Friday, May 18, 2018

Maria Corso: Finding Film (final)

In the final post from CASL alum Maria Corso, she explains why she opted for an all-female crew for her short film, and how the classes she took at CASL effected her career as a filmmaker and director...
In my opinion, the most important part of being a filmmaker is a deep understanding and knowledge of film history (including the history that’s being created as we speak). I truly believe that through the courses I took in CASL at UM Dearborn, I was able to increase my base knowledge of film into an entirely new and expanded perspective, one that has instilled in me a desire to continue learning well past graduation and has informed all choices I’ve made in my career.

In a history of documentary class, I had my first real direct-something-and-show-it-to-my-peers moment. Our final project was a to make our own documentary. I remember the Professor coming up to me after class and complimenting me on the interesting perspective I had chose to shoot it, which was incredibly encouraging. This class also opened me up to documentary as a medium, something that initially didn’t interest me, but I eventually came to love and realize how it completely influenced narrative filmmaking. I also recall that it was through this class, a group of us were offered the opportunity to visit a television
shoot that was happening on campus. The now cancelled series, “Detroit 187,” was shooting a few scenes in one of the buildings and we were given a tour of the set. We got to chat with crew members, getting a sense of what everyone’s job was and were also able to watch a few scenes get shot. This was one of the first sets I had ever been on and it was a really thrilling thing to be a part of.

World cinema is also something incredibly dear to me and the introduction to it was the German cinema classes I took. One was a history of expressionism and the other was specifically about women in Germany. Its important to not only get a perspective of what was going on in cinema in certain times in our world history, but also how countries influence and are inspired (and directly copy) each other. My professor was so incredibly passionate and knew exactly which films to choose, and her enthusiasm made me enthusiastic. I still love watching German films and think about that class.

On my short film, it was a non negotiable for me to have an all female crew. There is a terrible disparity in the
industry and I would not be part of the problem. I also chose to tell a story with a female protagonist. I credit this to a class I took at UM on film and feminism. Seeing how many films (even those about women) came from male perspectives and how many of those films have unfavorable or sexist views, was eye opening. We are so used to it, we don’t even realize it. This class inspired me to change that and was a huge influence on my directing decisions both pre and post production. A lot of the classes revolving around script writing have been incredibly helpful to me. Not just the script writing workshop class (in which we wrote one feature film script over the course of a semester), but in the journalism and writing for electronic media classes offered. Its important to know how to write short form and long form, not just for film and tv, but for print as well. Both of these classes also involved having our work read aloud and critiqued, which I found incredibly helpful. It may sound good on paper or in your head, but listening to it in another voice is essential for getting the true feel for what you’ve written and more importantly, how its interpreted.

While these classes were more geared towards my field, a lot of the CASL classes I took may not have been directly about film, but helped to make me a better filmmaker and storyteller. For example, I took multiple English classes, ranging from the fairy tale to American contemporary, to British literature, to dramatic plays, to the writings of women in the Renaissance. The most essential part of filmmaking is story. Without a solid story, you cannot make a good film. These classes helped me to understand story structure. They also helped me to gain more insight into different perspectives from around the world. Hearing voices other then your own, opens your viewpoints and gives you an insatiable curiosity. Reading helps make you a better storyteller. One of the most interesting classes I ever took in the CASL program was a class about the psychology of theater. It ranged from discussing why actors make the choices they make to what goes through our heads as an audience when we watch or hear something. We also looked at the psychological concepts present in a lot of plays. It was fascinating and it has not only helped me in how I approach and interpret material, but also how I directed my actors on the set of my film. Art was a subject that I didn’t know I had a very real interest in until taking Modern Architecture and Western art at UM Dearborn. I was so passionate about it, in retrospect it should have been another minor for me. Regardless, these classes taught me about colors, shapes, and composition-all essential filmmaking concepts. While paintings, sculptures and buildings aren’t the same as digital images, they all apply the same basic principles of creation. I often go to art museums when I’m feeling uninspired. Physical art really feels like the closest tangible thing to the visual medium of cinema.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Maria Corso: Finding Film pt. 2

CASL Alum Maria Corso shares more in part 2 of "Finding Film". She discusses her love of directing, her first film, and why passion is so important...

When I started at UM Dearborn in the fall of 2008, I was undecided as to what exact area of film I wanted to pursue. I had done theater both inside school and outside since the seventh grade and out of that had evolved a deep love for cinema. I knew film was it, I just didn’t know what part of it yet. There are so many different jobs from pre to post production and choosing felt like a massive decision to undertake. Even upon graduating, I had under my belt all this great film, television, and journalism knowledge that I had acquired and still couldn’t quite narrow it down.

 Finally I decided on producing. After my internship, however, I realized that it wasn’t for me. It was far too focused on monetary decisions as opposed to creative decisions. During my last few summers in college, Michigan’s film industry was growing steadily. I worked on multiple productions as a background extra
(basically you are paid to populate a scene, surrounding the main actors and trying to make it look as realistic as possible). While I was no longer interested in acting, extra work allowed me to be a silent observer of all things happening on set-seeing how directors work, writers work, lighting, cinematography, etc.

