Senior Studio
Images above from Eric Schwartz's award winning film, THE VOID.


The Senior Studio sequence is the capstone production experience of the Digital Film and Video program at the Art Institute of Portland, requiring students near graduation to employ cumulative skills in the creation of a significant, sophisticated short film in a chosen genre. 

Originally envisioned and executed as a 2 quarter, 6 credit experience, in 2006, while serving on a committee to revamp course requirements and content for the Art Institute film departments nationwide, I suggested modifications to Senior Studio and was tasked with restructuring the sequence as a 3 quarter, 9 credit experience, organized roughly into pre-production, production and post-production phases. 

Each student emerges  from the sequence with a finished film, marketing materials and a distribution plan.  Most students crew on fellow classmates' projects and therefore  exit  with high quality assets to add to a reel or portfolio.

The Senior Studio sequence looms large  in the Digital Film and Video department at the Art Institute of Portland, and films made during this experience are often referred to as thesis projects. 

Tales and rumors of heroism and tragedy help fuel the legend of Senior Studio for underclassmen, but the best promotion of this experience to film students is the quarterly public screening of each new crop of completed films at Portland’s historic Hollywood Theatre or Cinema 21, the neighborhood indie theater.


Samples of Completed Work

CAPSULE by Tony Altamirano
CAPSULE is an excellent example of how  careful art direction and a cleverly conceived script alllows a student film to transcend its humble origins.  This film was featured on KCTS 9's Reel NW series and was subsequently distributed online and on demand platforms through the PBS Online Film Festival.
Taking on an American  institution such as major conference college football in a 10 minute documentary is tricky, but FLUTIE FINDS EUGENE manages the challenge in a manner that allows the audience to arrive at their own opinions about the subject.
AWAKENING by LaRonn Katchia
Shot on location on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, AWAKENING demonstrates a believable and exciting transformation of the main character from assimilated American teenager to  culturally and spiritually connected Native youth.
CHIMERA by Devin Hand
The visual treatment of CHIMERA places the viewer in the POV of the main character, who is committed to living out a boyish fantasy--one that cannot co-exist with the adult world--until that fantasy is no longer sustainable.
TURN THE PAGE by Robert Bury
TURN THE PAGE  is an example of a simple, well-executed concept with subtle performances and a carefully composed sound track--proving that an ambitious student film can be one that aims to succeed rather than getting bogged down in an overwritten story with too much dialogue or plot.
BRIDGETOWN by Bryan Tosh
A despondent father, struggling with addiction, must choose to either continue down his destructive path or finally have a life with the only family he has left, his daughter.
THE BLUE FRONTIER is of particular interest because it stands alone as a nicely accomplished  personal documentary, but also documents the Senior Studio experience itself.
Because it would not have been possible on a student film budget to re-create a comic book convention, which was the setting for I LOVE YOUR COSPLAY, director Kia Geraths planned her production around and got permissions to shoot on location during Comic Con Portland.

Short  Fiction Script

click to download
Development on the script for the Senior Studio project DIRTY SEX TACTICS, by Doug Young (see above), first began in a course I designed based on Michael Rabiger’s book Developing Story Ideas.

The original assignment required students to recall a “Tale from Childhood” and re-write it in third person, present tense.  Eventually, this student revisited the project and created a fictionalized version of the autobiographical experience.
By encouraging students to start with stories that evolve out of personal experience, the stories they are "uniquely prepared to tell" (Rabiger), they are more likely to avoid the cliches of cinema, present an authentic story, and propose projects whose  scope is manageable.

At the far end of the production process is marketing and distribution, but starting in the first phase of the Senior Studio sequence, each student develops materials to suport screenings of their work beyond the class. 

DIRTY SEX TACTICS  screened as an official selection of the Iron Mule Short Comedy Festival, The Chicago Comedy Film Festival, The Las Vegas Film Festival and the Seattle True Independent Film Festival, among other screenings.   

The Colbert Report and Daily Show writer Alison Silverman, who reviewed the film for a film festival, describing it as, “Funny.  Human.  Gorgeous!”


Digital Production Binder

During Senior Studio I, students complete pre-production on their proposed project while they are working toward a final script or treatment.  They also fundraise to meet their budget needs, often through a crowd-sourced funding platform.

By meeting  the weekly deadlines and deliverables as outlined, and through the resources, examples and templates I prepare and provide, each student generates a digital production binder that breaks down the daunting amount of work that needs to be done into manageable sections--helping to ensure the sucess of the next phases of production.
click to download
Deliverables List:
o Pitch/Story Development and Research/Treatments/Script
o Budget
o Locations Information
o Permissions Information                                
o Shot Lists                                              
o Script Breakdown                         
o Production Schedule in Stripboard format
o Call Sheet Template                       
o Crew List                                           
o Gear List                                                 
o Character Breakdowns
o Potential Cast Head Shots (fiction)   
o Tone Notes  

Senior Studio student Rob Valdez prepared  pre-production materials for his short film BETTA as prescribed (see his production binder above) and conducted a successful online fundraising campaign to support production (see below).


Marketing Materials

All three quarters of Senior Studio require the development and creation of marketing materials in support of the films; including posters, postcards, trailers and websites.   Filmmaking is a business, and reaching a target market with well-crafted messaging about the product is a critical component of this experience.

The materials included here were made by Eric Schwartz for his excellent multi-genre (super hero/horror/monster) short THE VOID, which was selected for The Best of H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Portland Comicon Wizard World Festival. 
Erik got some local press in conjunction with the film--first, in production with an article in The Battle Ground Reflector and then in distribution with an article in The Columbian.
THE VOID article.pdf
click to download


In 2005, I organized a screening of the  first batch of Senior Studio work, having mentored the students through the entire production process.  Since then, the screening has come to serve several functions, including as a community-building event and as a celebration of graduating student work.  Perhaps most importantly, it serves to "hype" the Senior Studio experience for underclassmen while offering them an implied challenge:  “When it’s your turn, raise the bar!“

For faculty, the screening provides the opportunity to assess our progress as a department, highlighting areas that require additional focus and attention, suggesting ways our individual classes and contributions combine to inform the whole of the learning experience for the student, and providing the opportunity for faculty to take a moment to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

As students tackle the sequence, they invest  in classmates' work, encouraging  a collaborative spirit that yields opportunities for participation in an array of projects, each with its own storytelling, producing, aesthetic, logistical and technical challenges.   Because students crew on each others’ projects, the experience provides high quality assets to add to their individual portfolios and reels.

When teaching in this series of classes, I remind students that they are responsible for the quality of each others’ work, and that their individual film will be judged on its own merit, and as a part of the body of work produced by the class as a whole.   Additionally,  I emphasize that there is little to be gained from producing the “best” film in the group  if that distinction is earned by way of the comparative weakness of the rest.