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MSU's Theater2Film program allows students hands-on movie-making experience

February 7, 2016
Theatre freshman Raied Jawhari, left, and theatre freshman Grant Cleaveland, right, get yelled at by media and information senior Jake Samson, center, during a rehearsal on Feb. 5, 2016 at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.
Theatre freshman Raied Jawhari, left, and theatre freshman Grant Cleaveland, right, get yelled at by media and information senior Jake Samson, center, during a rehearsal on Feb. 5, 2016 at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum. —
Photo by Sundeep Dhanjal | and Sundeep Dhanjal The State News

Half asleep on a couch, eating popcorn or maybe even a bit of snuggling with a significant other. Whatever the circumstances are, one thing about movie watching remains consistent: at the end of the last scene of any movie ever made comes the credits. 

These so-called "credits" list the names of the many people who fill the hundreds of different positions that worked on completing any given movie. 

Last year, the Theatre2Film Project was created with one simple, yet intense complex goal in mind — to successfully create a full-length feature film with all of those positions you see at the end of a movie filled by students. 

Mark Colson, an assistant professor of media acting in MSU's Department of Theatre and a professional actor, is the executive producer of the film project and the mastermind behind the Theatre2Film program. 

“We created it last year and the main emphasis was that I wanted to have my actors working to convert a stage performance into a film performance, while giving the media information students a chance to create a feature film,” Colson said. 

The idea behind the program, which is a collaborative student project between the College of Communication Arts and Sciences along with the Department of Theatre is to take a student-made theatrical performance, which is performed live in front of an audience first, then turned it into a full-length motion picture. 

Students from different departments were all drawn in to participate in the project after hearing about the plan. Tony Yang, a media and information senior, is in his second year with the program and has the job of supervising producer. He, too, said that the promise of a full-length movie immediately enticed him. 

“I went to the general meeting last year and, when I heard about the opportunity to work on a feature length film, that really drew me in,” Yang said. “To really get that experience of creating an actual movie and not just a short three-minute video like most college students really made me interested.”  

Colson says before this project was put in place a lot of different departments at MSU were doing similar things, but not collectively. This program gives them all the opportunity to collaborate and work on one project. 

Theatre2Film is now in its second year and has just started the process of selecting it's crew to begin working on creating a new movie. The crew includes more than 100 students with positions including actors, composers, cinematographers and art directors. 

“It's totally student run,” Colson said. “To me, the best part is just being able to give these students actual hands-on experience in filmmaking.” 

Colson created the idea and, to his knowledge, there are no universities that have created a full-length feature film at the scale and severity that Theatre2Film at MSU has. 

Yang said he believed Colson is one of the main reasons that the program was so successful, citing his motivational and leadership skills. 

“Mark is one of the most experienced acting professors on campus — he just has so much real world experience and he is really great to work with,” Yang said. “He’s really open and always available. He loves working with students and focuses everyone on maintaining a positive attitude. Also, Mark always makes sure to recognize our efforts and acknowledge people for their success.” 

Last year, the program's film, "(313) Choices," saw great success. After months of hard work and a long time spent editing the film, the program got invited to the Traverse City Film Festival

Colson said the program brought approximately 50 students to the film festival, where students were recognized and even got to hear from an audience who watched their film. 

“They got to go on a trip to not only bask in the glory of a very successful film, but also give them a very real world experience in filmmaking,” Colson said. 

Both Colson and Yang believe that the program will be incredibly beneficial for those who participate. 

“Collaboration is the best way to describe the project, but I also think of prestige," Yang said. "No other university makes a 90-minute feature length film, so it brings a new level of prestige to the university in itself along with all of the programs involved in creating this project. It gets a lot of exposure to the students involved." 

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