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Transition to online class poses unique challenges for TFT students, instructors

(Catherine Xie/Daily Bruin)

By Natalie Brown

April 3, 2020 1:40 p.m.

Movies require extensive collaboration between both cast and crew members – a nearly impossible feat with social distancing guidelines in effect.

In the midst of COVID-19, film and television students are among a subset of those impacted by UCLA’s transition to a remote spring quarter. Usually reliant on an abundance of screenings and productions to create a full-bodied education, film students must now adjust to the reality of self-isolation and online classes. Victor Rocha, a fourth-year film and television student, said with strict regulations in place, there has been an abrupt halt on the collaboration and production of films.

“As heartbreaking as (transitioning to online classes) is, there is no way around that given that UCLA has to take into account the pandemic and the fact that we can’t have too many people in one classroom,” Rocha said.

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However, former Daily Bruin contributor Rocha, as co-head of the undergraduate student council for film, said he is planning to conduct many weekly online workshops for professional career development. Focused on resume and cover letter creation, and film and TV writing, Rocha said he hopes these workshops enhance film students’ spring quarter experiences and provide guidance.

Zoom workshops can supplement students’ film classes, particularly film theory courses, he said. However, teachers are still faced with the challenge of putting together a comprehensive curriculum online, with production, editing and digital media classes among the most difficult to transition. These classes require access to expensive technology and equipment, including the editing and VR labs, which students can’t necessarily recreate at home. With the recent closure of the facility this technology is housed in – Melnitz Hall – many students are at a loss because they no longer have access to these resources on campus either, Rocha said.

“Why are we paying so much for film school when the majority of it is now dependent on us to have our own editing software and our own VR headsets?” Rocha said. “It feels like we’re paying for resources that we don’t have access to anymore.”

With more than 30 isolated editing bays, Rocha said UCLA could implement social distancing rules by having one person working in each bay, allowing students to resume their use of Melnitz’s technology. Graduate student Justin Garza said as these facilities shut down because of COVID-19, the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television needs to ensure students are not being asked to pay for access to unused resources – especially in this time of such financial uncertainty.

Students should be able to obtain a refund on the mandatory professional fees they pay in order to use the editing systems, equipment and facilities exclusive to UCLA, Garza said. Since they can no longer use them for the rest of the quarter, he said it doesn’t make sense to collect payment as if they were. This isn’t a problem unique to UCLA’s film school either, as Garza said many other schools around the globe, including NYU, are discussing not only the professional fees but class structuring as well.

Though COVID-19 greatly impacts Garza’s film education, he said there is much more strain on the entertainment industry right now, putting a great number of filmmakers and creatives out of work.

“The whole entertainment industry, in general, is taking a hit,” Garza said. “People I know that work in the field professionally are just talking about how everyone is out of work. Shows are being stopped, and movies are being stopped. Everything is being stopped.”

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Graduate student Aaron Lemle said it’s not just the film students who are devastated by COVID-19 – they are merely inconvenienced. It’s the freelancers who are now unable to afford rent and basic necessities, Lemle said, that are truly in trouble, which makes him more appreciative of his living situation.

“I think we’re all pretty lucky at least most of us have allocated the resources to be in school for the next two or three years,” Lemle said. “Whereas a lot of my peers who are not in school are scrambling to figure out how to pay rent now that their freelance job has just dried up.”

Filmmakers are often accustomed to working under unusual circumstances, Lemle said, making the issues at hand another creative obstacle. Alex O’Flinn, a lecturer teaching an editing class this quarter, said these limitations inspire him to embrace and take full advantage of this new online platform for instruction. While there are challenges in translating a course to an online format in terms of the short amount of time provided to restructure lesson plans, he said this transition cannot be done successfully without accepting the differences between in-person and online teaching and encouraging discussion among the students.

“We have to embrace Zoom as its own unique medium,” O’Flinn said, “There’s some things in the classroom that can be replicated on Zoom, but there’s other things in the classroom that cannot be replicated. If you try to force those things, it’s not going to work”

Stressing the importance of having an adaptive and positive mentality, O’Flinn sees online instruction as a time of exciting experimentation for both students and teachers to navigate. In addition, O’Flinn said students are now are able to screen-share documents and photographs in real-time with their peers that would have otherwise been unavailable in a classroom setting.

The new possibility of having Zoom Q&A sessions with industry professionals abroad is also exciting, O’Flinn said. And while the next few months are ambiguous and unprecedented, Rocha said he is excited for the massive wave of opportunities, including new TV shows and films – professional or student-made – that will eventually resume production, as well.

“Instead of thinking of this as a time in which we can’t do anything or a time where it’s stagnant, we need to keep the mindset that when things get back to normal, there’s going to be a lot of good things happening,” Rocha said.

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