 After my internship ended, I realized being on set was what made me most excited. I set out to gain experience as a production assistant (you’re responsible for going on runs, helping organize background extras, and doing any other general on set duties as needed). I thought through this work I could ultimately work my way up to being an assistant director and ultimately that was where I wanted to end up.

By 2017, I had done some production assistant work and still had the plan to be an assistant director, when I had a realization. Every time I was on a set, I saw myself watching the director more closely than any other crew member and saying to myself 'I could do that…but better.' Directing was what I had wanted to do all along-it just took me awhile to get there (experience wise, knowledge wise, and through my own mental blocks). It took me until the summer of 2017 (five years after I had moved to Los Angeles) in order to decide on not just becoming a director, but the first story I wanted to tell.

 I directed my first short film December 2017. The shoot took place over three days, with an all female crew on location in Los Angeles. We raised half the money through Indiegogo and the rest came through me personally (credit cards aren’t the best, but they are good to help you make your passion project!). Although I felt incredibly prepared (we had planned out everything, rented gear, etc.), upon Day 1 of arriving on set, I was incredibly nervous. I just wanted to do a good job and for everyone to have an enjoyable time on set. And of course, for the movie to be good. I’m not usually a quiet person, but for the first time I felt myself being quieter than usual. I was out of my element. I had never professionally directed before-I wanted to respect everyone’s job and give them space. But I had to learn that as the director, I have to be the most vocal. As the day went on and the shoot progressed, I began to feel at ease. I was more vocal about what I
wanted and didn’t want. I listened to opinions but ultimately I made decisions. I created an environment that was controlled, but allowed everyone to be creative and be their best.

We are in the editing phase now and looking at the footage, I’m incredibly proud of not just myself, but of every single person who worked on the project. I’ve had the members of the crew and cast reach out to me and my producers saying it was one of the most relaxed and enjoyable sets they had ever been on. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to surround yourself with passionate people. Passionate about their personal role on the project, but also passionate about the project itself.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Maria Corso: Finding Film

Meet Maria Corso, a 2012 CASL alum who LOVES to direct films. How did she get her start? What were some of her challenges? Find out in part 1 of her blog post...

I have always had an affinity for California. My grandparents had a home there and I visited multiple times throughout my high school and early college years. However, it didn’t really hit me that California was the place I wanted to live until deciding that working in the film industry was the career path I wanted to pursue. In the years I was at the University of Michigan Dearborn (2008-2012), the state was experiencing a surge in film productions due to a generous tax incentive. That incentive was unfortunately very short lived and upon graduation, I realized there would be no chance of me finding steady work in my home state.

I graduated in the spring of 2012 and by October of the same year, I had moved out to California I
had the great fortune of being able to stay with my grandparents in their home, rent free for my first year. However, their home was almost two hours away from Los Angeles. For that first year, I commuted to the Los Angeles area a few days a week. I did not go with any job prospects, merely some savings I had accrued from working part time jobs throughout college. I had two unpaid opportunities lined up. The first was a week of volunteering with the AFI Film Festival, literally a few days after I had moved. The second was an internship with Cross Creek Pictures, a production company that has produced films like Black Swan, Everest, and most recently, American Made. There I was a script reader and also did some receptionist duties.

I eventually moved on to many other positions and companies (and moved to Los Angeles itself), some great some not so great. The industry is incredibly hard to break into when you don’t know someone already in the business. I’ve found that through taking on some of these smaller positions, they have led to bigger and better ones and helped me gain insight and experience along the way. For example, volunteering with AFI helped me to be hired for a screener position with them a year later. They also helped me narrow down exactly what I wanted to do in the industry. When working at Cross Creek I realized that producing (what I initially wanted to do when moving to Los Angeles) was not something that interested me at all. I wanted to be involved in film in a more creative way and a less business oriented way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

This month’s featured alumni is Emily Chippa, a December 2017 graduate who majored in Psychology. Emily came as a transfer student from Schoolcraft College.

Although your graduation was recent, what’s some/one of your best memories or experiences as a CASL student?

Emily Chippa: I enjoyed Dr. Hymes’ Social Psychology lab and and my internship with Dr. Loeb (a Psychology professor) because this helped me to receive a position with Career Services on campus. 

What courses did you take and how were they beneficial in the classroom and beyond? 

EC: I took a lot of courses that made me self aware which is helpful in an office setting where you’re trying to understand people and help people grow and you want to fine tune general procedures and policies to each individual. So, courses like Gender Roles, Psychology, Sociology, Personality Theory; these try to help you understand how people work.

In your opinion, what makes CASL student’s unique and how has that affected you? 

EC: CASL students have a strong sense of teamwork which is good because companies like that. Within the Talent Gateway and Career Services, it is meant to make people more aware of their soft skills. This is also why I decided to do an internship because it took me outside of my comfort zone. [Working in Career Services helped me] realize I absolutely love this office and working with students.

Why did you choose to major in the Liberal Arts field? 

