Newcomers, Hopefuls, and Award Winners: A Glimpse into Tri-C’s Film Academy
At the Metropolitan Campus, the Media Arts Center’s studio can seem empty. But for several weeks, it comes to life as trainees from Cuyahoga Community College, and film professionals from the field descend on the center. Their motive: produce a class of students ready to go into the production field. Their end goal: create a short film. And earlier this year, one such film put Cuyahoga Community College on the map. “The Resistance,” a short film about women spies in Nazi-occupied France, won four awards and seven nominations in the Paris Film Awards and Florence Film Awards, as well as the Best Shorts Competition according to IMDb.
Kara White, a local filmmaker, was the writer and director of “The Resistance.” She and her husband, Adam White, own Hemlock Films, a Cleveland-based film production company. Kara White has directed and filmed multiple historical documentaries in the past, including “Rise Above: WASP,” about the Woman Airforce Service Pilots. Kara White says telling the stories of people in history who are not often remembered is a big motivator for her, more so than fictional works. “There’s all these really rich stories about people who really existed, so I tend to want to lean towards those stories, because they seem so incredible, but they’re actually true.” says Kara White. The inspiration for “The Resistance” came from her research on the achievements and struggles of female spies during the war. “I was really heavily reading about the women spies from World War Two, like American, British, Australian, all of them, and I really was inspired by what they went through.” she says. “I thought their stories were incredibly impressive.”
The program involves more than just video shoots; it’s a weeks-long process involving multiple Tri-C departments according to Olivia Villasenor, project director for the Film Academy. “For the film crew training, we do five weeks of training. And then the sixth week, we actually film a short film, and we build a set on the stage.” she explained. The trainees additionally work with Tri-C’s Theater Arts department to build sets and locate props for films. “Our trainees from 2022 did a phenomenal job.” says Villasenor. “I think every single one of them stepped up to the plate.” Kara White was also pleased working with trainees. “I think they were really great, attentive, really eager to learn.” she says. “They were all very eager to collaborate and bring ideas to the table.”
Bob Bryan, associate vice president of television and video services, played a role in selecting Kara White to direct. He says the team wanted someone who was local and a female director. Tri-C’s Film Academy has grown significantly, according to Bryan. “Before it was just basically Tri-C doing it and The film commission. But I really think now more and more people in the city and in Northeast Ohio know what we have. It’s got a strong reputation, to be able to put out trained staff members to work in the industry.”
One of the students who took crew training in 2022 was Joshua Bowman, who at the time was a software developer looking to switch careers. “I figured Cleveland’s probably not the optimal place to do it, but I just kind of started looking around online.” Says Bowman. He later changed upon Tri’s program, calling it a “perfect fit.” “I didn’t want to go to film school, so I just signed up, quit my job and dove right in and yeah, it was it was great.”
“It was a crazy experience but a big eye opener. I got to learn a bunch of audio equipment, and I got to experience what it’s like to be on a film set.” says Elizabeth Ward, who didn’t work on “The Resistance,” but did work on the Film Academy’s next film.
According to Villasenor, what makes Tri-C’s Film Academy so special is that it connects trainees with local area professionals. Ward got to work with Jonathan Andrews, a sound mixer with a long career in television in film. Andrews has worked on films in the past such as “Fences” and “Into the Storm,” as well as several documentaries. “Before the actual shooting days, he invited us over to his house so we could look at and learn all of his equipment, which I thought was really cool.” Ward explains. Villasenor says most of the crew members who worked on “The Resistance” quickly found work. “We had 12 trainees last year, and 11 of them went straight to work on a set right after we completed the film. They went to work on the set of “Shooting Stars,” which is the LeBron James biopic that was being filmed around Cleveland in the spring of 2022.” she explains. “If [professionals] see a student in the class that they think is capable and interested, and has a good work ethic, and takes direction, they recommend them for hire.”
Both students interviewed say they believe Tri-C prepared them well for their careers. “I think the Student Production Office really helped me the most with what I want to do, which is AV editing and audio engineering. They really opened my eyes up to a lot more opportunities instead of just studio work.” says Ward, who wants to do freelance audio and video editing.
“Within the span of a year, I was able to try out so many different things that I never would have thought I would have been able to.” says Bowman. “I got to work in several departments of a crew on a feature. I did a couple of commercials. I was able to work on a couple Indie shorts. None of that would’ve happened without Tri-C’s film-intensive training.”