What It’s Like To Make A Student Film During A Pandemic

Story by Alix Plummer

Starting in April 2020, there have been strict guidelines for how student organizations, sports and clubs can meet if they are permitted to meet at all. Central Michigan University’s Film Society, however, has been permitted to meet with strict guidelines from the CDC, University President Bob Davies, the Broadcast and Cinematic Arts department, as well as the guidelines the organization has set for themselves.

The CMU Film Society is contact tracing, and if anyone is in a scene without a mask on the entire crew is required to be more than six feet away from them. Film Society also works hard to make sure that if a scene absolutely requires two people to be close to or physically touching each other they try to cast roommates or two people who are in the same quarantine bubble. Most scripts have been written with all of the actors at least six feet apart.

“There were some scenes last semester that we had to reshoot because there were scenes where one second someone had a mask on and the next, they didn’t because they had put the mask back on so fast after the scene had finished,” said Kait Helmholtz Film Society Vice President.

However, it hasn’t been entirely bad having to get creative. The group cannot film in dorm rooms or apartments, so they have needed to find new locations and that has changed a lot.

“The writing, pre and post-production is done completely alone and it is different because we have to write scenes in the woods or in big wide open rooms. It has been interesting to see how people have adapted to that,” said Caleb Frank Film Society President.

At first the group wasn’t aware of the privilege that came with being able to meet in person. They assumed this was a thing that most organizations were going to get to do.  Now, with more understanding there is a lot of pressure to set a good example.

“It’s kind of an honor but it’s also a big responsibility because now more than ever there’s a lot of eyes that are on our organization itself,” said Hunter Valenzuela Film Society Secretary. “If we can do it and if we go through the necessary requirements that goes to show that other organizations that would usually meet in person can.”

Even though the organization can meet in-person, they are still struggling with the fact that they can’t form the same relationships that they would during an average school year. Things like an annual Chicago trip and doing post-production together usually make the experience more fun and allows for closer friendships.

“I think the freshmen are especially losing out because we missed out on things like the Chicago trip. That is why I wanted to stay in film society because I made so many friends on that trip and we just don’t get to have things like that this semester,” said Helmholtz.

Even more than that, the way film production has changed in the professional space has led a lot of the group members to reconsider whether or not they want to work in broadcasting after college.

“When the pandemic started that was one of my first thoughts and concerns. I spent a lot of time in August and September looking into companies and how they were filming, and everything has changed but it’s still happening,” said Helmholtz. “I think the fact that Film Society got to do it all is a sign that [production] is going to continue to happen.”

The organization as a whole has made it very clear that even though relationships, and each step of production has changed, they are just grateful to be able to make anything and they are excited to work towards production of a short film throughout March and a semester long film project all of which will be premiered at a small virtual film festival.