Monday, January 26, 2009


by Gina Sestak

Have you ever embarked upon a project, filled with enthusiasm, only to find yourself, a few weeks later, thinking, "What the *!%#* have I gotten myself into?"

That's how I've been feeling this weekend.

I mentioned a few weeks ago how much I loved the screenwriting class I took at Pittsburgh Filmmakers last semester. Flush with accomplishment -- I got an "A!" -- I decided to take another course. Well, one thing led to another and I ended up registered for two production classes. For anyone who doesn't know the lingo, in a production class, you actually have to produce stuff. Not like the producers you see credited on movie screens, thank goodness. No. You have to produce actual stuff -- class assigments -- homework.

Now, don't get me wrong. The screenwriting class required "homework," but crafting a three page scene every week seemed more like play to me.

I signed up for Motion Picture Fundamentals because, well, it's fundamental -- it's a prerequisite for many of the other courses. Besides, a friend of mine is also taking "Mo Fun," as it is abbeviated. We could go to class together. And, since Mo Fun requires working on a MAC and I had never in my life worked on a MAC, I heeded the suggestion in the course description and signed up for Introduction to Digital as well. So far, so good.

I don't mind going to class and doing the reading. Honest. I don't mind going to TA sessions or figuring out how to use a MAC (it's kind of cool). But my first Mo Fun assignment has me baffled. You have to understand that I am technologically challenged. Witness my inability to get the two camera images, above, to embed where I want them in the body of this post.

When I signed up for classes at a film school, I naturally expected that we'd be, well, making films. You know. With a camera like this:

[pretend the drawing of a movie camera is right here]

Instead, we're starting really basic: still photographs in black and white. With a non-digital camera. A camera that uses film. A camera like this:

[pretend the picture of the Minolta is right here]

Now, I took a photography course once. About 30 years ago. Since then, the pictures I've been taking have been the point and click kind. With my cell phone. It's hard to keep track of the film speed and fstops and shutter speed and light meter and focusing, all at the same time, not to mention depth of field issues. Plus, while Filmmakers lends equipment, it also imposes stringent rules about what you can have, and when you MUST return it and WHILE IT IS IN YOU POSSESSION IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. So I also have to worry about the lens and the lens cap and the padded case and the strap and the little list of things specific to this camera that must be kept inside the padded case.
So my problem is this: while keeping all that in mind, how am I supposed to figure out what to take pictures of?


Tory said...

Wow, Gina, it does sound like you've embarked on an adventure!

Sounds like fun, though. And certainly will keep you busy.

Good luck with the technical stuff. Not my forte, either.

Joyce said...

Sounds like fun, Gina! I have an old Minolta that I bought with my first paycheck from my first real job way back, well, I won't say when. It still works if you want to use it. You wouldn't have to worry about it--it's heading for a place among all the other junk on the walls and ceiling of my sunroom.

As for the pictures in your post--you can either drag and drop them, or cut and paste them to where you want them. I can do it if you'd like.

Gina said...

Thanks, Tory. I have a feeling that I'll need all the luck I can get. And yes, I think it will be fun. It has been, so far, although I'm really at sea in my digital class. By analogy: whenever folks around here ask how to get to Erie, the response is likely to be, "I-79 North." I am at the stage with the MAC where I need someone to say: "Learn to operate a motor vehicle. Acquire a valid drivers license. Obtain the legal right to use an operational motor vehicle that is properly registered and which has a current inspection sticker. Open the left front door . . ." You get the idea. :-)

Thank you, too, Joyce. Actually, borrowing equipment from Filmmakers is an adventure in itself -- one not to be missed for the full student experience. The Equipment Office will actually take your student id card and keep possession of it until the equipment comes back and has been checked for harm.

I tried to drag and drop the pictures without success; I also tried to cut and paste them. I appreciate your offer to move them, but I think they make a conversation piece where they are -- or at least, moving them would render the part in the post about being technicologically challenged meaningless. Thanks, though.

Annette said...

Gina, oh, how well I know the "what have I gotten myself into" thing.

I did photography professionally for several years back in the 80's. I remember the photography courses well. And black and white still photography is my favorite. That's not to say it's easy. But it will teach you to see light and shadow and contrast. Having said that, this is January in Pittsburgh and everything is monochrome and flat, so I wish you luck.

Anonymous said...

Classes never seem to be what you expect. That's why writers study POV so hard. Yours vs the professors. Taking pictures with a camera that requires film gives you a POV on what to and what not to 'waste' film on. If you just snap randomly you get a lesson on lousy pictures that can be helpful if you keep at it for years.

Meredith Cole said...

Starting with a still camera is such a great idea! I've taught directing & screenwriting, and it's been so frustrating when students don't have the foggiest idea of how to frame something or how to create a character. So stick with it!

Just try taking photos of anything that strikes your fancy. Winter can be a little grey and dull, but try taking a long walk in the morning and in the late afternoon when the shadows will be more interesting.

Good luck!

sz said...

Well most of my photography on my site is rescue kittens, (moving targets !) though there are some sun rises.

I love black and white photography. It there is a timer, start with yourself. I do my own self portraits. (so all those bad shots shall never be seen)

Also, take the normal and try new angles. I live in the city (San Francisco) so it is easy to get shots. A cool stair case or any of the homes here or near you that have that nice old fashion architecture may be a good start.

Anonymous said...

oooh, I just know Gina's going to end up making a movie about zombies. Or working at a fast food restaurant. Or....zombies who work at a fast food restaurant. Whatever--it's going to be creative and different!