PMA Podcast Episode 51: Sub-Basement Cinema Student Film Screening

In this episode, Leah Ingalls, a junior in PMA major, and Chris Christensen, IT Support, meet with PMA Associate Professor, Indigenous filmmaker and media artist, Jeffrey Palmer to discuss PMA’s upcoming Fall 2023 Student Film Screening.

PMA Podcast · Episode 51 - Sub-Basement Cinema Student Film Screenings

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Chris Christensen  0:11 

Hello, I'm Christopher Christensen. Welcome to Episode 51 of the PMA podcast. In this episode, Leah and I met with Associate Professor, indigenous filmmaker and media artist Jeff Palmer, to discuss PMA's upcoming fall 2023 student film screening. So here we are Jeffrey Palmer. Yes. And I guess it would just be Jeff. Yes. Yes, either way, either way. You have been here at PMA for a period of time. Tell us about yourself?

Jeffrey Palmer  0:43 

Yeah, I mean, I've had an interesting journey here at PMA because, you know, I came here as a visiting lecturer. Back in 2012.

Chris Christensen  0:57 

Really? Yeah, it was that long ago, it was that long ago, it was like, it was just yesterday. Yeah.

Jeffrey Palmer  1:02 

And only status semester. And, and this was right after Marilyn Richen yeah. retired. And she had been here for 30 years, I think, you know, prior to that, and, and so, I was just kind of I was right out of grad school. So as green as could be, and kind of took over her classes, but had a really, really wonderful semester, and it kind of kicked off my academic life, you know, working or wanting to work, you know, as a professor and teaching film, because at that point, I didn't know really what the future sort of held, you know, for me. And when I got back to Oklahoma, after I left here, I immediately got a got a position at the University of Central Oklahoma, which was, which is a fine directional school. But Mass Communications was the department that I was in, and they wanted to develop a documentary program. And so that kind of like set the tone on like, my pedagogy, and everything that I was doing, but it also allowed me to do work. And it was really around that time that things started happening. So like, the first short film that I made seriously, you know, didn't have to do with a class or something like that was this film called Isabel's Garden. And I ended up going to Sundance and winning an award. And I never really had any luck, I have a weird sort of thing about me, which is that a lot of people go through the process of submitting to film festivals. And they get rejected a lot. And they start small, and there's, you know, their local film festival or something like that. And the first film festival I got into was Sundance, which was bizarre, like, feeling, yeah. And it was just sort of thrown in thrusted into this space of, of being around people that you know, you admire and your work gets validated sort of instantly. And, and, and then it just everything kind of took off from there, you know, in terms of like, the work that I do. So I always think about that film, which is about seven minutes long. And cost about $500 that we shot over a weekend, you know, that it changed my life. And it really did, it just sort of shaped everything in my professional career. And, and there were opportunities that developed, you know, from that particular Festival, and and then led to, you know, this, this really amazing opportunity to do this feature film on N. Scott Momaday, which is a film called Words From A Bear that was On American Masters and was also premiered at Sundance and, and, and was nominated for an Emmy for the 33rd season of American Masters as part of a series of best nonfiction series. So and it won a lot of awards and sort of open doors and other places. And so I've just kind of been traveling down that journey. And in the meantime, I ended up in central New York, right and was teaching at Syracuse University for a brief time and and then got the call to come back here. And, and I just, you know, grabbed the opportunity, because because I did enjoy my time here but to actually come here and be you know, a full time professor. And and then now I have tenure here. So Oh, it's it's it's just been like an amazing journey. So that's that's me in a nutshell, I guess. All right.

Chris Christensen  5:07 

I'm grateful to have you back. Jeff. It's always good to work with you. .

Jeffrey Palmer  5:10 

Absolutely. Happy to be here.

Leah Ingalls  5:12 

Yeah, it sounds like you did a lot of journeying before before coming back here.

Jeffrey Palmer  5:17 

Absolutely, yeah. Yeah, lots of ups and downs. But, but mainly a lot of positive things, you know, in my life, and, and learned a lot as a filmmaker, but also learned a lot as being a teacher. And so I think I, you know, there's so much more to do. But coming full circle back here has allowed me to kind of, you know, really sort of put my put put all the learning experiences and skills to work. So

Leah Ingalls  5:50 

that's great. Yeah. So could you share a bit and just introduce the audience to the student film screening that's coming up?

