SCREEN ARTS AND CULTURES 423:
THE MAKING OF STUDENT FILMS
By Paige Pfleger
Daily Arts Writer
Photos above courtesy of SAC students Matt Birnholtz (Thru Traffic),
Benjamin Foote (Thru Traffic), and Julie Via (Bad Girls).
(In order of appearance):
Robert Rayher, professor - Rayher is a senior lecturer in the Screen Arts & Culture department. He has
angular features and is beginning to go gray, which gives him an authoritative look.
Jim Burnstein, professor - Burnstein is the screenwriting coordinator for the SAC department. His hair
is white and he wears wire-framed glasses. Cohort of Rayher.
Layne Simescu, Director, "Thru Traffic" - LSA senior Layne Simescu is from Traverse City, Michigan, and
is majoring in SAC. She has acted in, written and directed films. She has soft features set in an often
Jackie Vresics, Director of Photography, "Thru, Traffic" - LSA senior Jackie Vresics works closely with
Simescu on set and is charged with making Simescu's vision of the script come to fruition. She is
small, and the film camera looks like a large bird that she carries on her shoulder.
Graham Techler, Star, "Thru Traffic" - Music, Theater & Dance sophomore Graham Techler is the actor
that stars in "Thru Traffic." He is tall, lanky and has a knack for comedic flair.
Matt Montgomery, Writer, "Thru Traffic" - LSA senior Matt Montgomery is in the screenwriting subconcen-
tration in the SAC department. He is a skinny guy, mousey brown hair. He's unassuming and for the most
part quiet on set, since he no longer has control over the script.
Erika Henningsen, Star, "Bad Girls" - Music, Theater & Dance senior Henningsen is in the Musical The-
ater program. She is the star of the film "Bad Girls," and is classically pretty - she has blonde hair
and blue eyes and would be easily translated into an animated Disney princess.
Dustin Alpern, Director, "Bad Girls" - LSA senior Dustin Alpern is from Los Angeles, California. He is
the director of the film, "Bad Girls." He is unimposing, with red hair and wears a blue crew neck shirt
with Michigan scrawled across the front.
Janet Hu, Writer, "Bad Girls" - LSA senior Janet Hu is a SAC major with a screenwriting subconcentra-
tion. The original version of her piece, "Bad Girls," was extremely intense. It is hard to picture her
writing anything psychologically unnerving - she is very pleasant to speak with.
ACT ONE - INT. NORTH QUAD, RAYER'S OFFICE - FRIDAY AT NOON
RAYHER sits behind a desk that is cluttered with papers. His bookshelves are filled with books on film.
BURNSTEIN sits in a chair to my right, Rayher to my left.
Both characters are extremely respected in the film department. Together, they dictate who gets the
coveted roles in the SAC 423 class - a class that produces two 30-minute films that will be featured
at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival. The roles of writer, director, producer and actor are
once in a lifetime opportunities that offer up chances at the big time. The class comprises two sepa-
rate teams, about 50 students, and is the pinnacle of the film department. The competition gets more
and more intense each year.
RAYHER: The first year we taught it there were 18 students for two productions.
BURNSTEIN: (Joking) That many?
RAYHER: (With a laugh) Yeah, well eight of them were actors. We had two production teams of five each a
little over ten years ago, so it's matured. We are reaching the point where this year there were a lot
of very talented people who didn't get department head jobs. Maybe at some point we'll be able to offer
the class both terms.
And, with competition comes drama. Some of the decisions made by the professors have turned out to be
quite controversial among the students, like the choice to let DUSTIN ALPERN direct his junior and
senior year, which has happened only one other time. The professors argue that these decisions mirror
the cutthroat nature of Hollywood.
RAYHER: Each step in this process is about finding your way in the world. In any professional situa-
tion, that's how these choices get made. Prt of the educational process is finding out how this works
and then figuring out how you work within that process. It's complex.
BURNSTEIN: The exceptions never prove the rule. It's very rare that juniors do direct, and last year
Dustin was ready. I like to compare what we do to what you see in the Musical Theater department. I
don't think anyone is saying, 'You know, she had a lead in Chicago, why is she...' ya know?
But the balance between educational experiences and a real world mentality is a difficult one to ob-
tain. The professors also keep a careful eye on gender balance - even though the TV and movie busi-
nesses are mostly male dominated from a production and writing standpoint, the students cast as pro-
duction heads are equally distributed in terms of gender. The professors assure me that this is an
ideal to aim for, but not necessarily a written rule. They acknowledge the gender disparity in the
profession and hope that their attention to eguality will help to even out the future of the field.
END OF ACT ONE
See SACTION, Page 4B