Grady students adapt EMST club to handle COVID-19 changes

When The Industry was created in the fall of 2018, then-freshmen Ashton Bruce and Emily Minnick had no idea they’d be running the club in the middle of a pandemic during the last semester of their college career. 

The Industry provides a variety of opportunities for students to connect with each other as well as recent alumni in the entertainment industry. Due to the coronavirus, Bruce and Minnick had to adapt, moving club meetings on Zoom and complying with department standards to limit student production crews. 

Bruce is a third-year from Dawsonville, and Minnick is a fourth-year from Canton. Both will be graduating this spring.

Students in The Industry tend to work with those within their COVID-19 bubble, club co-presidents said. (Photo: Aleesa de Castro)

The club works to send out cast and crew calls for student film productions and conducts a small writers room, where a handful of students peer edit scripts and work with Professor Matthew Evans to find their screenwriting voice. They also host screenings of student work and Q&A events and panels with industry professionals.

Despite the challenges, both Bruce and Minnick said there’s been a silver lining for their club in the middle of the pandemic. They’ve heard from new speakers and actively engaged with new club members.

“I think our numbers have done really well to sustain considering that we’ve gone entirely virtual,” Bruce said. “I’m really happy with how we’ve grown through the pandemic.”

The Zoom meetings have included more appearances from industry professionals outside of Atlanta, like Los Angeles and New York City. Post production and writer’s rooms for television are based in Los Angeles, Minnick said, so students who are interested in those specific areas can understand the different career possibilities on each coast.

“I think it gives people who are interested in the industry but don’t know where exactly they want to settle a better insight to make decisions for their future,” Bruce said.

The remote workforce has expanded within the entertainment industry due to COVID-19, but upcoming graduates are nervous for their future careers. While Bruce and Minnick admitted that’s always been a pre-pandemic reality, they feel just as prepared to graduate in part because of the emphasis the EMST department has placed on safe productions that mirror the industry itself.

Some of the new logistics to produce student films include downsizing crews and placing an emphasis on working with others near your bubble who follow COVID-19 safety precautions.  

The pandemic has also changed how entertainment and media studies students tell their stories. Minnick explained scenes between characters have become less intimate to allow for social distancing, and typical themes cover isolation and technology. When the pandemic hit, Bruce and Minnick had just begun their second semester in the major, which means they still don’t know the reality of producing without these guidelines.

The Industry club members gather for a photo after working on “Trust the Process,” another student-produced film. Photo courtesy of Aleesa de Castro.

They hope the changes they made because of the pandemic will help make the club more accessible in the future to students who wouldn’t have been able to attend meetings previously. Minnick said having online meetings and presentations would have helped her get involved earlier.

“There was a lot of hesitation, being like a first-generation college student, not being familiar with the film industry at all and also being a woman in film,” Minnick said. “I think I felt very scared to put myself out there and just like go for it. So you know, very much encouraging people to get in on it as soon as they can and not being afraid.”

EMST students screen films at 136 Fest

Some of the best films created by students in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies this year were screened at 136 Fest on April 27, 2017, at Ciné in downtown Athens, Georgia.

The event featured projects made in EMST 5260 Advanced Production and Indie Studies, including:

  • “American Myth”- [director] Connor Pannell, [producer] Elise Fitzgerald
  • “Bodyguard”- [director] Andy Han, [producer] Kara Pemberton
  • “Don’t Shoot the Cat”- [director] Joe Youorski, [producer] Schafer Sirmer
  • “The Heckler”-[director] Kyle Rehl, [producerw] Gareth Kanter/Sean Smith
  • “Hey Mister”- [director] Patrick Bailer, [producer] Hamilton Way
  • “Skins/Entropy”- Maddison Griffin and Rick Adle
  • “Best Weekend Ever”- [director] John Buckley, [producer] Lauren Holliger
  • “Friendship”-[director] Emmett Cappi, [producers] Sam Armour/Christine Beldon
  • “Skins”- [director] Shelby Eggers, [producer] Rachel Beavers
Students discuss films while attending the 136 Fest.

