Digital Art and Design Students Win Best Directing Award in GR Film Festival 36-Hour Challenge

Posted July 19, 2018 in Digital Art and Design, Student, Collaborative Deisgn

Students at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) are known to tackle some tough deadlines. But producing a short film in only a day-and-a-half? That’s crazy, right?

Not so for Digital Art and Design students Ashley Kalin, Kelsey Kamrowski, Matthew McDaniel, Sean McManaman, Caleb Sumney and Tys Yoder and Collaborative Design student Owen Loughrin, who not only did just that this past spring for the Grand Rapids Film Festival 36-Hour Challenge, but picked up a Best Directing Award as well.

The competition challenges entrants to script, shoot, edit, and submit a 6-minute short film in only 36 hours. All entries must adhere to a set of prompts announced at the beginning of the competition and judges assess the films by their originality, direction, writing, cinematography, production, and sound.

It’s the second year in a row a KCAD team has won this award, and that’s especially remarkable given the fact that the field of competitors includes student teams from film-focused academic programs and teams of professional filmmakers.

“The competition was intense, so we didn’t know what to expect during the awards ceremony. To win Best Directing again was a huge compliment,” says McDaniel, who was a member of last year’s winning team alongside Kalin, Kamrowski, and Yoder.

This year’s winning entry, “Steve,” follows the eponymous protagonist as he struggles to maintain a positive outlook in the face of a series of subtly negative interactions with different people. From backhanded compliments and condescending remarks to inconsiderate interruptions and ill-conceived advice, Steve runs a gauntlet of microaggressions that reflect a symptom of modern society the KCAD student filmmakers feel needs to be addressed.

“We wanted to tackle something that was relevant in our current culture, especially in our demographic as young adults,” says Sumney. He and his teammates contend that we’re not always as mindful of the way we communicate as we should be, and that microagressions can have a bigger effect on people than what appears on the surface.

“People are quick to give you sympathy, but not much empathy,” explains Kalin. “We’ve all said these types of things, or had them said to us, but we really don’t acknowledge how much this kind of behavior impacts us internally.”

Black-and-white scenes of Steve’s interactions are contrasted with a color-saturated depiction of his inner self, pummeled physically every time Steve undergoes a negative encounter.

“We wanted to find a way to show what’s going on internally as he’s dealing with those passive aggressive things being said to him,” says Kamrowski. “We utilized UV paint and black lights to really separate these scenes from the others.”

Like all of the creative decision the students made, this internal/external dichotomy emerged from the fast and furious process of brainstorming and experimentation the competition’s tight timeline necessitated.

“The format really ramps up the energy, which helped us embrace an on-the-fly approach to making decisions and working through challenges,” says Loughrin. “There was a lot of design thinking happening on set.”

“We had to really think on our feet,” Kamrowski adds. “We used every last minute of our 36 hours.”

When those 36 hours were up, the students had not only a stellar film, but sharpened collaborative skills and a renewed sense of confidence to take creative risks as well.

“Something I’ve come to really value from the KCAD community is that everyone here is encouraging of everyone else’s ideas and skills,” Sumney muses. “We want to build each other up and make each other better.”  

Learn more about KCAD’s Digital Art and Design program.

Learn more about KCAD's Collaborative Design program.