Students of Professor Jo Dery’s course Film 380: Career Development in Film and Media quickly learn that the path to Hollywood is paved with challenging work, technical expertise, a willingness to hustle and, above all, the ability to collaborate.
This spring, ten of his students landed the internship jackpot.
“I’ve taught this course before,” Dery said, “but this is the first time I can offer the experience of working on a real film set.”
Thanks to Ben Heald, a Keene State alumnus, teams of students were invited to spend up to a week working with the film and lighting crews of Gamblingan independent film shot just 45 minutes away, in Turner’s Falls, Mass.
Heald, who left Keene State just before graduating in 2012, is the cinematographer for Gambling and recently conductor (head of lighting) on the Oscar-winning film CODA. Heald’s desire to mentor students in his profession stems from his lifelong love for film.
“At Keene State, I knew I wanted to do cinematography,” he says. “I was fascinated by the way lighting and camera work inform each other. I also learned the importance of communication and accepting diverse viewpoints – something you’ll find with every film crew, anywhere.
Heald said some of the students had never been on set before, but “we threw them in and gave them the basics.” Other film studies alumni Justin Wakefield ’10 and Jay Nelson ’10 were also part of the lighting team on set.
Paige Karavas ’22 (BA, Film Studies, Production), Anna Sheppard ’22 (BA, Film Studies, Production) and Wyatt Codd ’24 are among ten students who have rotated through the Gambling set in April. They worked on scenes set in a school gymnasium, which required high ceiling lighting to be installed. Although union rules prevented students from riding in elevators to set up the lights, the students worked as production assistants, helping set up booths, moving light rigs and camera carts and, yes, to make coffee.
Their enthusiasm was hard to contain.
“This experience reinforces why I loved making movies in the first place,” Paige said. “From my class readings, I knew what to bring to the set: markers, a multi-tool, a headlamp, a level and a lighter. I learned so much and the crew members were great teachers. They put us to work and just assumed we could do it. I think lighting, directing, and scriptwriting are the most fascinating parts of filmmaking, and I can’t wait to do more of that. I am so grateful to Professor Dery – she really cares about us.
Anna followed the camera department.
“I made sure the batteries were charged and learned a lot about the whole process. I was fascinated by a woman in a tent doing color correction and data management on set, working directly with the director and the cinematographer.I am applying for a position as a production assistant so that I can experience all aspects of film production.I am so grateful to have had this internship.
Wyatt’s academic advisor told him to take 380 movie early to get a practical idea of the job he wants to pursue. He has always loved literature and film and enrolled at Keene State because he wanted to learn from a well-respected program.
“Being able to be on a set makes it all more tangible, more real. I was part of the gaffe team for two days and helped set up the one-man lift that lit up the ceiling in the gymnasium. At lunchtime we spoke with Ben, Jay and Justin from Keene State and the teachers we all knew. I loved the sense of collaboration between teachers, students and alumni. It was so cool, and I’m so thankful.
This immersion in the world of cinema will continue. Heald is a member of the board of directors of Massachusetts Local 481 of the International Association of Studio Technicians, the union that includes all trades in motion pictures outside of the camera. The new collective agreement creates a full-time internship coordinator. Additionally, Massachusetts provides tax breaks to encourage the film industry.
Given the level of collaboration that already exists, Keene State Film Studies students may have the opportunity to do internships right on their doorstep.