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Photos courtesy of Pittsburgh FilmMakers.






“There’s a misconception that all you need are the tools. But just because you have pen and paper doesn’t mean that you can write well. The same is true of film.” -Buzz Miller, Pittsburgh Filmmakers






Action! An Adventure in Moviemaking

Visitors will walk the red carpet—literally—on their way to experiencing Carnegie Science Center’s upcoming exhibit on the science, technology, and art of moviemaking.

Action! An Adventure in Moviemaking, opening October 1, explores all aspects of the filmmaking process, from the first sparks of a creative story idea to the film’s big premiere. Through its two-dozen interactive displays, movie buffs and aspiring filmmakers will learn how thousands of people with different interests and talents team up to make magic on film.

Learn stunt moves. Write captions for movie storyboards. Create sound effects for a Jackie Chan film. Recreate the dramatic opening fly-by scene from Star Wars. Hear some of the film industry’s top filmmakers talk about the many career paths available to creative people interested in filmmaking: screenwriter, producer, costume designer, make-up artist, cinematographer, stunt coordinator, animator, visual effects specialist—even creature shop creator! And see famous film artifacts up-close, including Indiana Jones’ coat, hat, and whip; a Spider-Man costume worn by Tobey McGuire; and a suit from Spy Kids 3-D.

Guerilla Theater…
and more!

Complementing the Action! experience, Science Center presenters will regularly perform interactive “Guerilla Theater” style demonstrations, playing the role of specific moviemaking professionals and inviting visitors to take part in the magic—and, at times, the mayhem—of moviemaking. They’ll be joined by members of Pittsburgh’s large film community who will serve as guest speakers, guest performers, and partners in the demonstration of moviemaking technology. Among the participating organizations: the Pittsburgh Film Office, Pittsburgh Opera, Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, and Carnegie Mellon, Point Park, and Robert Morris universities.

Each month, special Action! programming will focus on one part of the moviemaking process:
October: Makeup/Costumes
November: Lighting
December: Special Holiday Programming
January: IMAX/High Definition Production
February: Special Effects/ Animation
March: Sound
April: Post Production/Editing/ Film Bloopers


Camera! Laptop! Oscar!

Equipped with the right technology and a knack for storytelling, student filmmakers are making movies.

As classrooms look, this one goes by the book: a monochromatic tiered hall with fluorescent lights. The high school students staring at computer monitors look textbook, too—except, perhaps, for the high level of intensity they bring to class on this steamy July day.

“ Hey, Buzz,” calls one of them casually, “How do I make this brighter?”
Michael Barnett, 16, isn’t intellectualizing a term paper. He’s digitally adjusting the exposure on a frame of footage at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, where he’s one of nine students creating original
projects in a summer class.

Teacher Buzz Miller, in cargo shorts and sandals, sidles behind the monitor. “Pull the contrast to the left,” he advises. And with two clicks of a mouse, Barnett has the effect he wants.

“ That looks perfect!” beams Barnett.

Members of the digital generation since birth, these local teens are very attuned to the moving image. No wonder, then, that they’re using cameras and computers with equal avidity, creating sophisticated stories and special effects that were once the purview of Hollywood directors.

Science, Technology, and Art
"Making a video has gotten so much less expensive and less cumbersome,” says Brady Lewis, director of education at the Oakland-based Filmmakers, one of the largest independent media arts centers in the country. “You can work with mini-DV cameras and cheap editing software at home and try it out. That has spilled over to the schools, building filmmaking into the curriculum—as a video production course, computer course, or English course.”

“ Film is a medium that resonates with high school kids. It’s the way they’ve grown up,” comments Marilyn Russell, curator of education for Carnegie Museum of Art, which has sponsored several screenings for teen filmmakers. “They respond to a fast-paced, flickering medium. And thanks to MTV, a pervasive part of our culture, they even understand their music visually.”

Educators say their budding Spielbergs are constantly searching for ways to screen their work. And this fall, high schoolers will get that chance during Carnegie Science Center’s annual SciTech Spectacular, when filmmakers from local high schools will submit films with environmental themes to the first-ever science film festival. Buzz Miller led the Pittsburgh Filmmakers workshops that helped young directors plan their entries.

