Two weeks. One film. Intensive experience.

Stephens College workshop encourages females in filmmaking
Wednesday, July 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:22 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“Pieces Parts” is based on the true story of a Los Angeles art teacher who helps at-risk teenagers put their lives together through art, and it’s the short film being made at this year’s Summer Film Institute at Stephens College.

The two-week intensive workshop, which begins Monday, is meant to encourage the success of women in filmmaking.


Hillary Swift, a 17-year-old from Kansas City, became interested in filmmaking through a school assignment that required her to direct and produce a one-act play. “It was a really cutthroat experience because you were allowed to make five mistakes, but if you made any more you couldn’t perform,” Swift said. She picked an especially long play. “By the end of the experience, I was telling myself, ‘You can’t do this, this is way out of your league,’” she recalled. “When I found out I made it, it was one of the greatest experiences in my life.” Debby Myers, 54, of Overland Park, Kan., first became captivated with film while her father was stationed in Germany in the 1950s. There, she and her brother, Keith, attended matinees about Tarzan every Saturday. Her first experience behind the lens resulted from an adolescent fascination with Alfred Hitchcock. “I had a reel-to-reel tape recorder then and created murder dramas which were more like the radio shows I’d heard as a child,” Myers recalled. Years later, her interest was re-ignited when she saw a digital clip of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. “I realized I could make films digitally,” she said.

“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”:

The public is welcome to audition for bit parts in “Pieces Parts,” a short film being made at the Summer Film Institute. Auditions will run from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday in Stephens College’s Helis Communication Center, 1407 E. Broadway.

Last year’s show

Last year’s “Triangle Years” is this year’s “First Kiss”: The television pilot created during the 2006 Summer Film Institute will show for the first time at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Ragtag Cinemacafe, 23 N. Tenth St.

“Film and video are incredibly powerful influencers in our society, and when women have the chance to tell their stories in the way that they want, it changes the way we as a society see things,” said Paula Elias, president of Axiom Advertising, who is producing the institute this year. “It only makes sense that we get the chance to hear from a group that comprises more than half the world’s population.”

The Summer Film Institute, or SFI, began in 2005 as “The Indie Filmmakers Bootcamp” in conjunction with the American Academy of Arts, and branched into an independent Stephens program last year. The 2006 program drew 42 women from 18 states to collaborate on an original television pilot called “The Triangle Years,” directed by R.J. Visciglia Jr. and written by Ken LaZebnik, artistic director of Stephens’ School of Performing Arts.

“The Triangle Years,” now called “First Kiss,” will get its first public showing Tuesday at the Ragtag Cinemacafe.

This year, SFI will be headed up by women, a change LaZebnik said was intentional. “I very much wanted to make this year’s SFI have strong women running it and heading the creative team,” said LaZebnik, who is on sabbatical working on “The Christmas Cottage,” about artist Thomas Kinkade and starring Peter O’Toole and Marcia Gay Harden. In addition to producer Elias, this year’s writer is Rosanne Welch and the director is Stephens alumna Jennifer Wynne Farmer.

During the first week, participants, a few of whom are men, attend workshops taught by industry pros in aspects of production such as lighting and sound. In the second week, they work with a Hollywood film crew to make “Pieces Parts.” The film was written for SFI by Welch, whose writing credits include “Touched by an Angel” and “Picket Fences.”

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