Jeffrey Palmer  5:58 

Yeah. So December 8, is the what we call the sub basement film screening. And we'll talk a little bit about that more. But we're celebrating 35 years, I thought it was a good time. You know, one of the things that the Media Lab sort of area in SB 12, which is where we teach, you know, film one, behind that space, in Randy Hendrickson 's office, who, who works really, really closely with me, as a media specialist, has a whole bunch of flyers that date back all the way to God, the early 80s. And, but the one that we found that was that had a date on it, some of them are really, really old, that we can't date them. And he tells me that they're older than this one, but the one that had a date on it that we found definitively was 1988. And when we found that we thought, okay, that's 35 years, like, we'll, we'll set the tone right there and say, Yeah, we're, this is as far as back as we want to go, sort of celebrating that. And we're not doing a retrospective or anything. Actually, the flyer that's out right now has a retrospective of all the flyers that have sort of happened over the last 30 plus years, if you look at it closely, and but this, this particular screening is going to be amazing, because it's all four sections that we're teaching in film production. So it's 1410. It's also film, one, it's documentary, and it's cinematography. And that's a first for us to be able to kind of showcase everybody's work in one film screening, and also shows you know, how far we've come with new courses. We're happy to have you know, Doorim Kim, who is you know, our new lecturer, that's, that's teaching some of these courses and offering new courses. So it's really a celebration of the present. But looking back at like, wow, we've been doing this for a very, very long time. And we should celebrate the idea that there's been so many films created here at at PMA, and I don't know, how many have been created hundreds, you know, 1000s of films. So it's pretty incredible.

Chris Christensen  8:30 

So, yeah, the screening is December 8,

Jeffrey Palmer  8:34 

December 8 5pm. In the kip in the kip, okay, which is an amazing place to screen films I think, you know, it's just such a giant screen. And, and, you know, it's it's a space that typically you don't see a film, it's it's kind of an old school, you know, theater. So yeah, it's awesome when we do the screens there. So

Chris Christensen  8:59 

how many films total? Are we talking about? Like, what's, what do you expect to be the duration of the event itself?

Jeffrey Palmer  9:06 

So probably about two and a half hours? Okay. Yeah. And I'm thinking total, we're going to be looking at somewhere between 25 and 30 films. Wow, wow, that's a good number various times for each of those. So like, for example, 1410 the whole screening for them is only going to be about five minutes, you know, and so they're just very short, you know, excerpts of things that they've been working on, you know, all the way to film one and cinematography which you know, have 10 minutes 12 minute films, so,

Leah Ingalls  9:44 

and how many students are involved in the screening?

Jeffrey Palmer  9:47 

I'm trying to count in my head. I mean, you know, that somewhere upwards of close to 40-50 people, wow, you know, throughout all of those courses, so Yeah, it's a lot. It really again, I think is just showing, you know where where we're at, in terms of film, film production and this department. So it's it's a great showcase now that that really gives people the opportunity to like take in like what we're doing here.

Chris Christensen  10:24 

I'm thinking back to when Marilyn was here, it was times when SB 20, I think at the time, we had the Mac Pro towers, the big silver cheese grater powers, the original cheese graters and these to kick out so much heat. And I don't know, if it's maybe like students have learned to manage their time a little bit better. But when it was getting down to right before the screenings, the door would be open to the to the film suite, and all this heat would be rolling out. And I always said that it smelled a bit like desperation and sweat for several days, and it wasn't uncommon to find students like sleeping on a cot outside or sound asleep. In that space. We still seeing that sort of like determination on the part of the students are they really actually they learning how to balance their time a little bit better?

