Behind the scenes: A glimpse into the Cal Poly film culture

Hello! My name is Maggie Hitchings, and my group and I have spent the last week and a half investigating and reporting on student filmmakers. One of our group members, Barbara Levin, is enrolled in a Cal Poly class titled ISLA 341, “Cinematic Process.” We decided to do a feature story on the students in this class, as they are currently creating short fiction films to be shown at the SLO International Film Festival on March 15.

Promotional poster for the student films

Initially, we bounced around various ideas surrounding this class and  the film culture at Cal Poly. One topic our group was interested in was whether or not there should be a film major at Cal Poly, and not just the ISLA minor. After talking to peers and posting on social media, I found that students have a big interest in the filmmaking process, and would like to see a film major here. Additionally, the Cal Poly community wanted to know more about ISLA 341 and the behind the scenes that goes on when creating short films.

Clara Knapp, who wrote the news editorial for this project, learned a surprising  amount about the creativity and hard work that goes into these films.

“This project was interesting for me because as a broadcast journalist, I tend to focus on more hard-hitting, straightforward forms of journalism. However, learning about the artistic short films these students have created is really inspiring. It makes me wish that I had taken this class while I still had time! This class is definitely a hidden gem at Cal Poly,” said Knapp.

As we continued to explore this topic, we felt it was important to show the talent and creativity the students in this class have, as we are a predominantly technical school. Barbara Levin, our multimedia specialist, felt it was vital to use multimedia that displays the hard work behind the films.

“Not many people know about the film aspect and the talented videographers that go to Cal Poly. This article was a great opportunity to inform Cal Poly students about the film program and show them what other students are putting together. I made a poster explaining the stages of production to give people a sense of what these students go through,” said Levin.

I accompanied Clara to her interviews. Professor Barros, who teaches ISLA 341, was extremely animated and excited to talk about the class. She sent me some great stills from the student films.

Still from student film, “Last Call”


Still from student films, "Thursday."
Still from student film, “Thursday.”

Barros explained to Clara and I how much time and effort goes into making the films.

“It’s something that they don’t think about, how much detail has to be applied to each element of the film and how much work it takes and how much time it takes to make a really good film,” said Barros.

Our broadcast specialist Allison Royal wanted to embody the passion students have in her video. Another major theme we found through the reporting process was the immense amount of pride these students anticipate to feel when they see the finished product of their film.

“When I was on the phone with one source, Georgie, before I had my KCPR interview, she said she was going to cry when she finally saw her film “Vixen” hit the big screen. I hope that sense of emotion hits our readers should this be published,” said Royal.

Movie poster for student film “Vixens”

However, this project was not all a walk in the park. Our group struggled through scheduling issues and communication barriers.

“In terms of challenges of reporting, scheduling was a challenge for me because the students once changed the time of their filming and it was also a little windy when I recorded an outdoor interview. All things considered, I was able to accommodate for the wind and the audio turned out nicely,” said Royal.