It wasn’t long ago that only those serious about moviemaking created short films during their college years. Now, however, rapid advances in technology have allowed anyone to pick up a digital video (DV) camcorder, shoot some footage, and edit it on a Mac with Apple’s iMovie, which comes pre-loaded on every new computer sold by the company. And with the growing popularity of DVD burners, they can also easily transfer the finished product to a disc playable on most set-top players. It’s a far cry from the old days of jerky 8mm films projected on someone’s bedsheet and never seen outside a small group of peers.
Another event far removed from the old days is iMovieFest. First started
by Emory University students David Roemer and Dan Costa, iMovieFest has spread to numerous schools across the country. At Western Washington University (WWU), Evan Chaney became inspired by Roemer and Costa’s achievement and sought to replicate it. Turning to his fellow
Western Mac Users Group
members, Apple, and WWU’s Residential Technology Services (ResTek) and Associated Students organization, he quickly put together
his own event, complete with a Premiere Night attended by 175 students.
“It was mind-blowing to learn that [Roemer and Costa] had something like 70 percent of their freshman residence hall floors make movies the first time they held iMovieFest,” Chaney says. Stymied by a lack of funding and a short timeline for getting his event off the ground, Chaney still managed to put together eight teams of students, each of which had just five days in January to write, film, edit, and submit a short movie. Four judges then spent two weeks looking over the
before Premiere Night was held on February 10 to screen all the films and announce the winning team.
A great experience
Chaney and his fellow organizers scrounged enough money from Associated Students and various residence hall councils to buy three Canon ZR-60 DV cameras. Apple loaned a mix of iBooks and PowerBooks for the teams to use when downloading their footage and editing it with iMovie.
“The students have been telling me that they had a great experience,” says Chaney. “iMovie was easy to figure out, and the PowerBooks and iBooks didn’t give them any trouble. We had about five or six people available at any given time during iMovieFest week to provide support and they all got really bored — we had almost no calls.”
He recalls that the teams were enthusiastic about the event. The filmmaking bug even spread to ResTek employees, who were ineligible from entering the contest but still made their own film, “Virus.exe,” that was shown as a bonus during Premiere Night. “Had we all had enough time, I think there would have been lots of crew movies,” he says. “In fact, movies are still being made even though the event is over.”
Many of the team members had little or no experience making movies, but Chaney was still impressed by the latent talents that revealed themselves during the week. “One of the students who edited ‘Lost’ had no video editing experience and ended up with a movie that had an incredible visual presence,” he remembers. “I thought I knew iMovie pretty well but I had to ask her ‘How did you do that?’ a couple times.”
“Lost” is the only experimental film in the bunch. It uses a cacophony of grainy images and moody music to suggest a tale of terror without ever revealing its true nature. In contrast, the contest winner, “A Feat of Life,” relates a simple story shown from the point-of-view of the main characters’ feet, which reveal how the two move from friendship to love. “Virus.exe” features every IT administrator’s worst fear: a hacker who infects the network and demands money in exchange for the secret to disabling the virus.
“Big Shoes” is a reality TV show parody that stars an eccentric director and his increasingly frustrated cast and crew. “Ninja: Nature’s Misunderstood Police of the Night” asks a series of people around the WWU campus how well they think their local ninjas are thwarting crime. “Couple” twice relates a conflict between a male and female student with the camera placed in a different location each time, thus changing what they’re really arguing about.
“Stairs to No-Where” stars a pugilist-in-training who shadow-boxes his way across campus before collapsing and evoking a line from the film “Rocky.” “Internet Piracy” is about two roommates who illegally download movies, video games, and music and are literally hunted down by the RIAA; ironically, it’s not available for viewing on the iMovieFest Web site because the students who made it used a copyrighted song in the soundtrack. Finally, “Trampled Under Foot” tells the tale of a traveling sock and the students it encounters as it’s passed from one to another through a variety of circumstances.
“Even though I’d watched movies from other iMovieFests before,” says Chaney, “I was still surprised at how good the teams’ films were, given that it’s an amateur event and they only had five days.”
After Premiere Night, each team received a DVD, created in iDVD by Chaney, that contained all the movies, while the winners scored some free ice cream from a local shop. He’s already planning next year’s event, which he anticipates will be bigger than the first one. Meanwhile, the DV cameras will be assembled in a pool for students to check out when the urge to make a movie hits them again between now and then.
“It’s hard to resist the simplicity and fun of iMovie,” Chaney says.