Various other student projects were shown in Cine’s Lab, including some behind-the-scenes footage and documentaries.

“It’s always fun to see the outcome,” said Shira Chess, an EMST assistant professor. “I was really excited to come here tonight. Nothing is ever perfect at this point in their careers, but I think that (the films) always are great.”

Chess recalled working with the students early on in the process.

“They came to us with some great ideas and we all developed them as a group,” she said. “It was also the students workshopping each other’s ideas, which I think is really important.”

Patrick Bailer wrote and directed “Hey Mister,” which he described as a “musical coming-of-age comedy.”

“It was cool finally getting to see it on the screen, getting to hear the music that we all worked on and then seeing everything fit together,” he said.

The crew of “Hey Mister” celebrates the film’s silver screen debut at the 136 Fest.

A spring 2017 graduate, Bailer said he is thankful for the skills he’s developed, thanks to Grady faculty.

“Everything I learned about writing was with Dr. Chess—figuring out how the stories fit, making them personal,” he said.  “In all of (Jim) Biddle’s classes, it was helpful because I learned every different facet of production.”

Bailer will start his career as a replay operator at Turner Studios and aspires to become a show director while continuing to write.

Casey Hammons, also a spring graduate, produced the 136 Fest.

“It was a lot of fun to put it together,” she said. “It was a little rough there for a while—we had a bit of a recording issue with one of the dvds—but I thrive on running around like a crazy person. I loved it.”

In addition to her role in organizing the event, Hammons was associate producer of “Don’t Shoot the Cat,” a comedy/drama. She dreams of producing and will pursue opportunities in Los Angeles this summer.

“Grady helped in a lot of ways,” she said.  “The professors treat you like adults, like in real-world situations.  You’re not coddled anymore once you get into the major.  You have deadlines and you don’t have excuses. You just get things done.”

More photos from the 136 Fest are on the UGA Grady Flickr account.

EMST student films earn state recognition

Two films by Entertainment and Media Studies students won First Place in their categories in a statewide film competition.

“Pasta La Vista,” a short film written, directed and edited by Luke Webster, received honors as the Best Alfred Hitchcock Homage.

“Michael Davenport: The Armless Artist,” a short documentary produced and directed by Lindsey Smith, earned honors as Best Documentary.

Both films were recognized at the 13th annual BALD Shorts Film Festival 2017, which took place at Georgia College in Milledgeville.

Both also took shape as part of coursework in EMST 4250, Video Production, taught by Stephen Bridges (ABJ ’06) in Fall semester 2016. Bridges was a temporary part-time instructor and is Instructional Designer/Lead Media Producer for the Office of Online Learning at UGA.

“Pasta La Vista” tells a story about the consequences of changing the past. ‘

Christian Baum wrote the story, with Ryan Switzer, Sarah Kennedy and Graham Bohling on camera. Crew consisted of Piper Ruhmkorff (Director of Photography), Samantha Gorman (Gaffer and Assistant Camera), and Rachel Beavers (Producer). It was scored by Andrew Cleveland.

“Forgoing dialogue and sound effects, ‘Pasta la Vista’ pulls the viewer into an uncomfortable and surprisingly menacing place through emotive acting and unnerving audio cues,” said Bridges.

“Making it was an incredibly memorable experience,” said Webster. “I want to thank my friends for making it happen more than anything. This recognition is an added bonus.”

“Michael Davenport: The Armless Artist,” narrates the story of Davenport, who survived a tragic accident at age 13 in which he lost both his arms. Unable to draw even a stick figure before his accident, he found a passion for drawing with his mouth and has been a local inspiration in Athens for decades.

The student crew consists of Lindsey Smith (producer, director, camera, editor), Johnny Morgan (camera, boom operator, audio engineer, music composer), Henry Widjaja (camera), Josh Remmele (camera), Andie Leeds (audio assistant) and Sarah Guirguis (production assistant).

“I was very thankful for another opportunity to share Michael’s story,” said Smith. Earlier this year her film won Best Documentary at the Georgia Communication Association Film Festival.