EC: I have an intrinsic want and need to help people. I love to see people grow and succeed and achieve things they want out of life. I don’t think there’s another career that allows you to do that besides Liberal Arts. I decided on psychology during my junior year of high school. At that time there was someone who was struggling with mental illness and I wanted to be able to understand more and help others that were suffering with the same thing as the person I was close to was struggling with. Being an advocate for that type of change has furthered my drive to want to be in the psychology field. Also, human beings are so unpredictable. In Psychology and Sociology, we can understand how humans act and how we think. These fields are vital to our society and our success as human beings.

Additional thoughts to share or advice? 

EC: I’m proud I was able to push myself outside my comfort zone and I was able to succeed in what I wanted to do. It took me over five years to get my B.A. and I worked part-time and took full time classes. But I want to let other students know it’s ok to take a little while. Don’t compare yourself to other students. School is hard and you will only survive if you really really want to.

Interview Compiled by Leah Olajide 

Monday, February 26, 2018

CASL Alum: Non-Traditional Grad, Degree Worth the Effort

Recent CASL Graduate Vunisha Lawson shares what earning her Bachelor's Degree as a non-traditional student means to her... 

Year of Graduation and Major: 2017/Behavioral Sciences

What did you enjoy most about your time as a CASL student? Out of all the great memories I’ve
had as a CASL student, my most enjoyable time was during my internship. I learned so many
things that can be applied to my professional, as well as, my personal life. It was also a time for
me to get out of my comfort zone, be more vocal, and take chances.

What event/experiences made your college career unique? My college experience has been
shaped by the fact that I am a nontraditional student, and I’m the first in my immediate family to
earn a college degree. It was definitely a challenge with work, attending classes, and completing
assignments. Earning a Bachelor’s degree has been a goal of mine for quite some time now.
With a little prioritizing, and a strong desire to work in a career field where I can help people like
myself to pursue their aspirations, I was able to do just that.

What advice would you give to CASL freshman? Get involved in student organizations and other
events on campus. They are great way to meet new people, and network. Also, do as many
internships as possible. You will not only gain more experience, but you’ll also get a feel for
what career is best for you.

Why do you value a liberal arts education? The thing I value most about a liberal arts education
is that the courses are so broad. My particular degree required that I take several classes in
Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology. I had the opportunity to tailor my courses to one
specific career. However, liberal arts programs give you an opportunity to gain a considerable
amount of knowledge and experience that can be applied to several careers.

Interview Compiled by Leah Olajide

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Over the years, many University of Michigan-Dearborn students have turned their tassel and officially been welcomed to the Michigan Alumni Family. However, while many become alums in title, there are those who choose to make the title work for them as they give back to their alma mater.

In this month’s alumni blog post, we meet Theresa Sommerville, a 2016 CASL graduate who studied Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies and minored in Communication. She works as a supervisor at a Social Services Agency, and remains connected with the University by serving as the Chair for the African American Alumni Affiliate.

CASL: Why do you value the education you received as a CASL student?
Theresa Sommerville: Being a CASL student was the best decision for me. In a world where STEM is taking over, Liberal Arts degrees are often forgotten or not sought after. Being in CASL, I learned valuable skills in writing, reading, communication, project management, organization and critical thinking. These are skills that everyone needs, regardless of your degree path. I also learned business strategies, analytical statistics, and other key skills that others forget can be learned with a CASL degree.

CASL: Why do you believe the liberal arts and humanities are valuable?
TS: Liberal arts and humanities are valuable because we are growing into a more social world. Top executives in STEM have to meet with people just like the top business professional. We learn valuable skills in the liberal arts and humanities that easily become a part of our everyday work and social lives. That's what liberal arts and humanities gives us -- the tools to make it happen in the social workplace.

Interview Compiled by Leah Olajide 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

In this interview, CASL Grad Jessica Strachan discusses how her liberal arts degree has shaped her academically and professionally by Leah Johnson

-What year did you graduate and what was your major?

J.S.: 2009 B.A. I majored in communications-journalism and behavioral sciences. I earned my M.A. from UM-Flint in social sciences in 2011. 

-What Clubs/Organizations were you part of while on campus? 
J.S.: President of Amnesty International, a writer for the Michigan Journal, member of Campus Video. I also worked in Admissions & Orientation, was an orientation leader and later worked in Institutional Advancement, developing the framework for the campus' Student Philanthropy Council. 

-Describe the current project you're currently working on and how it relates to campus and the Dearborn Community
J.S.: Right now I have the pleasure of covering the people and projects contributing positive things to the city of Dearborn, a community I feel very connected to from my undergrad experience at UM-Dearborn. I'm the project editor and engagement manager for Metromode Media's On the Ground Dearborn program, where we are embedded in the community for three months to promote the initiatives and leaders driving vitality within the city.

-How has a liberal arts degree from CASL helped you personally and professionally? 

J.S.: One of the most valuable experiences from my liberal arts degree was the school's emphasis on gaining professional experience as a student through internships. As a new writer, I was ahead of the game with a full portfolio of published work at local news stations thanks to the opportunities I had from CASL's internship program. I'm passionate about the arts and social sciences and in each piece I write, I'm able to pull from my interdisciplinary education at UM-Dearborn.