Smartphones and Funny Little Films

Filmmaker Peter Goldsmith.

Filmmaker Peter Goldsmith.

The world continues to shrink, not only passing before us ever more colorfully and rapidly on computer and television screens, but appearing regularly on tiny smartphone screens as well.

Now, a class at Blue Ridge Community College has taken up the minimalist banner by producing a three-minute comedy entirely shot using the iPhone, the title of which takes almost as long to read as the film itself. Green Eyes Or Brown Shoes: Who Do You Love And Do They Answer Their iPhone When You Call?

Six students in Peter Goldsmith’s Critique and Create class created the video during the summer class session. “It’s a story about love, technology and your real best friend,” Peter says of the plot, which follows the travails of a naive young man preparing to ask a woman to marry him.

After spending their early class time discussing the three main genres for film — comedy, drama or documentary — the students opted to write and shoot a comedy. “Even though comedy’s harder to script and play, they went for it,” says Peter. He should know, after winning two Emmys in a 25-year-long producing and directing career, much of it in New York working with Phil Donahue and other media notables of the past two decades, along with sports and documentary programming (he’s now working on two reality TV shows). Family connections led Peter and his wife to settle in Hendersonville, where Peter also teaches a BRCC course in the practical nuts and bolts of working in the entertainment industry.

The six students in Peter’s course ranged in age from 21 to 66, with only one woman among them. Doug Jarvis of the Hendersonville County Arts Council had worked in cable television management but had limited knowledge of the production side of television. “I took the course to get a feel for television production and its inclusion in the group of ‘arts’ that concern the Arts Council,” Doug says. “Peter’s role was not so much in plot development as showing us how to use non-verbal clues to provide information.”

The age range and the resulting generational perceptions proved to be an asset during the planning stages, with the older of the students doing a lot of the concept development and the younger students focusing on music and shot sequences, all of which came together when it came time to shoot, with everyone taking an acting role as well as turns as cinematographer. Doug got to play the lead role. “Each one of these people had good ideas, and after some prodding were able to convey them in cinematic terms,” Peter says. “And they were able to improve on their first ideas with the use of collective criticism.”

While the ubiquitous iPhone may not be the first piece of equipment to come to mind for budding movie directors, the limited technology can be a stimulant to creativity. “You can’t change focal lengths, you can’t marry most shots, and you don’t have the ability to tackle tenuous lighting situations,” Peter notes. “So you really have to think the composition and storyline through, and structure your film tightly. We did as little editing as possible.”

Finished scenes were transferred to Apple’s Final Cut Pro for simple editing and formatted for QuickTime. It was a vastly different production environment from when Peter started in the business, when machines the size of refrigerators spooled thousands of feet of two-inch-wide videotape, and editors had only recently abandoned their wax pencils and scissors. “When I started you had two editors in the room, one for picture and one for sound. Now you don’t need either one,” Peter says. “I shot a piece in California, and on the plane ride home my editor cut it on her laptop. But content always has and always will rule.”

The creative growth wasn’t all on the students’ end, as the course was Peter’s first experience of teaching and had a high enough fun factor to open a new door for him. “This was a thrill for me,” Peter says. “I want to continue offering this course, and several others.”

Despite the technical limitations and the class’ learning curve, the finished film, Doug Jarvis notes, remained true to the original concept, although the dialogue proved to be fluid. “None of us could remember our lines and went ad lib in response to the camera being pointed at them. Peter’s enormous experience and talent at work gave me a much greater appreciation for the artistry in movie and television production. It truly is an art.”

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