Film students discover the bigger picture at Interlochen

Looking back on the growth of the department, now celebrating ten years, Mittelstaedt says one of the greatest gifts is hearing from former students now in their careers.

The very foundation of the Motion Picture Arts program at Interlochen Center for the Arts is story: the who, what, where, when, and why.

"What the characters want, what are the obstacles in the way, how do they overcome or not overcome that obstacle," explained Michael Mittelstaedt, the program's director from the very beginning. "They really have a lot of resources at their fingertips that if they're thinking creatively, they can shoot really any story they care to."

After work-shopping their ideas, students dig in to screen writing and production fundamentals.

"By the time they get to their second Fall, they're actually beginning to cast and location scout and a number of steps on the way to actually shooting that project," said Mittelstaedt.

Practically everything the students need for their productions is available on campus. MPA students are able to collaborate with the other departments.

"If a kid wants to shoot something on-the-fly, they can go to their theater friends and say, 'hey will you act in this,'" said Jack Fossett, a senior in the program. "The other MPAs will set up the shoot and will capture everything, will help you edit. The {visual Arts students} may help you make a flyer. Music majors can write you a score. It's very easy to create even though it's such a small community because everyone knows each other, everybody likes each other, and everybody wants to work with each other."

Mittelstaedt agrees, it's much like the old film system.

"The people who are the actors, and the composers, and everybody who could be involved in the film was actually self-contained here on campus."

The skills students learn in the MPA program are transferable; film is an umbrella for many fields.

"The program helps them articulate a story, whether that's in a job interview or another job," said Mittelstaedt. "You get to college and you have those things behind you, you're starting at a very different place than I think most freshmen are starting right now."

"I decided to apply here, hopefully to build up skills the year before I go to college," said Fossett. "I do think it helped me get into college honestly because the program is so solid and it really solidifies your identity as a filmmaker."

The program has grown from a dozen to now 30 students. Looking back on the growth of the department, now celebrating ten years, Mittelstaedt says one of the greatest gifts is hearing from former students now in their careers.

"This is what I had hoped for the students. This is the thing we don't get to see. And the time that they're here, they might not truly understand fully what they're learning and it's a seed that doesn't blossom until years from now. So as I hear from some of the alums now at 10 years out, I get to hear about their careers and about the work they're doing."

"Our hope," he added, "is that as they graduate on through college and get involved in their own careers that they then come back and work with the faculty and together we would work on films together."

That's exactly what they're doing. A handful of former students will be working with Mittelstaedt this spring on a film he's creating.

One of his students is now working for Ken Burns' Florentine Films as a researcher and production associate.

Another graduate has worked on makeup effects for Riann Johnson's Looper, Killing Them Softly, and Just Go With It.

Two students have been to Cannes Film Festival in France, one as a production intern, the other was featured in their Short Films Corner.

Film screenings for the current students' final projects are open to the public. Those take place at the end of May.

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