Written by Ayesha Nizhoni
Thesis MFA student Dylan Dyer has been busy. When she's not focusing on her own work in the Ohio University film program, she's crewing on other films, gaining valuable expertise.
Ohio Film Underground spoke with Dylan about what she's learned so far, her hopes for the future, and what it takes to not look like an idiot on a film set.
1. I understand you've been fortunate enough to work on some features and shorts during your time here at OU. Please tell us the films and the nature of your roles on the various crews.
I worked on the feature films The Turn Out (Assistant Camera), Claire in Motion (Assistant Camera), and Hap and Ashley (2nd Assistant Camera) - the first two were faculty projects, while the last one was students' Vince and Kathy's thesis film. I've also worked on an untitled UCLA thesis short (Gaffer/Assistant Camera), web series Jess Archer Versus (1st Assistant Camera), and the short Salt Wounds (Assistant Camera) - those last two were by returning OU grads from Film and/or Media School.
2. Would you say that you learned more in the classroom, or on the set?
As important as classroom education is, there are tricks you can only learn from working on a film set. You pick up good tips from the ones that run smoothly, and promise not to make the same mistakes from the ones that go poorly! There are so many moving parts to a film set, so you really need that personal hands-on experience to truly understand how a shoot works.
3. After your experiences on real, working sets, what do you think about the possibility of going into film full-time after graduating from the program?
I've always intended to go into film full-time, and I think having solid experience on feature film sets will go a long way towards helping me get on professional sets after I graduate. And many of the professionals I've worked with on these shoots have kept in touch and offered me small gigs while I'm in school, so I've definitely formed some good contacts to help me get started.
4. Do you think that the fact that the program isn't in L.A. or NYC has something to do with easier accessibility to on-set film work for MFA students?
Definitely - obviously SE Ohio doesn't have the large professional film/video network that LA or NYC does, so as a filmmaker coming to this area your local hiring options are a bit slim. But we also have a reputation of being more than capable of filling that professional gap, so people don't feel the need to bring in their own crew or hire from, say Columbus or Cleveland. OU students have out-professionaled the professionals on more than one set I've been on.
5. What was the most important thing you learned during your time working on the films you've crewed?
It's hard to pick one thing as most important, but I'd say one of the biggest lessons is how important interpersonal skills are on a film set. We tend to emphasize the technical expertise that goes into filmmaking, but how well you light a scene or mic a room matters little if your crew and cast hate you. Good communication skills, the ability to forge mutual respect and trust among the cast and crew, and inspire a sense of community is critical to being a good director or department head, and gets you hired back (and promoted!) if you're on a crew. But people often get so caught up in the technical requirements of their duties that they forget it's just as important to be a good leader and team member.
6. Since you've gained more real world experience than many MFA film students, do you have any plans for your own films?
Well, I spend more time on others' films than my own (my focus is cinematography), so I tend to put most of my experience towards my work on other projects. I am planning a thesis film, however, which I describe as 'part love story, part physics essay' - we'll see how it turns out! Beyond that I have enough ideas for short films to keep me occupied for a few years, but I'd rather leave the feature films for others to write and direct, and ask them to keep me in mind for their DP, gaffer, or AC.
7. What would you tell someone considering Ohio University for film?
As I've exemplified, there are a lot of outside opportunities offered through OU and you should volunteer for as many of them as you can - being able to say you've worked on film sets beyond student shorts can really set you apart from other MFA graduates. You also have the Division of Theater and Dance, as well as the Media School, as potential resources and collaborators, which can be extremely valuable.
8. Any words of wisdom for current MFA film students?
Well, I don't know that I'd say I necessarily have words of wisdom! But if I had to sum up what I've done, I'd recommend these tips.
Act like a professional, and treat others like professionals.
Don't pretend you know what you're doing when you don't, just ask someone and learn quickly. And remember (per the Big Lewbowski): this is not 'Nam, there are rules. Please follow the rules.