Hidden all the way in Potter is one of Missouri Western’s finest gems: the cinema department.
Majoring in cinema is not an easy degree or career path. While these students might not be holed up in the library for hours studying chemistry and physics every night (though maybe they do that too), they are spending every moment of their free time on set, planning production and writing scripts.
Mackenzie Osborn is studying a B.A.A. in Performing & Cinematic Arts here at Missouri Western. She said that between all the production classes, there have been many projects happening at once this semester, especially since many films were canceled last spring.
“A Lot of us have been on a film set every single weekend this semester,” Osborn said.
Even though the hours are tough, students are glad that Missouri Western recently changed their degree from a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Cinema to a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Performing & Cinematic Arts to help students get the experience they need to be successful.
Nathan Gonder, president of the Griffon Film Society, has wanted to be a filmmaker since he was 12 years old.
“The old degree really had problems and wasn't preparing students for the harsh reality that they'd meet after just four years. The new degree in place is going to be super solid, and I think it'll push the program up a few notches in the eyes of the filmmaking community,” Gonder said.
These students don’t study cinema because they need a paycheck; they are passionate artists following their dreams. Some students have been a part of over 50 films just for the love of it and gaining experience.
Charles Whitmill is another major who specializes in producing, assistant directing, and script supervising. His dream, like many filmmakers, is to write and direct his own movies.
“Being a filmmaker is a job that embodies full catharsis. It is full of stress, chaos, and constant problem solving,” Whitmill said. “This career is not for everyone. Filmmaking is tough and brutal but rewarding to the ones who have drive.”
The film industry is extremely difficult to break into, but Missouri Western is trying its best to help students get where they want to go.
“With capable staff and a growing network of fellow filmmakers, I’m content knowing I have people I can work and grow with. If other opportunities don’t open up, I’m confident we will open up our own doors,” Whitmill said.
Being a student filmmaker is hard without the budget and time of professional teams. Plus, St. Joseph isn’t always the easiest place to film in. Finding a place to film is it’s own job.
“St. Joseph is polar opposite to a place like LA, or even Kansas City. The community is either unfamiliar with the process (therefore intimidated by it), or they simply don't care, so it takes a lot of patience and knocking on doors,” Gonder said.
COVID-19 has also added another challenge, especially since films are group projects and require a lot of time spent together.
“It’s been hard to check out equipment,” Osborn said. “It has to quarantine after people use it, so we can only check it out two days a week rather than seven. And then only one person can touch the equipment using gloves. It’s very different, but we make it work.”
Even though the films are created by students, many people are amazed at how professional the sets turn out. Whitmill discussed this about a project he co-directed with Cooper Herrington called “Little Favors.”
“Despite most of our shooting being done over two cold night shoots from 6 p.m.-3 a.m., we’ve gotten nothing back but positive comments about on-set professionalism and how impressed everyone was with set procedure,” Whitmill said. “Filming overall has been exceptional.”
While the cinema department is tightly knit from always working together, they aren’t exclusive. The Griffon Film Society is a fun club for all filmmakers and movie lovers, no matter what major.
And at the end of every year, the department hosts the Griffon Film Festival to showcase the student films and give out awards. This includes students’ first films from their first production class to their final thesis, a beautiful way to show their personal progress.
Keep an eye out for the Griffon Film Festival next April, as it is open to the public. The arts need support now more than ever in this tough world.