Jeffrey Palmer  11:11 

No, I mean, I think, you know, I and I, every film program that I taught at or just being in film school, right, as a, as a grad student at the University of Iowa, like I was just part of the fun, right? So that, you know, we were on the clock, and you know, that very last two days before we had to drop it on the drive. For the screening. We were all in that room, you know, all in the editing bays, like with our cots, and mattresses and just just go and you know, nonstop to get those films out. I think it's it, that atmosphere is there, you know, there are more rules now to getting into the building and things. Sure, but, but I think that the students, I think they, they love it. And I, I know that the productions are stressful, but when they're on set, they develop these moments, you know, that they won't ever forget in time. And that's, that's what, that's what it is, you know, being a filmmaker is just, you know, working with people, you know, sort of sharing the experience together. It's, it's, that's fun. And we probably will see something like that, you know, the last week, you know, in December, or in November in the first week in December, you know,

Chris Christensen  12:34 

I recall pulling my first all nighter somewhere in college. And just, I think I was typing an education paper that was due the next day, and I hadn't had time to work on it. And I was sitting in my dorm lounge, and it had these windows around it. And suddenly the light was coming up. And birds were singing and remember just feeling completely out of sorts and thinking this is not good. I don't think I want to do this too.

Jeffrey Palmer  13:01 

You can't do it too much. But but but that process, it seems like you know, I can live with it. As long as they're not, you know, going crazy in there and tearing stuff up. Yeah. Which can happen. When you're editing for 24 hours straight.

Chris Christensen  13:18 

Make a big mistake thinking you're doing one thing and did something completely different.

Leah Ingalls  13:23 

Yeah, I know. Professor Warren Cross and his sound design classes mentioned, I think it's like editing fatigue, or something, you can just get totally blind to what you're doing after doing it for that long. I will say in my own experience, it is hard to manage that sort of thing as a student, especially at Cornell. But I would attest to the fact that the passion kind of does pull you through it. It's very unique when it comes to filmmaking as opposed to other projects. So yeah, but I was wondering, I know that it's sort of hard to say, as things kind of boiled down to the last minute exactly what's going to be shown. Do you know anything about the content of any of the films that you could share with us? Is there anything you'd be comfortable sharing?

Jeffrey Palmer  14:06 

Yeah, sure. I mean, we've got, we have documentaries that are dealing with things like unionizing. We, we have really personal documentaries that are dealing with the anxieties of time. documentaries that are that are dealing with processes like dying through natural plants, indigenous plants. We have a film that's sort of a prom date gone bad. Which is, which is quite a violent film. We have a couple of those films that that we'll probably have to have some type of, of. I can't think of the word trigger warning trigger warning. Yeah, we'll probably We have to have some trigger warnings on some of our films, because some of them are going into those spaces. Yeah, a lot of relationship films this semester, you know, relationships that, you know, where people are trying to mend things, some some really interesting dramas, comedies. And in cinematography, just, you know, beautiful visual material, you know, so. So it's just a plethora of different things. I don't want to give everything away story wise, but but, but yeah, it's gonna be a very interesting, a eclectic mix of different genres and different story ideas. So

Chris Christensen  15:43 

that's great. Yep. And in the course of a semester, thinking about students walking in to this class first day, to the point in which they finish their project, and then the screening, what sort of skill sets are they learning in the class, both in terms of the hands on with cameras, the type of editing all of that

Jeffrey Palmer  16:02 

they're learning everything, I mean, film, one is kind of like this extensive boot camp, right? It allows students to literally start from day one, you know, learning about the smallest details of the camera, you know, and moving them through that process of really becoming sure of themselves, with with everything from the grip surrounding the camera to lighting to sound, they write scripts. And so all all of that sort of pre production material is happening. God, yeah, they just, they do it all, it's kind of it really, when you look at the syllabus, it's hard to imagine you can get all of that in, in 16 weeks, and we managed to, to kind of press and within that 16 weeks is the final project, right? So they got to do their final project, they had to shoot a whole movie. So it's a it's an intense class, and, and they're producing these two, you know, at the same time, so they're going out there finding locations, they're getting actors, they're scheduling. And so I think it's a lot of trial and error, I think film one gives you like some open endedness to make mistakes. And we kind of we like that, in film one, because again, this is a place that you can make, you can have those things happen. And there's not this huge amount of sort of prod, you know, problem areas that that develop, because of missing a particular scene or something like that. So, at the end of the day, you know, they should be able to learn how to do everything on a set. And then that extends into film two you know, in film two is much more, I think intense on really honing those skills, to where there aren't any mistakes anymore, that you really are, are becoming sort of a, a sharpen tool, with working with production and pre production and post. So yeah, and I forgot to say and but when they edit there, they have probably a couple of weeks here at the end to do their edits, as we were talking about earlier. So it's a it's a crazy, you know, mix of things. But but it happens. And I think everybody at the end of it really feels like they've learned a lot in a short amount of time. So