The sixth annual SciTech Spectacular, to be held September 30-October 9, will showcase local scientists and tech industries that have planted roots in the Pittsburgh region—all to create a buzz about discovery and innovation of all kinds among young people. Various events will highlight the new intellectual capital in Pittsburgh: robotics, information technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, environmental technology, and advanced materials processes. The partnership with Filmmakers helps students produce media arts in context.

“ One of the fundamentals of SciTech is using the arts to focus on science and technology topics,” says its Executive Director, Linda Ortenzo. “Last year, we focused on theater; this year, on film.”

The film competition, entitled CAUSE (Creating Awareness and Understanding of our Surrounding Environment) and sponsored by Bayer Corporation, will have its own Oscars on October 6: a grand prize of $1,000 and a digital video camera will be announced that night.

With students from a dozen local districts planning to participate, the film festival emphasizes how new digital technologies are being applied across entertainment genres, even in high school.

“ Our computer multi-media arts class actually encompasses a full range of tools—Flash animation, web design, video, stand-alone DVDs,” says Jim Reinhard, chair of the visual arts department for the North Allegheny School District. “Kids are making games, or interactive movies—each with decisions to be made. We’re encouraging them to think about video as one part of an array of media used to express ideas.” Reinhard, who created the multi-media course 10 years ago, has seen its popularity boom. Six sections of the course reach maximum enrollment each year.

“ You can no longer divorce students who want to make video games or animation from students who want to make movies. There has been a true convergence,” says Don Marinelli, director of the Entertainment Technology master’s program at Carnegie Mellon University.

“Mind-Blowing” Advances
To inspire young filmmakers and movie buffs of all ages, Carnegie Science Center will bring the big screen to Pittsburgh with its new exhibit on moviemaking, Action! Adventure in Moviemaking. The interactive filmmaking experience premieres during the SciTech Spectacular on October 1.

Action! invites the public to learn movie stunts, write storyboards, create sound effects for a Jackie Chan film, and recreate the initial battle sequence from Star Wars. Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology program will contribute technology to the exhibit, and representatives from Pittsburgh’s film community will participate in programs and discussions about how the evolving worlds of filmmaking, video games, and other technologies are revolutionizing what audiences see on screens.

“ The pace of change in the last three years has been exponential,” says Carnegie Mellon’s Marinelli. “The features of the new video gaming machines alone are mind-blowing. It’s not just more of the same. These are capabilities that make you say, ‘How does this change fundamentally how we can tell a story, be a character, or journey through a world?’”

Marinelli and others agree, however, that simply having the gee-whiz tools of the trade won’t guarantee a spellbinding result.

“ There’s a misconception that all you need are the tools,” says Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Miller of the new technologies. “But just because you have pen and paper doesn’t mean that you can write well. The same is true of film. Planning is a big part of it—plus teaching students the grammar of the film language, the conventions, and the rules. Then, just as in writing, we encourage them to break those rules.”

As his summer students edit their five-minute films, they demonstrate some sophisticated ideas absorbed from Miller.

Zander Fieschko of Mt. Lebanon is working with Jess Goldsmith of Fox Chapel to finish “Beard Man,” a superhero spoof. “We’re using speed as a comedic element,” Fieschko explains. “Here, we’re slowing down how his beard waves, like a superhero’s cape. In this shot”—he clicks to enlarge another screen clip—“we’re speeding up the way he runs, to look cartoon-y.”

Comic characters like Beard Man may make an appearance in the CAUSE competition, if they serve its environmental theme. But straightforward documentaries, animations, and other experiments are equally welcome.

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, who addressed a group of area high school students at Carnegie Science Center in April, encouraged young auteurs to think beyond South Park and Batman. By focusing their new skills on telling compelling real stories, she said, they can use filmmaking as an agent for social change.

“ Kids can do plenty,” says Reinhard of North Allegheny. “They can conceptualize and learn software at any grade level. They have exposure to media tools and live in a mediated world.” The challenge extended by the CAUSE competition is for students to wield those tools to express environmental opinions in ways that will captivate viewers.

It’s a tall order. But, armed with digital cameras and laptops, these young DeMilles are ready for their close-ups.

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