COVID-19 halts film production for creative media students

In+our+Zoom+U+series%2C+we%27ll+be+exploring+the+challenges+students+face+while+adapting+to+a+school-wide+move+to+online+learning.+CW+%2F+Rebecca+Griesbach

In our Zoom U series, we’ll be exploring the challenges students face while adapting to a school-wide move to online learning. CW / Rebecca Griesbach

Jeffrey Kelly | @jeffkellyjr, Staff Reporter

As the University closed its doors to on-campus students, three creative media students watched a window of opportunity close with it. 

An abrupt end to in-person learning has left three seniors worried that they won’t have the chance to see their hard work pay off. 

Caroline Moore, Kelsey Schmitt and Nate Kovar put their all into their Capstone Screen Directing and Producing class, a journalism and creative media course that would allow them to learn the necessary skills to create an original short film. 

They raised money for their films on Indiegogo as a requirement for their class and spent months creating posters and trailers. Kovar quit his job at Monarch Espresso Bar to dedicate his “heart and soul” to the film, and Schmitt dropped one of the two majors she was pursuing to dedicate her time to the class. They said they were prepared to give their entire beings to the course, because that’s what it needed.

But, last week, the students were informed by their professor that to accommodate a new semester plan, the short films would not be finished.

Before spring break began, faculty, staff and students waited in anticipation for updates about impending changes to the semester due to the looming threat of the coronavirus.

As other institutions in Alabama took precautions, several speculated that The University of Alabama would do the same.

Then, on Thursday, March 12, UA News released an email explaining that the University would transition to online classes after an extended break. 

The next day, students in the class were notified by an office associate that all the equipment they rented had been canceled and would not be available to them “until classroom instruction resumed.”

 “Obviously, you can see why this upsets us,” Schmitt said. “This class is very pertinent to our careers as filmmakers and storytellers.”

Kovar emphasized that as creatives, their resumes are visual. Whether that be a documentary or their narrative short films, if they don’t have something to take to a future employer, it could hurt their careers.

Though the class is only a semester long, Kovar said some students have put up to nine months of work into research, writing, finding cast and crew, and fundraising.  

“We’ve only been in the class three months so far, but there’s been about six months of prior work,” he said. “And it essentially is like, we have done all of this and have been told on the last stretch of it that it’s no longer a feasible option for us to present that work.”

 The students said they recognized the severity of the situation and why these rules are being implemented. Still, the equipment was vital, and they’d gone through the necessary training to use it. 

For them, their frustration wasn’t just about not being able to complete the films; it was about the stories they told that people would never get to see. 

“These stories are more than just a class requirement,” Schmitt said. “They really are our hearts and souls. They’re a part of our identities, especially for Nate and I.”

Schmitt said she and Kovar made it their goal to create authentic stories about LGBTQ+ issues that often go untold. With her film, “Turn Around,” Schmitt wanted to focus on a female high school softball player struggling to navigate the stereotypes that plagued the sport, and with his film, “One Night,” Kovar aimed to explore the headspace of isolation for closeted men. 

“These are both stories that we wish could have been told for us to see and that they’re not going to be told for generations of students that come after us to see,” Schmitt said. “That’s the main reason why we’re upset – because we feel like we have the opportunity to represent people that don’t often get represented in film, and so not being able to do so really feels like we’re failing.” 

Schmitt also said she found something “disturbing” in the email UA News sent out that Friday. She quoted the Student Accommodation section in the email, emphasizing clause C: “students with exceptional hardships, or academic, employment, clinical or research requirements that should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

Schmitt said she brought the line up with an associate professor in the dean’s office. She said the woman countered her argument by saying that the line was likely directed toward people in STEM fields whose research was more pertinent. 

She then quoted another line from the email, “As you consider these measures, I call upon each of you – faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni and supporters – to model the creativity and strength of the campus community we have come to expect.” Schmitt said the creative aspect is what the University is failing to support.

“It seems like they are prioritizing clinical research as something more important than our creativity because it’s money-based,” Schmitt said. “While yes, there is money in research, there’s still our voices and these stories that are trying to be made.”

Kovar said he understood the amount of stress that the department and the University as a whole are going through right now. Still, he said, it’s not fair to “throw everyone under the bus” and have their projects, and potentially their careers, be stunted by a blanket statement.

“It affects our lives outside of Alabama and us graduating,” Schmitt said. “It’s going to affect us for months and potentially even years in our careers not having been able to make this project.”