Film Students Work Through Restrictions Caused by Coronavirus

A student wears a facemask at the University of Southern California - Getty - H 2020
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

One Chapman University student commented that the faculty and administration are "overwhelmed by trying to orchestrate things under this new paradigm."

As universities take every precaution possible amid concerns over the new coronavirus outbreak, film school students coast to coast are dealing with the fallout — from workspaces shuttering to productions being outright cancelled.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with both students and faculty regarding safety measures taking place and how those measures, while important for the well-being of all on campus, have impacted both immediate and upcoming coursework.  

Danni Davis, a second-year MFA student at Chapman University's Dodge College, spoke with THR about how decisions made to minimize the potential exposure of the new coronavirus on campus has impacted her and fellow film students.   

Davis noted that at Dodge College specifically, all productions not currently underway are canceled and events such as thesis screenings that were set for this weekend will be live-streamed. 

The biggest challenges students face are workshop-based classes, according to Davis. 

"As far as I can tell, for now, faculty is figuring out the best way to handle assignments that require shooting with their students," Davis said.

Davis is currently in postproduction on a film and still required to meet essential steps and deadlines as previously assigned. She explained that while she has a scene to shoot for next week, she is in a high-risk group for COVID-19 and professors have been "very understanding that I will be in self-isolation until the danger passes and are being patient with deadlines."

Added Davis, "Our campus is not closed, but filming equipment access is limited, as are the hours for gear check-out. All our postproduction facilities remain open 24/7 as normal, but we are being encouraged to only come to campus if absolutely necessary."

She further commented that the faculty and administration are "overwhelmed by trying to orchestrate things under this new paradigm" yet still show "care about our health and well-being, which is great." 

"For me, the biggest thing they're doing is providing flexibility. Being in a high-risk group means I have different needs than many of my peers right now. At the grad level, we all know our faculty really well and so that makes it easier for us to work out individual plans," Davis said.  

Lauren Coates, a freshman at DePaul University’s undergraduate Film & Television BFA program in Chicago, shared with THR that while final exams for winter quarter classes are canceled, film students still need to head to campus to work on projects.

"I have editing and sound design finals whose classes have been canceled, yet I still need to make the trek out to campus to go to the lab and actually work on those final projects, which basically renders the precaution useless," she said.

Another roadblock to DePaul film students is Cinespace shutting down — a space used for all of the university's production classes. A production member for the show neXt, which just wrapped production at Cinespace in Chicago, tested positive for COVID-19. A report in the Chicago Tribune identified the person as a woman in her 50s who had traveled from California to Chicago. Coates said not having access to Cinespace is "a big inconvenience, especially because finals are literally next week."

Looking ahead, she noted concerns over the spring quarter, where if restrictions remain, difficulties will arise "for production classes where we don't have the equipment/software to get work done."

Added Coates, "Only DePaul has those resources, so it's very up in the air about what's happening in that regard."

Universities have stressed any decisions such as canceling in-person classes have been done with the safety of all on campus in mind. 

CalArts suspended in-person classes as well as all activities and performances through March 22. Its provost, Tracie Costantino, shared in a statement that the decision was "out of an abundance of caution" and face-to-face classes are anticipated to begin by April 13, while also noting that the situation is evolving and dates may change.

UCLA has transitioned to online learning platforms and is limiting the number of people on campus, with changes continuing at least through April 10. Karl Holmes, director of administration, finance and operations for the department of film, television and digital media at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, confirmed to THR that all film shoots have been temporarily suspended and social distancing is being practiced within all film department spaces. UCLA's film program has also temporarily suspended off-site internships. "This is a global health crisis, and as such, the health and safety of our community takes priority over all other concerns," Holmes told THR

Kristin Borella, USC's School of Cinematic Arts associate dean of communications and public relations, explained to THR that some performance courses will still meet, such as directing courses with actors that would not work with an online format.

"For our larger lecture courses, in which restricted content is shown, a small number of those classes are still meeting this week," she said. 

Borella noted that labs will remain open during spring break, and production, postproduction and auditions will continue. As for students in SCA's games division, they will be able to work independently on the build of their games. 

Borella also shared that SCA's faculty "has been very understanding" to student concerns and necessary measures are being taken to re-evaluate course assignments based on how COVID-19 develops: "None of us have been here before, so there is a lot of time and energy school-wide to put the experience of our students first."