“No other place is doing this,” says Matthew Irvine, associate professor, talking about Project Bluelight, the professional motion picture production company within the DePaul Digital Cinema program.
“In 2004, we wanted to make our program different from all the others. So, we thought, why not a program that’s like a movie studio? Why not make real movies? We could use faculty as producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, sound engineers, and film editors; we could put students right in the middle of a professional movie shoot.”
The first year, Irvine and Gary Novak scrambled to write a short script and then hired professionals for key positions because, at that time, the program had not yet built up capabilities among faculty and students. “During that first movie shoot, the students were hard-working and enthusiastic, starting at 6 a.m. and putting in 12 hours days – that confirmed the ‘rightness’ of the idea,” says Irvine.
Each summer since then, Project Bluelight has funded at least two movies: one faculty-run and one student-run. Students serve on crew for both, but for the student-run production they also write, produce, direct, and edit. About 30 students participate in each shoot, but the faculty project in 2010 was particularly ambitious and used a crew of 60: 45 students, 10 professionals, and five actors. Also in 2010, the program funded two student-run productions, one for graduates and one for undergraduates.
Stephanie E. Clemons (MS/CDM, ’11) describes her experience as a 2nd assistant director (AD) on the 2010 faculty production:
“I coordinated with departments, producers, and the 1st AD to create a comprehensive call sheet, ensuring the best plan of action for the following production day’s crew, cast, and equipment. As the set’s main contact, I learned how an entire production operates, including the roles of each department and how they worked together to form a well-oiled, movie-making machine. Working on Project Bluelight was unlike any other experience I’ve had in nine years of higher education in this field. Bluelight is learning through immersion, while being guided by working professionals and skilled faculty members. I gained the tools, knowledge, and work ethic I need to work in the professional production world.”
Nick Vassil (’11) worked as the 1st camera assistant on the 2010 faculty production:
“Every day was a new learning experience — from the creativity of shooting to understanding scheduling and the efficient use of resources. The project expanded my knowledge and separated me from other film students. Working with the RED ONE camera gave me an in-depth understanding of the professional equipment used to shoot major motion pictures. Recently, I’ve worked on a few low-budget projects around the city that used cameras similar, if not the same. I felt comfortable and at home, every time.”
Peter Matsoukas (MS, ’11) directed the 2010 graduate production:
“When I had the idea to apply for Project Bluelight, I mobilized a group of fellow students who would be good fits for the film — a few producers, a director of photography, an art director, and an editor. Once I had the right people in place, we put together a proposal stating what we wanted to do and how we would do it. It was accepted, and we were off and running. DePaul gave us funding and use of a $60,000 camera, lighting, and a grip package: we were not only making a film, we were making a big film with incredible equipment. DePaul is a young, growing community of filmmakers, and Project Bluelight was a way for us to come together with the hope of producing great work.”
Irvine agrees that the program gives students a unique, professional advantage:
“Through Project Bluelight, the students get an opportunity to learn from professionals as well as faculty. What’s typical is that students will work on a faculty movie, and then apply what they’ve learned next time around on their own. And, since students can repeat the course every year, by the time they graduate they’re really quite experienced,” says Irvine. “Last summer, nine of the students who had worked on a faculty movie got hired for the Transformers 3 shoot because they have the skills and attitudes of pros.”
One of those students was Judy Bafaro (’12), who says this about the program:
“Project Bluelight was one of the reasons I chose DePaul. My experiences with Bluelight have already done more for me than I could have imagined so early in my career. For example, the job as a production assistant on the set of Transformers 3 attracted more than 800 applicants. On two Project Bluelight productions, I’d worked with Jason Dusenske, a young but experienced Chicago industry filmmaker; his influence made a big difference in getting me and the other DePaul students a spot on the movie’s crew. Finding work in the film industry depends a lot on networking, and the Project Bluelight movies are excellent environments for students and industry professionals to collaborate and make connections.”
The program is also attracting top-notch faculty. “Every faculty member in the Digital Cinema program wants to make movies — and we’re letting them — so we’re getting the best people to come to teach here,” says Irvine. “Project Bluelight is one of the ways we’re creating a powerful, prestigious program: I’d compare us to any of the top dogs in the country.”