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On the cutting edge of film: BTV’s latest projects prove to be most professional yet

Published: March 26, 2010
Section: Features

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Arun Narayanan ’10 is one tired guy. He’s been up since 4 a.m. editing a short film for IndieLouie, a 48-hour film challenge, and now that he’s started, there’s no turning back. Sure, the clock in the Brandeis Television office and his body are telling him to go to bed, but his inner man on a mission is urging him to keep going.

Narayanan’s eyes, visibly bloodshot, are focused intently on the large Mac screen in front of him. His hands—one perched on the mouse, one stationed on the keyboard—move nimbly back and forth, expertly maneuvering his way around. His hands move so fast that if you weren’t paying the closest of attention, you’d miss what changes he just made to the short film, called “Still Alive.” There’s a rhythm here that only those who’ve used Final Cut Pro video editing software recognize, a hybrid of frustration and satisfaction that all creators understand.

He’s visibly tired, yet as Narayanan—director of production and programming and head of communications for BTV—finally takes a break to sit down on a couch, his eyes light up with energy and excitement. Narayanan is here to talk about BTV’s latest projects—what he and other senior members of the BTV board could very well consider to be their legacy. Narayanan approached these projects with as much, if not more, dedication as he’s put into this IndieLouie contest. It’s a good thing, too, because it’s this determination that got him and other BTV members to drag themselves out of bed before 5 a.m. and stay outside in Boston’s bitter December weather until midnight, filming “Pinch Me,” one of the two short films BTV is currently fine-tuning.

While most Brandeis students went home for winter break, around 10 BTV members stuck around for a week to film “Pinch Me.” Just like with major movies, BTV members hired extras and actors, paid for food on set and worked all hours of the day. Unlike major film studios, BTV members were doing this for the sheer love of filmmaking and weren’t raking in a sizable paycheck to do so.

Many people know that BTV stands for Brandeis Television and most people know that they produce cool projects here and there that you hear about through the Brandeis grapevine. Yet with their latest projects, BTV is ready to show the Brandeis community that they’re more than just an amateur, student-run organization. On April 8 at 9 p.m., BTV will premiere three short films—“Pinch Me,” “Art & Jealousy” and “Still Alive”—in Chum’s, followed by an after party. BTV’s work in these short films—and the equipment they used to film them—is increasingly professional, and so are the students behind these projects.

Since he wrote and edited “Pinch Me,” Narayanan is especially proud of this particular project and says it’s an example of BTV’s new direction. “It ended up being the first [really] professional project we’ve done because we worked on it non-stop every day,” he says.

Up until now, BTV had stuck with smaller-scale projects, but after progressively improving the quality of their equipment and their talent over the past few years, Narayanan and other members of the BTV board decided they wanted to step up their game this year—for most of them, their last at Brandeis—and take on some more involved projects. Narayanan says the inspiration for these projects was twofold: “The senior members of the board definitely wanted to do something kind of serious, something that kind of a. was able to showcase the talent that we all knew we had [and] b. really use the equipment that we have now to the best of [its] ability.”

For his part, Narayanan was ready to take a break from his work with BTV’s show Slice and Deis to branch out into some shorter films. So during the fall semester, he wrote “Pinch Me,” a 25-minute short film that portrays one man’s confusion of dreams and reality. Directed by Avi Swerdlow ’10 and Chris Lavery ’10, “Pinch Me” was filmed in December and Narayanan has been editing it ever since. The amount of time it has taken him to edit is in itself indicative of the increased level of professionalism characteristic of BTV’s latest work. After all, since BTV members were using different and oftentimes more complex equipment, there was a lot more unexpected fine-tuning to do when it came time to editing.

“Since we’re trying to do as much as possible on a professional level, it’s very time consuming,” Narayanan says.

These projects also served as a way to recruit new members and leave behind a legacy for the younger members of BTV. Narayanan says “Art and Jealousy,” written and produced by Leanne Ortbals ’12, served as a “way of transferring [the seniors’] knowledge to underclassmen in the form of this professional project.”

“Art and Jealousy”—a short film chronicling the struggle of Jane, a student who falls in love with her art professor—is currently in post-production phase. Working on the film turned out to be as much of a learning opportunity for Narayanan as it was for newer BTV members, such as Emily Salloway ’13. Salloway, a first-year, came to Brandeis earlier this year with the clear goal of majoring in film and visual media studies. In addition to the education she has received in the classroom, Salloway says BTV has offered a more hands-on approach to the art of filmmaking.

“I think that BTV really offers a well-rounded education of film,” she says. “This has really rounded out [my in-class education and experience].”

By working on this project with older members of the BTV board, Salloway was able to apply what she’s learned in the classroom to something more tangible. In doing so, she learned that films aren’t always as glamorous as they appear in their final form.

“I learned that there’s a lot more time that goes into making a movie than you think. It takes a lot of planning,” she says.

To film “Pinch Me,” BTV hired a few actors through Craigslist and also rounded up a group of dedicated students willing to stick around after the fall semester had ended. For “Art and Jealousy,” they had a mix of Brandeis and outside talent and hired several extras for the film.

The overriding focus for the two projects was quality rather than quantity, a distinction BTV members actively recognized while making these two films. “There [are] two sides of filmmaking, especially from the college point of view. On the one hand, you definitely want to have content made and as much stuff as possible that people can see,” Narayanan says. “On the other hand, there’s also the alternative, which is to really craft something as much as possible…and that seems to work better for a short film.”

In the past, Narayanan says, BTV was eager to get out enough content to generate and maintain viewer interest, and while they did care about the quality of their work, they didn’t spend as much time on past projects as they did with these most recent ones. BTV members such as Chris Lavery ’10 hope that with these two short films, BTV will become a more recognized organization around campus.

“BTV is an underused resource that surprisingly few people know about. I think there are a lot of people on campus who would be astonished at how much stuff BTV does and just the quality of work that we do here,” Lavery says. “I feel that we still haven’t fully found everyone on campus…Our weakest aspect is definitely publicity.”

And that’s exactly what BTV members are hoping to change with this premiere and with these new projects.

“I generally get positive feedback about [BTV’s work], but obviously it doesn’t look like real movies on other channels,” Narayanan says. “I think the stuff that we’ve been doing this semester [is] actually comparable to stuff you can see on other channels. And I think for that, people should definitely come to the screening, check it out and see what students on this campus can do.”