locally, or to go to L.A. or another major market.

Connecting with the community

Right now, there are probably only five or ten Reds in the greater Phoenix area, most of them at rental companies, where they go for $500 to $1,000 a day, or a week for $3,000.

“But at GCC, you get to use it for a year” said Gill. “And on top of that, you receive instruction.”

Gill says that, to his knowledge, there’s not another program in the region that’s teaching with this camera. He says the college will probably get dozens of local people who want to be trained on the Red.

The department is working with the Phoenix Screenwriters Association (PSA), which has been very supportive of the program, even giving discounts to GCC students on PSA membership and events. Arizona Virtual Studios has also expressed interest in supporting the GCC program.

“Our students are striving to be excellent storytellers, and we’re giving them great tools to make the most of their abilities,” said Gill.

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