A film festival is always an exciting occasion. When you combine it with master classes, workshops and professional panel discussions, it’s cause for celebration. Every year Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)—a private, nonprofit, accredited university for creative careers—hosts the Savannah Film Festival, which is now in its 20th year. The festival has grown over the years, moving from a student showcase to include high-profile, international entries. The 2017 festival, held October 28 – November 4, featured competition film showings, special screenings and workshops, and honored cinematic luminaries such as Richard Gere, Holly Hunter and Aaron Sorkin.
In addition to recognizing the achievements of top creative talents and screening films from emerging student filmmakers and award-winning professionals, the Savannah Film Festival features important educational components that benefit both SCAD students and the general public.
Each year, Avid supports this lauded festival by bringing in video and audio professionals actively working in the industry to share industry insights, professional tips and career experiences with students and festivalgoers. SCAD is a valued member of the Avid Learning Partner (ALP) program, which enables students to receive additional training on Avid tools and earn official certification in addition to their degrees.
A unique opportunity
The festival is known as a breath of fresh air in the entertainment industry, both for its Savannah, Georgia location and its format. As Alex Newton, film and television professor at SCAD says, “this is an incredible opportunity to engage with mentors and creative artists who are working in the industry – those same artists who are making content that students engage with on a daily basis. They’re watching it and studying it in their free time and interacting with it on a professional level, so it’s very exciting for them and for us.”
Rough cuts to finals
Some 50 students were fortunate to learn from prolific editor (and sometime actor) Colby Parker Jr. His work on Friday Night Lights with director Peter Berg put the film world on notice, popularizing a documentary style of editing that increased the requirement of authenticity in film. More recently Parker teamed with Berg on the acclaimed feature Deepwater Horizon. Parker came to the campus studio armed with plenty of footage to discuss before and after scenes and the finer points of cutting a film in an editing master class.
Using Avid Media Composer, he got ‘deep into the dailies’ of both Ant-Man and Deepwater Horizon. “It’s intimidating to do huge sequences like you see in a film like Deepwater Horizon,” Colby says. “I was able to able to duplicate the story with four or five characters and show how it happens over time – how to build complete sequences for all stories.” In addition to thoroughly enjoying the process of sharing his knowledge and experience, he was surprised by the students’ level of sophistication and the enthusiasm of the school and the students. “I was really blown away by the festival,” he says. “You can see that everyone involved loves and cherishes film and nurtures the filmmaking process. I was happy to share what I know.”
On the audio side, mixer Jonathan Wales shared his wealth of talent and experience in a two-and-a-half hour master class that had him literally surrounded by students in a mixing theater as he demonstrated on a Pro Tools | S6 console with a Pro Tools | HDX system. Jonathan—who started out producing records in his native London before working as a film re-recording mixer and at world-class facilities including Universal Studios before finally creating his own company—loaded files from real-world projects to illustrate a range of mixing techniques. He too was amazed by the students’ savvy. “It was obvious to me that they were a very high-quality group of students with on-point, sensible and smart questions.”
Jonathan recognized the value of the hands-on experience for students. “Theory is one thing,” he says. “In practice it’s very different. The more students get exposed to real work, the better.” He also emphasized the practical nature of seeing artists at work. “It’s important to give them the opportunity to see working professionals as normal people. We tend to idolize anyone working in the job we want. This is a job—a difficult one—but you need to be careful how high you build the pedestal. Events like this make it more real and achievable.” Students took every opportunity to ask questions – everything from technical specifics to breaking into the business.
In the classes and joint panel discussion, which was open to all festival attendees, both creative pros reinforced some common themes and offered practical advice to aspiring audio and video talent. “Don’t underestimate really knowing your stuff – especially the tools,” says Jonathan. In addition to working 100-hour weeks for almost nothing, Jonathan speaks to the importance of a little good fortune – something he calls ‘engineered luck.’ “You need to be at the right place at right time but you also need to have the right skill set and attitude – you need to be prepared to go for it. Once you’re in the door you need to ask questions until you’re annoying – soak it all up.”
The two also agree on how much times have changed. While the road to professional success is extraordinarily competitive, technology has made the learning curve easier. “Avid wasn’t around when I was in school,” offers Colby. “You had to study your film and compose your thoughts in a very linear way. With Avid, you can do it all within minutes – try everything and quickly compose.”
It’s all storytelling
The common thread through all aspects of the festival? Storytelling. No matter what side of the business you’re in, or you aspire to, it’s all about telling engaging stories. And for that it helps to understand all aspects of the process. As Jonathan advises, “immerse yourself and learn as much as possible about as much as possible. You need to have a good understanding of the whole process. You need to know what makes things successful and cool – how a movie fundamentally gets made. You’re a cog in the wheel but you need to know what the machine is for.”
Tips and preparations
This is a sentiment echoed by SCAD’s Mitchell Gettleman, Department Chair, Sound Design. “Filmmaking is about collaboration,” he explains. “All of these accomplished professionals talk about collaboration and we model our teaching on what we learn from them and what our own professional experience teaches us. Mentoring students and fostering these industry relationships are extremely important to the students’ success.” Perhaps SCAD’s Alex Newton puts it into perspective best. “It’s our job to push them beyond – beyond the software and the workflows to what will prepare them for the positions they want once they’re done.” What better venue than one of the country’s most distinguished film festivals to see it all in action.