Behind the Scenes Doc from our 2019 iteration produced through Sarah Lawrence College
About the Program
In 2006, award-winning independent filmmaker Jay Craven and his 30-year film and arts non-profit, Kingdom County Productions (KCP), created a semester-long film intensive at Marlboro College - called Movies from Marlboro (2006 - 2016) and then Cinema Sarah Lawrence (2016-2020) at Sarah Lawrence College. Our 2022 edition will again be produced by KCP, working in partnership with Northern Vermont University (NVU).
Our program has provided invaluable and unforgettable experience to 158 students from 23 colleges and universities around the world. We have also produced five independent films—featuring Academy Award nominees Bruce Dern, Genevieve Bujold and Kris Kristofferson; Golden Globe winner, Jacqueline Bisset; Emmy winner, Gordon Clapp; Tony nominee, Jessica Hecht; three-time Independent Spirt Award nominee, Gary Farmer and emerging actors including Diane Guerrero, Christian Coulson, Jerry O’Connell, Susan Kelechi Watson, Morgan Wolk, Cameron Scoggins, Aurelia Thierree and many others. These films have played nationally in theatres, at festivals, on Netflix, Amazon, Showtime and more than 25 countries worldwide.
This innovative film intensive program is now Semester Cinema and it provides a unique experiential learning opportunity in creative collaboration that is unparalleled in the United States.
Semester Cinema provides a rare learning adventure that is firmly grounded in filmmaking and the liberal arts. Our program is open to students from all accredited colleges and universities - and takes place every two years, during the Winter/Spring semester. We accept a maximum of 40 students who will collaborate with 28 professionals in all aspects of preparation, production and post-production. Students receive 16 college credits AND professional screen credit listed on IMDB.
We kick off the semester with a week-long excursion to the Sundance Film Festival where students navigate screenings, filmmaker Q & A’s, music events and the highly charged atmosphere of America’s most celebrated showcase of indie filmmaking.
We then move to our filming location for 7 weeks of daily classes, hands-on workshops, master classes with visiting artists, field trips, and more - all in preparation for the six-week production of our feature-length film.
During production, students work under the mentorship of 28 professionals, in a wide range of positions, from wardrobe supervisor and camera operator to script supervisor, set decorator, prop master, assistant editor and second assistant director.
Many students arrive with a passion for film or theater - but little technical filmmaking background. And they often choose to work in film jobs they didn’t even know existed. That’s OK! We create a comfortable learning environment where students are encouraged and supported to take risks and try new things and, along the way, develop new skills in critical thinking, creative collaboration, problem solving, flexibility and improvisation - and much more.
Week 1. Sundance Film Festival
Semester Cinema begins with a week-long visit to the always-exciting Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Students stay at the modest but very conveniently located Chateau Apres Ski Dorm, just a minute walk from the Park City Library festival venue and two minutes from the Sundance shuttle that connects to each theater, where you will enjoy a daily routine of screenings and special events. You’ll keep a diary that discusses the films you’ve seen and the experiences you’ve had, and write a narrative account of your time at Sundance.
Weeks 2-8: Classes, Workshops, and Pre-production
Students and key faculty/mentors travel from Sundance to our Nantucket film location for seven weeks of immersive classes, film department workshops, screenings, discussions with visiting artists, casting, student filmmaking, cultural activities, and hands-on pre-production.
1) Screenwriting and Directing, where we deliberate, debate and polish our script, review casting options and discuss directorial strategies.
2) Cinema Studies, where we screen and discuss three weekly films relevant to our own production and host visiting artists to screen and discuss their work.
3) Cultural Studies, where we contextualize and dig deep into the real-life history, culture, and social dynamics of our planned film narrative.
4) Equity and Representation - a BIPOC facilitated weekly workshop on issues of racial and cultural representation in film and the filmmaking industry - where we will build a common language around our shared values of anti-racism and inclusion.
Students also choose one craft workshop that meets 3x times a week for three hours each. Here, you will learn theory and practice - all that you need to know to be successful and fully engaged in one of our six departments during production.
Film Departments and Craft Workshops Include:
1) Camera, Lights and Sound
2) Production Management
3) Production Design
4) Costume Design
6) Still Photography and Documentary Production
NOTE: Students who wish to switch from their initial choice are permitted to do so within the first couple weeks of class. Similarly, students who wish to rotate into a second position during production are given due consideration and support, where possible.
Students especially interested in film directing will also be invited to rotate into the Director’s Circle where you will consult and discover, alongside the director, specific opportunities and challenges presented by the scene being prepared and shot.
Weeks 2 - 8: Mentors and Personnel for Classes and Pre-Production
Our diverse and skilled pool of crafts-people who participate as mentors from weeks 2 through 8 include director, director of photography, producers, screenwriters, production designer, art director, costume designer, line producer, assistant director, documentary filmmaker and editor. We also invite visiting artists, recent alumni, and faculty from our partner colleges to lead master classes and screenings. Shortly before the start of production, additional professionals arrive to make final preparations for production.
Weeks 9-14: Film Production
Following our seven weeks of class time, students will work with our expanded group of mentor/professionals to launch final pre-production and production of our planned film. We’ll shoot for six five-day weeks.
Students work each day in their departments under the supervision of their department heads. Our emphasis continues to be on your development as a vital part of an essential team - undertaking an ambitious project. We’re making a real movie!
Many students say they come away with a profound sense of accomplishment, having taken ownership of a substantial part of something larger than any of us - the production of an ambitious feature film that combines the talents of nearly 100 cast and crew members.
Some students will also present workshops to local community members where we shoot. They explain our process and show examples of costumes, sets, props and camera strategies. By teaching, they also develop vital leadership skills.
Semester Cinema students earn a total of 16 college credits as follows:
1 credit for your Sundance experience and reflections
6 credits for required classes (Cinema Studies, Cultural Studies, Screenwriting & Directing and Equity & Representation)
3 credits for your hands-on craft workshop
6 credits for our six-week production period
These academic credits are fully transferable back to your home college, with allocations based on each institution's policies and preferences - in film/theater/arts, humanities and social sciences.
Experiential Learning & Collaboration
Semester Cinema provides vigorous experiential learning opportunities that are informed by education pioneer John Dewey’s inspired call for intensive learning “that enlarges meaning through shared experience and joint action.”
The program adapts recognized works of literary fiction and/or history in order to provide students with the maximum amount of material from which they can interpret, discuss, debate and propose revisions, independent of our screenplay. Adaptation also bolsters the humanities/liberal arts aspects of our learning program by providing literary, social and historical dimensions rooted in the original work.
Through our careful and imaginative script development we enlarge the platform for characterization, narrative construction, theme, tone, setting and more.
Students on past productions have worked as actors, writers, script supervisors, unit directors, second unit cinematographers, 2nd and 2nd-2nd assistant directors, assistant editors, prop masters, production coordinators, producers, best boy grips and electrics, still photographers, wardrobe supervisors, set dressers, location managers, make-up artists, scenic painters and many more.
A singular and enduring experience of collaboration characterizes our time together in Semester Cinema.
I loved being part of a team and I think I naturally gravitated towards a position of leadership, where I was knowledgeable about what needed to be done and could delegate tasks. I have worried about whether or not I had this skill before, and this program allowed me to develop it with my confidence in myself.
– Leah Hewlings, Sarah Lawrence College