October 4, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 54°F


Students produce professional films

Disguised as a tiny classroom more than halfway down the Roy H. Park School of Communications’ corridor, Park 266 lies inconspicuous and mysterious to the unaware passersby. But to those select few who work in the office, the numerous DVDs and haphazardly organized manila folders hold a collection of artwork they call their own.

Sophomore Mike Blaney edits sound and video files Tuesday in the Park Productions room. Students who work in the “Pro Unit Lab” learn new editing techniques while working on projects to gain real-life experience. Andrew Buraczenski/The Ithacan

Inside, which is not much bigger than the average dorm room, sits four large computers, complete with the latest editing and production software making up Park Productions. The DVDs arranged on the shelves document 40 years of production for Ithaca College, Ithaca’s Sciencenter, Cornell University, Ithaca’s Convention and District Bureau and Museum of the Earth.

Carol Jennings, manager, project producer and director at Park Productions, said her student staff is gifted and hardworking. Behind the “Pro Unit Lab” door, skills on how to edit films and documentaries are passed down like family traditions.

“We do film, video and multimedia for nonprofit organizations,” Jennings said. “Sometimes the students will produce, direct, shoot, edit and do everything from step one to step 99. They are very talented students.”

Jennings said the Pro Unit Lab’s mission is to operate like an internship for students.

“Students collaborate with industry professionals on all projects,” she said. “When we go into production on a project, the deadline and the budget of the product determine how many professionals we bring on to that project in order to complete it on time and budget, according to the goals of the organization.”

Park Productions started with Skip Landon, former professor of cinema and photography, who wanted to give students real-life experience in film production for clients and independent productions.

“Film students needed a way to get experience outside of the classroom,” Jennings said. “[Landon] was a producer outside of being a professor, so he set up projects for the local community, nonprofits, educational institutions and initiated independent projects.”

At “P-Prod,” as sophomore staff member Sara Wolkensdorfer calls it, the students and staff work collectively and efficiently. An avid filmmaker, Wolkensdorfer uses the Pro Unit Lab as a way to stay in touch with her love for film and the film-making process, while focusing on her psychology major.

“We work as a group of equals, sometimes divvying up the work into smaller groups,” she said. “It’s a lot like a team in that way, for we help each other to get the job done.”

Wolkensdorfer is currently working on preproduction art for the up-and-coming webisode series “Uncorked!” which features people who work with the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. To her, the best part of the Pro Unit Lab is the atmosphere.

“Unlike many other jobs, we work mainly as a team to come up with ideas for our films or work on films that the school or other outside groups want us to produce for them,” Wolkensdorfer said. “Instead of being assigned a specific position, we each work as an important unit of a family.”

Jennings handpicks each member of the production team, after interviewing all the applicants. According to Wolkensdorfer, a position on the P-Prod team is competitive. Typically, around 70 students come to meetings to try to become part of the team. Only 10 students are currently on the team.

“So many students come after this job because it gives them firsthand experience working at a production company,” Wolkensdorfer said. “This gives them an advantage over other students when looking for jobs.”

Jalissa Cruz, junior cinema and photography major, has helped make DVDs for past projects and has submitted them to hundreds of festivals.

“I was able to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have done otherwise, like going to a film festival in Syracuse,” Cruz said. “I had the ability to edit video, access to the latest software programs, attend workshops with professionals and so much more. I couldn’t ask for a better job.”

Jennings said students use the Pro Unit Lab as a springboard into their careers and get professional credits so they have something to show employers. Previous workers have landed careers at Fox News and ESPN.

“That is one of the things that I am happiest about in the years that I have worked here,” Jennings said. “Watching students who graduate begin their careers and start out in L.A. or NYC is incredibly inspiring.”