Media Arts and Design

Virtual SMADFEST set for 7 p.m. Dec. 16 on YouTube


By Charlotte Matherly, staff writer

Despite challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and no safe way to hold a physical celebration, SMADFEST 2020 prevails and will feature a virtual watch party of the senior students’ short fiction videos at 7 p.m. Dec. 16 on YouTube

Led by Prof. Rustin Greene, the SMAD 405 producing and directing class will feature the work of the 18 students, who were divided into six groups of three. 

The class, which is only open to SMAD majors with a Digital Video and Cinema concentration, requires that students submit screenplays on the first day of class. Then, each student pitches their screenplay to everyone else, and the class decides together which films they’ll produce.

Greene said the class aims to teach students about how to produce their own videos and about the business side as well.

“SMADFEST is an opportunity for the films to be seen,” Greene said. “That's the goal. The instructional goal is to … introduce the students to the idea of distribution of their films and of promotion of their films. In other words, they're learning how to make the films, and I want them also to learn at least a little bit about how to get an audience.”

Greene, who has taught the class for years, said this semester’s projects have been affected by two fundamental changes. 

smadfest-172.pngFirst, because of complications from COVID-19, each team has faced certain technical limitations. Greene said he realizes this class is only a portion of his students’ lives and didn’t require that everyone involved in each project quarantine together for 14 days before to shooting the film. But he said he expected that all students followed Virginia and JMU guidelines, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

And because of these obstacles, he advised students to make their videos shorter than the usual 15-to-20-minute time limit of films from past semesters.

Greene said despite the issues, he has high hopes for this class.

“The logistics of production are significantly challenging,” Greene said. 

But he said he was pleased that students this fall “adapted extraordinarily well,” just like the students in the class during the Spring 2020 semester after JMU shifted online in mid-March. 

Greene said he’s been impressed by both classes’ ability to produce quality films that don’t look as if they were created during a pandemic with strict health guidelines. He said it’s important the projects look like films and not a production exercise.

Matt Brown, one of the student filmmakers, said students had a discussion early in the semester about how to handle the COVID-19 restrictions. That’s why he decided to embrace the hardships of the pandemic when writing his screenplay, which the class chose as one of the films to produce.

“I thought it would be easier just to write a movie that was set within those guidelines,” Brown said. “I wrote a movie about two roommates … and they both have very different, broad views on the pandemic … The movie is about how people experience quarantine and how that affects people, mentally and personally and socially.”

Brown said one of the most challenging parts of producing his film, “Together in Quarantine,” was combining production roles so only a few people worked at once. The team had a maximum of about eight people on set at any given time, even if that meant people doubled up on different jobs. Brown, for instance, took on a principal character role in addition to being the producer.

Addison Cole had a different challenge with her film, “Ride of a Lifetime." She said one of her actors tested positive for coronavirus.

Cole said although this caused a hiccup in her team’s schedule, they revised their plans. She worked with actors over Zoom to provide direction on scenes before shooting them. The team employed other creative strategies to ensure safety while shooting as well. Cole said her group held callbacks on the Warsaw parking garage’s second floor. Everyone stayed socially distant by remaining in their cars.

Instead of writing their own script, Cole said, her team decided to produce a screenplay written by SMAD alumna Corbyn Harris (’20). The story follows a girl named Lily who uses a rideshare service after a tough day at work. Lily and the driver, Oliver, get to talking and end up helping each other.

“It's just a really beautiful story about two people, two strangers … learning a lot about each other,” Cole said.

This year’s SMADFEST marks a full year without an in-person screening because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When a nearly full house gathered for SMADFEST in Grafton-Stovall Theatre last December, no one knew it would be the last time for at least two semesters, if not more.

Despite all the trials faced by the teams this year and the disappointment of no in-person show, hosting SMADFEST on a virtual platform could have an upside.

“Last spring, SMADFEST was done on Facebook, and we had over 750 views during that original [premiere],” Greene said. “It’s my hope that we all have a similar large audience. That, of course, means that people who would not be able to come here for that event, and that’s mostly family members and friends who don’t live here in town, are going to be able to enjoy it. So, that’s very exciting.”



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Published: Sunday, December 13, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, January 13, 2022

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