MaryAnne Spiess and Rolland Godin learn how to incorporate Christian truth into film.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

MaryAnne Spiess and Rolland Godin learn how to incorporate Christian truth into film.

July 21, 2014
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

A good film is more than special effects and pretty girls. Underneath everything lies a compelling story.

At Living Water College of the Arts this month, eight students are learning to tell not just any stories through film, but stories imbued with faith.

"Pretty much anybody can teach you to be a technician, but what Hollywood really lacks these days is good storytellers," said Jacob Schmiedicke, the college's director of liberal and fine arts.

Schmiedicke said the four-week program, Truth in Motion, run at the college near tiny Derwent, north of Vermilion, gives a basic overview of the filmmaking process from beginning to end. "It's unique in that we heavily emphasize story."

He wants the students to write stories imbued with the Catholic faith, not in a preachy, overbearing way, but in an artistic and beautiful way.

On the second day of the program that runs July 6 to Aug. 2, students were already reading Aristotle, studying the classics in literature and film, as well as learning more about cameras, the structure of good stories and the essentials of crafting a quality screenplay.

Schmiedicke divides his time between teaching and work as an independent filmmaker.

"The films we're studying are not overtly religious or anything. They're more than just eye candy, more than mere popcorn entertainment," he said. However, those films can reveal something "about the human condition and what it means to be human, the nature of truth, good triumphs over evil, and the need for perseverance and hard work.

"Those are meaningful things we can get out of a story beyond just action scenes and explosions and pretty girls."

Eric Spoeth, program director and chairman of Living Water, said that in the past the college has offered courses on iconography, dancing and painting.

CHALLENGE OF FILM

But the added aspect of collaboration in making a film makes this program the most challenging Living Water College has ever offered.

"We have seen there is as a need to bring Christian truth into the film world. We have connections to people who can provide that, so it made sense for us to do a program," said Rose Nolan, the college assistant.

Nolan said the students are taking the initiative and doing things on their own. "In the evening, when they could be sitting and reading alone, they're in a group talking about what they've been reading."

The program has the students participating in the production of a professional motion picture, which Spoeth is directing, while also being coached in the production of their own five-minute film.

"The film that I've brought into the college is a short World War Two-era docudrama. For six days we will be filming at the Ukrainian Heritage Cultural Village near Edmonton," said Spoeth.

Learning good storytelling is the focus, he said. The technical side is being taught through afternoon workshops, through mentorship with experts in various disciplines.

In pre-production, students will learn where excellent stories come from, how to write a screenplay, storyboarding and organizing a production schedule. During production, they learn about directing and acting, technical training, and the ins and outs of working on a professional film set.

After producing their own film short, post-production involves editing, computer graphics and a soundtrack.

The program costs $2,900, which covers tuition, as well as room and board. The two-week post-production is an additional $1,450.

Jacob Schmiedicke says storytelling is crucial to a good film.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Jacob Schmiedicke says storytelling is crucial to a good film.

MaryAnne Spiess, a student in the program, hopes to become a filmmaker, a goal she has had since age three. She finds the program exciting because she does not have to train in a secular environment "because they have different ideas about life than I do.

"I absolutely love to write, so I would like to write screenplays and also direct them. I love to act, but I'm mainly here to learn how to make films," said Spiess.

SEARCH FOR MARRIAGE

Spoeth attended the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. He has since pursued a career as an independent film producer and assistant director. He and his brother recently completed the feature-length documentary, C-38: The Search for Marriage.

"Part of my goal with the program is to start building a network of Catholic filmmakers that they can call on for future projects," he said.

The program is one way to restore the faith aspect to the art of filmmaking.

"In some circles in the film industry, there is hostility toward the faith. While that can be an opportunity for students, it can also be a risk to one's own faith, to be immersed in that environment," Spoeth said.

Every student, none older than 25, has at least some experience making their own short films, perhaps attending film camps.

"My goal for them is to have a short film that is marketable, that they can either send to film festivals or apply for funding to develop a larger work," said Spoeth.

Father Leonard Revilla, from Irondale, Ala., is a Franciscan Missionary of the Eternal Word. He is the chaplain serving the spiritual needs of the students and college staff. He also serves as chaplain for the Eternal Word Television Network.

RESTORE THE SPIRIT

"My role is to give the students some inspiration because these are long days, and eventually they will become exhausted, their minds fatigued," said Revilla. "Therefore, I'm here to be a support for them and encourage them to stay with the program, not give up. Ultimately what God wants is for them to do their best," he said.

"The spiritual aspects, the theology and prayer on a daily basis here give them a good foundation, especially if they're going to work later on in motion pictures or TV. Having this foundation will keep them grounded in their faith and keep their intentions pure."

Rolland Godin hopes to pursue a career in directing and editing films.

"I've made a few films in school and on my own time with friends. It's what I enjoy doing, so I'm hoping to make it into a career," said Godin.

TEACH A LESSON

Learning the morals that go along with storytelling sets this program apart from a typical film course. More than making movies solely for entertainment, Godin wants to make films that teach a lesson, incorporating higher principles such as goodness and beauty.

"I want to learn the techniques of filmmaking, but it's important to know why you're doing it. Are you doing it for the right reasons?"