Chris Christensen  18:50 

From a technical end of things in terms of software being used at the moment you're editing on Adobe Premiere. Yeah, that's correct. Yeah. Do you foresee any I don't want to get off topic too much. But you know, because there's so many different editing platforms out there. Do you see things changing over time? Is this what it's looking like, in the industry? Or are there applications that are more common, or sort of industry standard? Yeah,

Jeffrey Palmer  19:17 

I mean, I think AVID is probably more industry standard, you know, to get avid workshops or workstations, you know, which is incredible amount of money. Yeah. And so for a lot of editors right now that are working as contractors, they're utilizing premiere because it's such a it's an easy format, that allows them to kind of transfer between things transfer files over easily. And because it's part of the suite, you know, you can go into After Effects seamlessly or into the audio interface, all of those different things, I think And it's getting better and better, you know, like we were doing transcriptions with documentary that are built to premiere now, that that was the big deal with AVID is that you could do those types of transcriptions and kind of find things in your video based on words that you select. And you can do that now in Premiere. So those things have been really helpful in the documentary course that I have. It's yeah, I think eventually DaVinci, looking at color correcting, and then also going into Pro Tools and looking like how to really sweeten, like, all of the things that you're doing is something that we're going to try to do in the future. If we have space and time, I think film two would be a great space for that to happen towards the end is that they're actually using industry standard tools to, to make the final versions of their films, because that makes such a huge difference. I think oftentimes, when people look at student films, or watch student films, they're like, you know, it's not necessarily what I see on the screen, you know, at the professional level, or if you go to the theater, or whatever. And really, what that is, is what we call post post, right? It's color, it's sound, design, it's all these different things. And if we can get those things in there, and they're expensive, and they're hard tools to learn, it'll make those films so much better. And then in a lot of ways, so. But we're dealing right now with what we have. And I think we're doing a good job of coming out with products that, you know, can get into any Student Film Festival, and win some of them, you know, thanks,

Leah Ingalls  21:43 

I'd be curious to see if there was ever a consideration of post production course of some kind of interesting,

Jeffrey Palmer  21:49 

it'd be nice, it's hard. The hardest thing I think to teach than the hardest course I ever taught in, all the courses that I've taught has been an editing course, has been a post production course, because premiere, or whatever you're using Final Cut, you know, all of those things, those interfaces, like they, they either crash or something you did like hours before, doesn't work the same way, the second time you try to do it, and then it becomes like frustrating to kind of do that in front of a class to watch them. Watch, you make mistakes to get through it. And, and then the other thing, too, is like it's so very tailored to each person that the way that I do things is like very, very slow. And I'll go through the drop down boxes to find everything that I need to do where other people just short key it. So it's it's a tough class to teach. But yes, I agree. I mean, I think that that's definitely addition that we need to have here as post production course, that's strictly post production. And

Leah Ingalls  22:56 

then, to sort of bring things back a little bit. We talked, you mentioned a bit about having to source the students own locations and actors. Could you share a bit about the process of finding actors for these films?

Jeffrey Palmer  23:09 

Yeah, we had a great time this semester working with with Theo's class, Theo Black's class and Carolyn Geolzer's class. Just trying to get students into those rooms to pitch. And it happens late in the semester that we get to that moment when they have their decks ready, you know, enough to where they can walk into a room and do a full pitch. But we got there. And once we sent them into those rooms, we were able to get some interest garner interest from the acting to class, the acting one class. And this is something that we're going to try to continue to do more and more and more. Theo and I did a session together where he brought his actors in a script, and we actually worked on camera sequencing with those those actors. And I think that also opened doors and ideas between people that are working in film one and people that are acting. The process, it can always be better, you know, there's always like, there's ways that we can probably deal with these things at the very beginning of the semester in order to kind of streamline them. But with every semester, it's, it's, you know, you're you're thinking about getting things off the ground first, you know, and then you kind of come into that moment where you need to do all of those things. But we're working hard on it. And I think we're doing a better job than what we were doing, you know, five years ago, 10 years ago, so

Chris Christensen  24:44 

I totally like spaced out right there.

