BYU filmmakers adapt to COVID-19 challenges

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See also: COVID-19 pandemic alters the Utah film industry

Nathan Young works the camera as Stephanie Breinholt acts in Maggie On Stratford Avenue. (Marcus Weatherred)

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of the college experience. BYU film students are no exception, but they have strived to adapt as best as they can.

Part of majoring in media arts at BYU includes making capstone projects. These projects are usually short films that are written, produced and directed by the students.

James May, a senior studying media arts, said this process begins with scriptwriting. Once students have written a script, they typically get together with other students who are interested in producing and directing the project.

The director and producer pitch their film to the media arts faculty. The faculty then selects two projects to fund. The chosen director and producer find media arts students to fill other positions, like art director and cinematographer.

May said the students take classes throughout the semester that help them understand their roles and improve their script. When the film is finished, it may be submitted to compete in various film festivals.

When getting ready to pitch his film in April, May said he wasn’t sure what would happen. Production on the capstone film from the previous semester had been shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions. The faculty warned May and his team that this was likely to happen again. 

Marcus Weatherred, a senior studying media arts, signed on to produce Maggie on Stratford Avenue. The film was about a young woman with opioid addiction and was written by May, who also planned to direct. 

The film was eventually selected to be made, but not without some major changes to the normal production process. May said he held all of the pre-production meetings via Zoom. According to May, this helped keep meetings short. May said he made sure to conduct one-on-one meetings with crewmembers when necessary. 

“I’d say Zoom allows you to be able to do something more efficiently. It eliminated some meetings that maybe were redundant, or that we didn’t necessarily need to gather people for, so that’s been a positive,” May said. 

As far as the actual filming went, Weatherred said he closely followed the standards released on the media arts department website, and regularly communicated with a faculty advisor. 

The students were also required to create a health and safety position for a crewmember. This crewmember was responsible for checking temperatures and enforcing social distancing.

According to Weatherred, the most significant change was the number of people that could be in a room at one time. Normally, the crew, which could sometimes be greater than 50 people, would set up a shot simultaneously.

Instead, Weatherred directed students to set up by department. The people in charge of dressing the set would work on the location and then exit the room. The camera department would follow them. Weatherred said this would take an extra hour every day, which slowed production.

May and Weatherred were originally told that they wouldn’t have any time to shoot pick-ups, which are shots that are gathered after the initial shoot to replace mistakes or fill in gaps. Weatherred said they were eventually allowed to do this, but they used a crew of only three to five people.

Both Marcus and May said there were no major incidents regarding COVID-19 and that everyone involved was honest about feeling sick or needing to isolate. Neither felt that the quality of the film would suffer as a result of following the rules.

Maggie on Stratford Avenue is currently in post-production phases. The film will premiere in September 2021. 

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