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Film and Media Day gives student a glimpse of the film industry

Film professionals share insights and experience with students
Screenwriter Matt Harris gave a presentation on the “Path into the Industry” via Zoom. (David Edward Albright/Durango Herald)

Film and Media Day at San Juan College hosted a diverse group of film industry professionals Thursday who shared their experience with college and high school students.

Screenwriting necessitates taking risks

Hollywood screenwriter Matt Harris opened the event via Zoom with a presentation on paths to entering the film industry. Harris is known for “The Starling” with Melissa McCarthy, “Dead for a Dollar” with Christoph Waltz and Willem Dafoe and “Most Daring” with Brian Cummings.

Harris said, “I write a movie that I want to see … a story about people that I care about … so my hope is if I write about something that I care about, you’ll care about it as well.”

When it comes to writing a film, Harris said is like “putting on that shield and venturing out and exposing myself a little bit.”

“Oh, a teenager is going to love this … an older crowd is going to take this,” Harris said, but he added that sharing his work is always the hardest part. “It’s risky.”

Harris said he chose to work with Creative Arts Agency, even though some people look at them as the “evil empire.”

“They’re huge right now. They have a lot of power,” he said. CAA represents Harris’ work and connected him with a producer who loved his screenplay. It took years, but the producer eventually got the “right pieces to come together.”

In 2005, Harris’ screenplay for “The Starling” ended up on the Black List, a list of the most liked but unproduced screenplays. The screenplay “gave me all kinds of attention, all kinds of love,” Harris said. “Nobody was giving me any money, but a lot of attention.”

In 2019, a director whom Harris had not spoken to in years reached out to ask if the screenplay was still available because Melissa McCarthy wanted to do it. Harris said he was stunned, but “two weeks later, I was getting the check … for a healthy sum of money.”

By August, Harris was on the production set. He said it was "crazy how fast things came together,” which is often only possible on smaller, lower-budget independent types of films.

When asked how to get a script to the right people, Harris suggested taking a risk and submitting work to festivals, which was the path he took initially. “Very few agents in Hollywood will accept material, like a cold call,” he said.

Harris also recommended that aspiring screenwriters take the time to learn the craft by reading and studying screenplays.

“I hate to admit it, but I do think disappointment taught me a lot,” Harris said when asked about his biggest career lessons. He assured the students that they would get knocked down more than once but to keep getting back up. He admitted it was easier advice to give than to take, “but just keep believing in yourself.”

When asked about artificial intelligence, Harris said he believed was here to stay, but it would never fully duplicate the human element in screenwriting. Some jobs may be lost, but he advised writers to work with the technology and make it a friend.

“Don't be afraid to let it help you. Allow it to make you better at your job,” Harris said.

Creating sound for films is an art

After Harris’ presentation, Lara Dale of FootVox Studios impressed the students in the soundstage room with a clinic on the Foley technique, which is the art of reproducing everyday sound effects. The Foley technique is named after sound effects expert Jack Foley.

Dale, who trained from early childhood in theater, classical music and ballet, began working in sound after suffering a serious dance injury. She trained with Emmy Award winning Foley artist Ellen Heuer from 2009 to 2013 when she opened FootVox Studios.

Dale’s credits include “Twilight: Eclipse,” “The Mechanic,” “Mildred Pierce,” “Drunktown’s Finest,” “Rosemary’s Baby” TV miniseries and “Expendables” one and three.

Dale used heavy boxing gloves to pound the floor and simulate sounds of a fall during fight scenes. She also demonstrated the proper walking technique, distinguishing the precise sound that boots worn by Sylvester Stallone would make.

Lara Dale in the SJC soundstage demonstrating the Foley techniques. (David Edward Albright/Durango Herald)

Creating the right sound also depends on using the right equipment, Dale said. She visits secondhand and army surplus to buy different sizes and styles of boots in order to create different sounds.

“We want older shoes with softer leather soles so that you don't get that hard prostitute sound,” Dale said as she demonstrated the correct gait.

Even once the sounds are created, Dale said it is a tedious process to add Foley sounds to the soundtrack. It may require managing thousands of tracks in postproduction.

Dale said a soundtrack uses tension and release to create a thread that keeps the audience engaged. That thread weaves throughout the film, but relies greatly on the power and effect of the opening and closing shots.

Josh Bishop, SJC media tech, demonstrated his drone skills. (David Edward Albright/Durango Herald)
Drones and stunts round out the event

Josh Bishop, media technician at SJC and owner of Zia Drone Operations, put on a drone demonstration in Graduation Plaza. He and his partners, Wes Bond and Mark Knight, recently wrapped up work with Team Guardian for a documentary on their Atlantic rowing journey.

Bishop took his drone straight up to hover at 300 feet, staying under the 400 feet maximum height allowed in city limits for aircraft safety.

He directed the drone around the area and showed how well the hands-free drone link program worked to land in the exact spot where it had launched.

Gabriel Sanchez talked to students about his experience as a movie stuntman. (David Edward Albright/Durango Herald)

Gabriel Sanchez shared his experiences working as a stunt man for films. He said when he worked on “Stranger Things,” he had to prepare without the use of a script because the scripts were tightly guarded.

“So you’re kind of coming in with an idea of what you're doing, but the plan is that the plan is going to change,” he said.

Adapting, being creative and being prepared to perform many, many takes is the key for a good stunt man.

Sanchez wore a knee pad on the outside of his pants to show the protection that is concealed when doing stunts. “Your goal is to try to hide these and put them in your wardrobe,” he said.

A panel discussion with Armando Gonzales, Alfredo Castro, Josh Bishop and Dolores Martinez from New Mexico Film Office, who appeared virtually, discussed the film industry and its path moving forward. Castro said he sees exponential growth in the film industry.

Castro, a SJC media arts graduate, said he was inspired to get into film and screenwriting when he attended a Film and Media Day at the college several years ago. Since graduation, Castro has worked on “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail” as an assistant writer, which is currently in postproduction and was directed by Tomas Sanchez.

The day is deemed a success

The annual Film and Media Day was organized by Luke Renner, digital media arts professor at the college.

Renner said he was pleased with the turnout from area high schools, which included Aztec High School, Farmington High School, Piedra Vista High School and Navajo Preparatory School.

John Curry, FHS media arts teacher and athletic coordinator, said he has brought students to the event for a number of years.

FHS student Aiden Everson said he does a lot of broadcasting and plans to pursue that as a career. He and Wyatt Dearen, who plans to pursue sports commentating, said they learned a lot about production at the event.

This article was republished to correct the first name of Gabriel Sanchez, who was identified as Tomas Sanchez.

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