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VideoPalooza features seniors’ capstone films

Senior Will Haddad.
April 23, 2013

As their May 9 VideoPalooza premiere draws near, Cinema seniors are pressing to complete their capstone projects – 20-30 minute digital video features they have written, directed, produced and edited as portfolios of their work. 

In fact, student film crews in search of spring footage are popping up on campus with the tulips now that winter has finally released its grip on the region. Will Haddad (pictured above) and his cameraman Scott Harlow are among them as Haddad puts the finishing touches on his psychological drama – both a thriller and a mystery – “Mono.”

VideoPalooza is free and open to the public and will feature five capstone films beginning at 7 p.m. May 9 in Decker Auditorium, Lewis Hall of Science. As a bonus VideoPalooza will also feature a ten-minute fictional short shot entirely on an iPhone in Cinema professor Jonathan Slade’s Cell Phone Cinema course. The Communication department’s annual public-speaking contest precedes the film showcase at 6 p.m.

For Haddad, the most wrenching part of the project was coming up with an idea and writing the script.

“I wanted to create a character who has some sort of problem, and then put that character in the worst possible situation for the character,” says Haddad, a Cinema major from Pasadena, Calif. “Using some of my own experience as someone who never liked being alone, I took that to the next level and invented a character named Cleo who has serious mono-phobia, fear of being alone.”

Haddad recruited student actors Liz Flores of Westminster, Md., Najee Banks of Baltimore, and Mangie Moreno of Quito, Ecuador, from “Acting for the Camera,” the class in which he serves as a teaching assistant. “I promised them screen credit – and love forever.”

Yichong Li, a senior with majors in Asian Studies and Cinema/Theatre Arts, recruited friends whom she thought would bring out the most in each of the characters she wrote and sophomore Van H. Pham as her cameraman for her film, “’Merkin,” (American) a comedy about the struggles of an Asian student arriving on a college campus in the U.S. But Li, who has much experience on the stage and is considering an acting career, cast herself in the lead role.

“The idea started from my personal experience,” says Li, an international student from Nanjing, China. “But the film is a comedy and as a comedy is exaggerated and sometimes sarcastic. It’s the fish-out-of-water scenario. It focuses on typical cultural shocks an international student might face on an American college campus, but not my personal experience at McDaniel College.”

Li agrees that the project has challenged her and that she has learned much in the process.

Yichong Li.
Cinematographer Van Pham with Yichong Li, right, as she directs actors in a scene for her senior capstone project.

“I’ve learned a lot about movie making, sure – but also about interpersonal interaction to recruit people and how to balance three majors with filming that takes hours behind the scenes for just a short scene on the screen,” says Li. “But I also learned a lot about myself, and being in control of my own vision.” 

Li and Haddad both are finding the capstone production exciting – and exhausting. Exactly the way Cinema capstone professors Jonathan Slade and Richard Brett designed the course.

“We expect it to be a rigorous independent experience demanding self discipline and self motivation,” says Slade, who alternates annually with Brett as lead professor in the Cinema capstone class. “They take everything they’ve learned and create a portfolio showcase project that they can show potential employers or graduate school.”

The students sink all their skills into the project and are responsible for recruiting their own teams – exactly, Slade says, the way it is in the real world.

“We want to prepare them to be cinematic storytellers regardless of the medium or venue,” Slade says, explaining that he wants his students to be able to tell stories in pictures and sound, whether viewed on a computer screen, cable TV, a big movie screen or something else.

Students receive a lot of criticism and feedback – all in a nurturing environment, Slade says. It is a support system Li says is typical among faculty at McDaniel.

“Since I have been here, I have learned that it is possible to do whatever you want to do and there is always a support system there to help you,” Li says. “I learned it is ok to try new things.”

Part of that support in the Cinema capstone class is the student and faculty review of “dailies,” raw film footage from a day’s shoot, and their resulting constructive criticism of students’ work.

“Someone said my film is David Lynch-ian,” Haddad says, referring to the director of such surreal and cerebral films as “Eraserhead,” “Dune,” and “Elephant Man.” “I am incredibly flattered.”   

VideoPalooza will feature:

  • “Wasted” (fiction) by Patrick Callahan of Catonsville, Md.
  • “Mono” (fiction) by William Haddad of Pasadena, Calif.
  • “Merkin” (fiction) bt Yichong Li of Nanjing, China - Trailer on YouTube
  • “The MTA Might Take A While” (fiction) by Deara Marshall of Baltimore
  • Untitled documentary project by Caitlin Roetheli of San Antonio, Texas

Stay tuned to the McDaniel Cinema Facebook page for the final screening schedule.

Four students were selected from the fall and spring sections of Public Speaking to participate in the Public Speaking Contest:  sophomores Erin Giles of Lavale, Md., and Lauren Hawkins of Forest Hill, Md., Karina Bustos of Cordoba, Argentina, and senior Catherine Frondorf of Arlington, Va.