Escape fires up campus filmakers
As a lighting
designer with University Theater in 1995, Allan LeSage, AB’97, was
inspired by UT’s rise from a grass-roots student group to an organization
that facilitated the creation of 13 studio theater classes in the
College. If UT could do it, LeSage reasoned, so could he—and the
University’s student filmmakers. With help from UT backer and humanities
professor Herman Sinaiko, AB’47, PhD’61, LeSage started what’s now
known as Fire Escape Productions.
with the Documentary Film Group, Fire Escape makes film and video
supplies available to campus filmmakers. Next spring, it plans to
begin an outreach program to spread the filmmaking experience to
Chicago elementary and junior-high schools and, ultimately, it hopes
to win the inclusion of filmmaking classes in the U of C’s curriculum.
growth to date has come mostly as a result of its ability to cater
to a range of different filmmakers. Some, like the four to six English
and humanities concentrators each year who seek help from Fire Escape
to produce a B.A. film, are most interested in the marriage between
film and their academic disciplines. Others see filmmaking as a
purely artistic venture. “One set of members has no experience,”
explains Francis Shen, ’00, “but are interested and would like to
participate. The others really want to produce but just need the
of Fire Escape include two Bolex 16mm cameras, video equipment,
a linear film editor, lighting and sound equipment, and an Avid
system—the professional standard for digital editing. Though this
isn’t quite a full complement of editing machinery, the group supplements
its technical resources with opportunities for education about filmmaking.
Last year, as Fire Escape’s visiting-artist program coordinator,
Shen started a program that brought some of Chicago’s best filmmakers
and production engineers to campus for free quarterly lectures.
was a success,” says Shen. “All of the workshops were filled to
capacity.” Expanding the program this year, Fire Escape will bring
more industry professionals to campus to lead a series of three
four-hour workshops on topics such as lighting and 16mm film production.
The professionals will also lecture on—and screen—their own work.
seeking assistance from Fire Escape start with a proposal. Biweekly
meetings give them a chance to form working relationships with other
student filmmakers and discuss scripts and scenes. As ideas take
shape, filmmakers obtain funding: New filmmakers receive a fixed
subsidy, and experienced filmmakers may submit proposals for additional
funds. After borrowing equipment as needed from Fire Escape, filming
begins. Newer members can help out on a project to learn the basics
of filmmaking, and experienced members often offer advice.
At the end
of the long process to produce the short films, Fire Escape members
may also get the chance to screen their completed projects two to
three times a year at either the Film Studies Center or Max Palevsky
Theater, bringing to campus an eclectic mix of documentaries, fictional
narratives, and animation.—M.D.B.