Fall 2009


Behind the Spotlight - Student crew shoots for film festival glory, by Jarad Petroske

For five grueling days in January, beginning at 8 in the morning and ending 12 long hours later, students and alumni from HSU’s Theatre Film & Dance department upheld the director’s commands of “quiet on the set.”

The students were filming Professor David Scheerer’s “The Music Inside,” the story of a young woman who confronts a UC Berkeley professor and inspires him to confess the painful truth about his past.

The movie was produced in a uniquely independent way. Instead of taking money from a major studio – the traditional approach that includes surrendering a certain amount of artistic control – Scheerer and his colleagues developed the legally chartered Montana Motion Picture Cooperative.

The idea is simple. Everybody who contributes capital, donates equipment or works on the set shares in the film’s eventual revenue stream. All contributions are treated equally and the potential for a healthy return on the investment is relatively high. In the age of Hollywood blockbusters, sometimes a movie’s box office take barely covers the cost of production. Consequently, more and more investors have turned to independent film as a way to encourage new talent who create well-crafted work with low budgets.

The original cut of Scheerer’s film was ready in 2005. However, in hopes of gaining entry to the festival circuit, he and producer-writer Michael Van Wagenen reworked the ending, converting it from a tragic tone to one of hope. And that’s where Humboldt State entered the picture.

Top Left: Student Elizabeth Cruz, with Scheerer and student Sandra Grimm, reviews production notes before resuming filming. Right: Production professionals and dozens of students from the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance transformed the Gist Hall studio theater into a working movie set for the weeklong shoot.

A new scene had to be shot to wrap up the story and Scheerer recognized it as an opportunity to engage his students in a way that most could only dream of.

From Jan. 12 to 17, the Gist Hall studio theater was the working set of “The Music Inside,” and for many students, it was their first time on a professional film crew.

“This is definitely the most pressure I’ve felt on the set. The hardest part is learning all the new equipment,” says Elizabeth Cruz, who ran the set’s sound mixer.

The equipment included lighting, sound mixers and plenty of walkie-talkies for on-set communication. But attracting the most attention was clearly the massive Panavision camera that dominated the small theater.

“The students are really gaining professional experience, working on a pro set and working with this level of equipment, especially the Panavision camera that David was able to get donated,” says Professor Ann Alter, the set’s unit production manager.

The set, a professor’s office, was designed months prior to shooting by Professor Jody Sekas. Dozens of students in his scene-building classes were involved in building and refining the intricate detail required to create an authentic feel.

The main challenge was to design a set adaptable to multiple camera angles yet realistic enough to not appear simulated on film.

“The special feature of this ‘office’ is that the walls can be moved out of the way to get just the right camera shot. The students have been painting the set and props to make everything appear absolutely real. They are learning firsthand the techniques and level of detail necessary when creating a set that is believable and functional for film,” says Sekas.

Benjamin Bettenhausen, an alum from HSU’s Film program, described the shoot as a big reunion. “It’s great to see old students again and students who have only taken a few film classes. It’s also great to see theatre and film students working together.”