Institute to focus on female filmmakers

Monday, February 20, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:40 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hollywood is a tough town. It can make you a star or leave you jaded. And this is even more true for women who are in an industry dominated by men.

Stephens College’s Summer Film Institute is seeking to support such aspiring women filmmakers. This year will mark the second summer that Stephens has held an immersion filmmaking program, said Ken LaZebnik, dean of the Performing Arts School. Last year, the college held a similar program in tandem with the American Academy of Arts called the Indie Filmmakers Bootcamp, which drew just shy of 40 participants.

Last year’s camp was coeducational, with about an even split of men and women,

LaZebnik said. He said this year’s program will focus on bringing industry experience to women only.

Students will take charge of all aspects of production for the two-week shoot of a television program’s pilot episode, working with film and television insiders. LaZebnik said students would be involved from pre- to post-production, with tasks including directing, lighting, sound, art direction and editing.

The one-hour pilot, which LaZebnik wrote, is called “The Triangle Years” and is about a family living in Columbia. LaZebnik said he plans to shop the pilot to studios after it is complete, so upcoming students could see their work going to the small screen.

A host of working professionals will help guide students through the program. Many will also be teaching “master-classes” during production, LaZebnik said. The pilot will be directed by R.J. Visciglia Jr., who also directed episodes of the TV show “Touched By An Angel,” and one of the lead roles will be played by James Eckhouse, who is known to a generation as Jim Walsh on “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

LaZebnik said he thinks working with professionals is integral to the Stephens approach to teaching.

“This really is a great chance for people to get this real-world experience with Hollywood professionals who are working right now and have that experience in a safe environment,” LaZebnik said. “This is a chance to dive right into the film industry, even if you have no experience. It’s not just for film nerds.”

The program is open to anyone who is interested, female and no younger than a junior in high school. LaZebnik said he hopes the program will attract women who are students and who want a hands-on experience.

Students from the program last year said the real-world approach Stephens offers to women is a unique opportunity among film schools.

“In the film industry, which is primarily male-dominated, Stephens gives women a great, unlimited opportunity,” said Stephens student Lindsey Holcomb, who will intern at the institute this summer.

“Stephens is really career-driven,” she said. “When I graduate, I can say that I have directed, edited, everything. I wouldn’t get that with a different film school.”

Stephens student Alex Geisler said last year’s summer program opened her eyes to what really being in the film industry is like.

“I’ve never learned so much in nine days,” Geisler said.

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