Students get tips from Hollywood director Mark Duplass for Cell Phone Film Challenge

This semester, 40 students in Oakland University’s Cinema Studies program were given the task of creating a short film. But instead of using the latest in high-tech video equipment, the students were limited to using a device not typically associated with the silver screen – a smartphone. 
“The idea was to get students to challenge themselves to create art with something that they already own,” said Courtney Brannon Donoghue, assistant professor of cinema studies.
She got the idea for the Cell Phone Film Challenge after talking to Hollywood actor, director, writer and producer Mark Duplass over social media. Duplass, who has recently starred in the TV series’ “The League,” “The Mindy Project,” and “Togetherness,” which he also directed, offered advice to students who participated in the film challenge.
“He took the time to invest in the students, and I think that meant a lot to them,” Dr. Brannon Donoghue said.
Cinema Studies Assistant Professor Adam Gould, whose students also participated in the film challenge, said of Duplass, “He is on top of the media world at this moment, and it was fantastic for him to take the time to organize this with us. It never would have happened with out him.” 
Students made the cell phone films as part of three upper-division cinema studies classes: Indie Cinema, Form and Meaning in Digital Film Production, and Experimental and Avant-Garde Film.
A total of 21 films were produced, screened and posted online, Dr. Brannon Donoghue said. They spanned numerous genres, including comedy, drama and horror.
Senior cinema studies major Amber Stankoff created a film called “One Up,” which is about two friends who try to one-up each other with outlandish anecdotes. Although the filmmaking process came with its share of challenges, such as lower audio and visual quality, Stankoff discovered several advantages to using a smartphone.
“We were a lot more free to move around and move the camera, whereas with a professional camera we would have needed a dolly or slider,” she said. “We used a selfie-stick to stabilize the shots with camera movement.”
Zakary Hallett encountered similar challenges while making his film, titled “dave.,” which chronicles the quirky interactions between a man and his eccentric roommate.
While Hallett dealt with the limitations of using just a smartphone to make a film, he said the experience provided a lesson in the art of storytelling.
“It forced me and all of my classmates to really focus on the story we wanted to tell, he explained. “Without advanced filmmaking techniques that might normally distract viewers away from otherwise dull moments, the story had to be creative and unique.”
Hallett, who also acted in his film, said that getting advice from a Hollywood star gave him “an extra boost of confidence both in front of and behind the camera.”
He added, “If there’s one thing I have taken away from this challenge, it’s that if you want to make a film in 2016, you have no excuse. As long as you have a great idea and a cell phone in your pocket, you can make something worth watching.”
For more on OU’s Cinema Studies program, visit the website or Facebook page.