Theatre And Filmmaking
Reichert and Klein had just completed their Academy Award-nominated documentary, Red in web film school . The Motion Pictures Program had just received part of a $ 150,000 Program Excellence Award bestowed on the theater department by the Ohio Board of Regents, with a matching Academic Challenge Award of $ 650,000 over six years. The film program's portion went to buy equipment - which up until then had consisted of one Nagra sound recording deck and a 25-year-old sync-sound camera - and hire Reichert and Klein to teach a documentary course.
The two based their one-on-one teaching style on their own learning experience in the pre-film-school era. One of the films that came out of that six-month mentoring session was Steven Bognar's If It Bleeds, It Leads , which was nominated for a Student Academy Award and was distributed nationally. Reichert and Klein stayed on, sharing one full-time teaching position. Bognar's first feature-length documentary, Personal Belongings , premiered at Sundance in January.
The Motion Pictures Program was honored with its own Program Excellence Award in 1988, becoming the only department at Wright State to win two. Most of the $ 147,000 grant was used to buy production equipment and create a faculty position for Russell Johnson , an experimental narrative filmmaker who teaches production, history and theory. The program also received a second matching Academic Challenge Award of $ 480,000 over six years. "The early years were good for growth," Klein said.
The program was vying for its third Excellence Award when Gov. George Voinovich suspended the grants as part of his education budget cuts. "Since then the quality of our students' work has continued to get better, but our ability to service the students and provide up-to-date equipment and facilities is really on the brink," Klein said. "It doesn't help at all that the industry is moving into entirely new technology right now."
Film is a technology-dependent program, and with the industry shift to digital editing and the advent of interactive multimedia formats, it's become costly for Wright State to keep up. The state-assisted university implemented an across-the-board 3-percent re-allocation of funds earlier this year, according to Barry Johnson, assistant vice president for public relations. All departments were asked to return 3 percent of their budgets, to be redistributed to growth areas such as the School of Nursing. For the Motion Pictures Program, that meant the loss of one full-time staff position.
"It's made our work harder," Reichert said. "But ... I do believe the quality of the work, it's getting stronger in the face of that." The program's heightened recognition is attracting better students, she said. "It's a very competitive program," said senior Andrew Estevez , who directed The Signing , another of this year's Big Lens offerings. Estevez is the nephew of actor and Dayton native Martin Sheen . "There's a limited amount of resources... There's a limited number of instructors. It's a very tough program in terms of the classes you have to take."
About 60 new students apply for 40 freshman slots each year. Those selected must earn B's in their production and theory classes to advance to sophomore year, which usually cuts the class to 20. That falls to 10 by junior year - students must audition their work for the faculty to be selected. "There's a lot of gnashing of teeth around that time," Estevez said. Only four or five graduate each year, after making a junior and senior film. Most take five or more years to complete the program, which also has heavy humanities requirements.