May 10, 2016

New CSU film school to tap Ohio film industry potential and train students

Plans for a new stand-alone film school announced April 15 at Cleveland State University have caused a stir on campus. As students, faculty and staff speculate on the changes the new program will bring, the project is at a stand-still until House Bill 475 is ratified in Columbus.

Pushed forward by President Berkman, Ivan Schwarz of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission and members of the Ohio House and Senate, HB 475 lays out the plans to divide the current school of communication, allowing film, television and interactive media to become their own school, as well as granting $7.5 million for a new facility – probably to be built onto the Music and Communication building.

And while there are conflicting views on the timeline for this move — anywhere from one to five years — nothing can happen until HB 475 is signed.

The university has been working for some time to gain funding for the film program, but the notion of a stand-alone school was a decision driven by President Berkman, Ivan Schwarz of the Greater Cleveland Film

Commission and members of the state legislature, including Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger.
“This was really an idea that came from probably the president and maybe the representatives in the statehouse,” CLASS Dean Gregory Sadlek said. “[Ivan Schwarz] is the head of the Greater Cleveland Film

Commission and he has been making the case in the statehouse that if the film industry’s going to grow, there needed to be a source of people who could work in that industry — and the idea that creating an independent film school would give it a higher profile.”

“The process of actually getting these big grants is kind of different, [there’s] a lot of private dealings between the president and senators and so on,” Sadlek continued. “Up until now the faculty have not been fully involved, but they will be as we go forward.”

The same sentiment was echoed by Dr. Evan Lieberman, professor in the Media Arts and Technology in the School of Communication, who was brought in as a faculty consultant on the bill’s writing.

“This was not a decision driven primarily by faculty. This was a decision driven by the state legislature and though I was involved in the discussions, these discussions were extremely confidential because they involved legislative action,” Lieberman explained, citing his experience at major film production schools as the reason for his involvement.

After the bill passes, the Faculty Senate will begin the Program Alteration Process. This 10-step program allows faculty the chance to weigh in on any changes, including alterations to the curriculum, and plans to start in the fall, taking up to a year to complete, according to Sadlek.

As the school progresses, the hope is that it will boost an already-budding film industry in Northeast Ohio, with Cleveland State students at the epicenter. The proposal included building onto the existing communication building, as well as funding a smaller build onto Schwarz’s prospective production center, a project that plans include multiple sound stages and production equipment for film-makers — the locations of which have yet to be determined.

According to the University Architect Bruce Ferguson, the state will not grant the university funds for building until the start of the 2017 fiscal year, July 1, 2016. Only after that will the architect’s office begin the project, including hiring consultants and finalizing where the addition will be built.

Other plans for the film school include an articulation agreement with Cuyahoga Community College, and there have been discussions concerning potential partnerships with Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College and IdeaStream, according to Sadlek.

“[If] the film industry really grows in Ohio the way Ivan would like it to grow, our students will have a lot of opportunities to get jobs either in the film industry or workings for companies or even independent film-makers,” he explained. “There will be a lot more opportunity around for everybody related to film, broadcast and interactive media. I think we have the opportunity to create something that is really high profile and can be a magnet for film students not only in Northeast Ohio but [students from] all around the Midwest region […] might come here.”

A recent study by the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs outlined the current and projected economic impact that the film industry has had in the area, including the benefits from the tax credit program that started in 2015.

According to the study, of the 31 projects filmed in Northeast Ohio, the largest pool of workers was production staff, whose wages totaled $10.8 million. Because of this revenue, projections for the new film school include an increased emphasis on production practices, while maintaining classes in film theory and history, according to Lieberman.

“While there’s nothing worked out yet, I know that our curriculum is going to have to be quite a bit more professionally-oriented, in terms of getting our students prepared to be on big film sets and to work within departments on major productions,” Lieberman said.

“I believe that we are going to — without abandoning the studies area — [have] to be a greater emphasis, in my opinion, but also in terms of the purpose of this school, [on] practical application,” he continued. “Right now we don’t have any separate classes in producing or directing or cinematography or editing or sound.

There have been occasionally special topics courses [offered] in these areas but we don’t have standing courses, and we’re going to need to do that.”

But the timeline for these changes is vague, some prompting they will happen within a year, others citing different figures.

“There will be no changes of the major over the next few years, so students will not be affected,” wrote Dr. Gary Pettey, director of the School of Communication, in an email. “At some point, one to three years down the road, the [Film, Television and Interactive Media] major will be peeled off from the School of [Communication] and will become a stand-alone school in CLASS, similar to the School of Com.”

“While Columbus and the administration have the right to separate the major from the [School of Communication] and make it a separate school, the faculty control the program (curriculum). In time — five to 10 years —there will no doubt be changes in the program, but that will be decided over time by the faculty, and there isn’t even a plan to make a plan for program at this time,” Pettey explained.

These timeline estimates have not curbed students’ excitement over the program, regardless if they will be at the university to see it. Eric Kish, soon to be a senior film major, expressed how important this school will be to Cleveland as its film industry continues to grow — whether or not he’s here to benefit from it.

“When I first found out about it I was [a] little bit bitter, but I think that, no matter what, it’s really good news for the university and the city,” Kish said. “Just to see that kind of funding come to [Cleveland State] for that kind of program, I don’t care if I’m here or not, [it’s] really good.”

Similar to Lieberman’s thoughts on the curriculum, Kish said he thinks that students coming out of the new, stand-alone program will be better trained, with more production classes and better facilities, than he has had in his time at Cleveland State.

While Kish will be graduating before any major changes within the current School of Communication occur, sophomore film major Ben Sapatka will be caught in the middle of the switch.

“I think it’s a good move on the school’s part, a move that will help them compete with larger film schools like [New York University],” he wrote in an email interview. “A more focused film program hopefully means access to more equipment, more editing software, and more hands-on experience.”

“[The switch] will probably make things more difficult short term,” he wrote. “I will probably have to take new classes, my credits will probably be messed up, my projected graduation date will likely change, and I will have to rethink which classes I plan to take. I hope it’s all worth it.”




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