Jeffrey Palmer  24:49 

Was it was a boring?

Chris Christensen  24:52 

No, it was like I was totally like I kind of got wrapped up in what you were saying and it was like, Oh, I'm gonna have to ask a question.

Leah Ingalls  25:00 

So I guess to sort of build off of that sort of self starting nature for students and the interaction between departments and whatnot, I was wondering what some of the obstacles are that students might encounter while they are sort of navigating some of their first ever Film Productions themselves? Yeah,

Jeffrey Palmer  25:18 

I think producing becomes like one of the biggest problems, right? There's not a lot of time to go into the depths, you're teaching so many technical aspects, you know, of, of what needs to happen and making a film, pre production is big in my class. But it's mainly sort of a written form of pre production versus, you know, what you actually need to do in terms of producing. And not only that, like, on any professional set, there's not just one producer, there's like multiple producers, right? There's many producers doing different aspects of things. So how do we do that? You know, how do we how do we create producing as a way? Could it be a course? That's one way I guess. But right now, how do we install it into the class so that it doesn't take up, you know, three weeks or four weeks of a course, but But somehow, they get the gist of that, because logistically, it's so difficult, I think for for any student to go out and commandeer space, you know, or to be able to talk to the right people or deal with release forms, or have a contact system that works between your actors, you know, call sheets, all of the different things, you know, craft craft craft services on a set is huge, you know, all of those things have to be organized have to be well organized, in order for things to function the way that you want them to function on a set. And really, ultimately, things go wrong, and you need somebody there to kind of pick up, you know, where those things are going wrong, so that the film production can keep going on. And so those are areas that I think we can strengthen ourselves and help our students more. And I'm still trying to kind of think, in my mind, like how that that pedagogical is going to fill into the spaces that we have, because we do have a limited amount of time, you know, to do it. So

Chris Christensen  27:28 

are there ways in which your professional experience outside of the classroom in terms of your filmmaking influences your teaching ways that you convey some of these these pitfalls or obstacles that you've encountered yourself? How you sort of integrate that in your classroom?

Jeffrey Palmer  27:43 

Absolutely, I mean, that I think it's what students are most interested in talking about, you know, is, is not, I mean, I can go through lectures every day, and talking about the aperture, you know, on the camera, and that's important stuff. It's like important bedrock stuff, and I want them to know that, but, you know, they see it, their eyes seem to open and they pay a lot more attention when I began to talk about like, my budget sheets, and like, why this particular thing happened, you know, in real time on my set, because of an issue a technical issue, or not getting somebody somewhere on time, or, and they were they were real life problems that they either got solved, or we figured out a way to get around them. And so yeah, that's what they're interested in knowing. And so I try to bring all those experiences into the classroom. I don't have all the answers, though, you know, because professionally, I live in nonfiction more than I live in fiction. So but I did shoot a film over the summer, you know, that, that is doing quite well, that was a fiction piece that had about there was a 70 person crew. And, and so it was, it was great experience for me to kind of bring that into the classroom and talk about like, you know, what it was like to work with that many people on your set, and like what you do as a director to kind of coordinate and figure things out. And I had a wonderful producer, you know, that that was working with me two or three producers actually, that were, you know, doing amazing work. So, all those things come into the classroom, and those things seem to be really, really important aspects. I think,

Chris Christensen  29:31 

What's the title of that film?

Jeffrey Palmer  29:33 

It's called Ghosts. Okay. Yeah, yep. It's been on a year long run now, and has won some awards and it's on PBS and in certain regions, and yeah, it did. Crazy, you know, kind of it because that was just an idea. That sort of blossomed into something that that really, you know, happened and is doing great.

Chris Christensen  29:59 

This is the one you and Austin worked on to get is Yeah, yeah. And there's some notable folks in that film. Yeah.

