Senior cinema students create P4 film projects

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Co-News Editor

Photo by Raul Toledo | Submitted
Brianna Craven, Caleb Fischer, Tyler Morris, Will Thomas, Susannah Enslow, and Keith Tucker work on director Raul Toledo’s P4 film “Corazon de Cerca,” on location in New Mexico.

For many seniors, the spring semester is a time to focus on life post-graduation. But for cinema students, it’s an even busier time, as shooting for many students’ P4 projects is currently underway.

In the cinema department, students take a production class each year and create a film project and P4 films, which are completed by senior B.F.A. cinema majors for credit, offer opportunities for students to explore filmmaking before entering the cinema world outside of college.

Tyler Morris, a senior cinema student with a concentration in production, has worked on three P4 films this year.

He first worked as a producer on the film “Yuletide Homicide,” which told the story of a Christmas-based cult and was directed by fellow senior cinema student, Luke Haid. Morris also worked as a producer on “Corazon de Cerca,” a film directed by Raul Toledo that touches on the now-controversial subject of immigration, and that filmed on location in New Mexico over winter break. In the next few weeks, Morris is prepared to step into the director’s chair for his own P4 project, “Black Felt Charlotte.” Morris also wrote the script for the film.

“I like directing, but I don’t know if I’d be able to direct another person’s script,” Morris said. “I like directing, writing and producing, because then it’s like ‘this is it.’”

Morris also enjoys the creativity that comes with the director’s responsibilities in particular.

“As a director, you’re one of the primary creative heads on the film,” Morris said. “You’re in charge of blocking and performances. The movie is your vision. The only person above the director is the producer.”

Morris described his own P4 film as the story of a woman who is looking to poison an enviable classmate. Morris finds the P4 process to be enjoyable.

“I like the liberties we’re allowed to have with it,” Morris said. “With P3 you’re required to have so many cooks in the kitchen, the end product isn’t so genuine. Being in a full crew production, but having more control over the product…it feels more honest.”

According to Morris, P3 film projects require students to obtain the “full-crew experience,” where students are assigned a position that they must stay in. However, P4 projects allow for more flexibility, where only two people on a crew are working towards class credits, and everyone else is recruited.

In total, crew sizes can vary from seven or eight members to 15, and include a director, producer, cinematographer, screenwriter, editor, production designer, sound designer and B-crew. Production for student films is extensive.

“We only get six 12-hour days to shoot, and planning it can take a couple of months to years in some instances,” Morris said. “Post production is usually a handful of months, depends on what we shot.”

Morris also described what becomes of student films after they have been produced and screened.

“Sometimes it’s buried and never seen again,” Morris said. “Sometimes it’s put on a festival run. If the run is good, it’s up to them to decide if they want to use it to seek employment or seek funding for another film.”

Morris is only one aspiring filmmaker in the cinema department’s senior class, and according to Morris, all of the seniors have their own style of filmmaking. But he acknowledges that some films, while vastly different, do have similar elements.

“This year we have two ‘dead mom’ films,” Morris said. “I’m doing one of them, Taylor [Colbert] is doing the other one. I’d say this year is a very diverse collection of films.”

Taylor Colbert is another senior cinema B.A. major who is not taking the P4 class for credit, but is still co-directing a P4 film with fellow cinema senior, R.J. Lane. Their film “Still Holding On” tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who clings to his stuffed lion while grieving the loss of his mother.

Photo by Leia Christ | Submitted
Actor Nico Hernandez performs in his role of “Jesse” in directors Taylor Colbert and R.J. Lane’s P4 film, “Still Holding On.”

The script was written by senior screenwriting major, Chris Chandler. He is also co-producer of the film along with Colbert.

“We are the only film that is being co-directed and has co-producers,” Colbert said. “It’s a different form of collaboration than we’re used to. But there’s the Russo Brothers and the Cohen Brothers, so it’s not unusual to have co-directors.”

Colbert said that pre-production for the film took place during the summer and early fall. Filming is taking place currently, and the film will move into post-production after spring break.

Colbert said that even though the film will not count as credit toward her degree, she simply could not go without making a film during her senior year.

“There’s so many people in our senior class working on so many films,” Colbert said. “It’s a really collaborative experience, but we’re pulling people from other years.”

One of those people is freshman cinema B.F.A. major, Kate Griffith, who is helping Colbert and Lane on their P4 film.

“I was a PA on set, which is a Production Assistant,” Griffith said.

Griffith described her role as a PA as being “everyone’s man”.

“Some of my jobs included holding gaff tape, holding doors so alarms wouldn’t go off in the middle of recording, helping with production design,” Griffith said. “Whoever needs something, the PA is supposed to step up and just be like ‘what do I do’.”

Griffith also found her time on set of a P4 film to be valuable.

“We’re all from different years in college,” Griffith said. “It’s a really nice way to learn and experience things for your future but also to meet people in your program that you can work with in the coming years. You get a feel for lighting, you get a feel for sound, pretty much anything. Which is good for being a freshman when you don’t know what’s going on.”

As a freshman, Griffith will complete a P1 film project during the spring semester.

“P1 is just a short three-minute film which is just to show you know the basics of camera, lighting, sound and storytelling,” Griffith said.

The P1 final film is preceded by a “Pittsburgh Montage” project where students shoot different pieces of footage of the city and edit them together. Shooting for that aspect of the project will occur in the coming weeks.

But as the school year proceeds through its later half, seniors who are partaking in P4 projects are also considering their prospects for post-graduation. Some students have a set plan.

“I know exactly what I want to do,” Morris said.  “I’m going to stay in town for three more months and move to New York City to work in a production house and keep making more bizarre films like I’ve been making for years.”

Other students are still in consideration.

“Right now, I’m just applying to a lot of places and trying to find the time to do so,” Colbert said.

And underclassmen, like Griffith, are using this time and this experience to look ahead at what their years in the cinema department have in store.

“It’s really just showing you what you’re future is going to be,” Griffith said. “It’s great to have the hands-on experience and to work with people and to work as quickly as possible. You learn something new every single time. Which is what I love, learning something new.”

P4 films will be screening in the GRW theater on April 20th. P1 film screenings do not yet have a set date, but will be occurring at the end of the semester as well.