Jeffrey Palmer  30:05 

Yeah, Lane Factors in that film who stars on the FX series Reservation Dogs. And then we also had it was interesting I was talking to to Andrea Savage last night. And she works on she she, she's an actress on Tulsa King. Okay. And a lot of their crew moved to my film right after they it somehow coordinated correctly. And and then I had a lot of people from Killers of the Flower Moon on my film and what was the other show? Well, Reservation Dogs, you know, just just people coming over from that set designers and, and second ADs and just people that you know our industry folks that work from show to show. So I was really, really lucky to to have all of those folks involved. And

Chris Christensen  31:04 

your father was involved as well,

Jeffrey Palmer  31:05 

My dad was involved in every one of my films. Let's face it, like he if I didn't have Dad, where would my career be? Because he literally is in every film I've ever made, and has some like, you know, way of consulting with me to make the film awesome. So I'm really thankful for him.

Chris Christensen  31:29 

That's great. Yeah.

Leah Ingalls  31:31 

So when it comes to events in the PMA department, there is a bit of a difference in terms of how with theater, there's generally a spaced out series of events, plays shows that people go to throughout the semester, whereas this seems a bit like the sort of final product of the film department of PMI, which would you say that's a true?

Jeffrey Palmer  31:53 

Yeah, I mean, I think it is. Yeah, I think one, well, one of the reasons is I think pedagogically speaking, like it works out that way, right. And through each of these courses, you know, it's, it's, it's a, it's just a it's a journey, you know, for them to get to that, that final cut. But I also think that the culmination of, of purely student work, right, that it's, it is the students, these are stories by the students, they're written by the students there, they're produced, they're directed everything, you know, that happens in and film, for us is really a student, organized thing event. And, and that's what I like about it, it's that it's centered by them. And so their voices come out, you know, I do, I hope I do a good job of getting them to the point where they're able to do the things that they want to do. But at the end of the day, when we turn on the screen, and we show those films, you know, I'm, it's like, this is the students, this is them, this is what they want to show you, this is what they're bringing. And, and most of the time, it's it's hugely successful. I think that people like that they they're very, very interested in hearing these voices and untold stories. And I think I like student centered work, you know, more than anything, I don't think I could ever come in and direct something and have people surround me, I feel I would feel odd doing that one. But But the second thing is just, I just feel like we need to hear student voices, and we need to hear what they think and feel and like what they're going through. And they always have their finger on the pulse of everything that's, you know, present and what's going on, you know, what's going to happen in the future. So it's fresh. And that's what I think makes the student screenings successful. And they're fun, irreverent there, they can be scary. Weird and, and, you know, disgusting sometimes, like, that's, that's what's cool about it's like a midnight screening, you know, almost is the way that I describe it. And that's why we call ourselves sub basement cinema, right? It's like, we we allow students to really push against, you know, the barriers of film, but also just the barriers of like, you know, what we would think is, is appropriate, I want students to like go there, you know, and they do oftentimes, and that's what good filmmaking is, I think,

Leah Ingalls  34:45 

right? So if this is, if anyone is interested in seeing student filmmaking at Cornell, this is not an event that they would want to miss.

Jeffrey Palmer  34:54 

Absolutely. Yeah, this is the this is the premiere film, storytelling event. You know, For students, and they're gonna laugh, you know, they're gonna cry, they're, you know, it's just, it has that type of emotional ability to it, and that only students can provide to other students on campus to, but also to us as faculty members and the overall community in Ithaca like, you know, they're really, really getting to the heart of things that I think matter. And doing it in a way that that is, is well done, you know, with with the work that they're putting in over a whole semester. So yeah, it's awesome.

Chris Christensen  35:35 

Jeff, thanks so much. You've covered a lot, we've covered a lot. Is there anything that you really wish we had asked you that you wanted to say about the upcoming film screenings?

Jeffrey Palmer  35:46 

No, I mean, I think that, you know, one of the things that I think is important is just to know that, you know, over 35 years, like there's been so many people that have been in my position, and, and have done the good work of working with students in film. And that Cornell film and sub basement cinema is a real thing. You know, it's something that has been around for a long time, and it's real. And I want to continue to push for that. And push that out there. Because I think that our films deserve to be, you know, respected among all of the film schools around the country and the work that's been put out by other film schools. We do things differently here. And in we're kind of developing our name, and if it wasn't for those folks, it wouldn't have happened. So, so yeah.

Chris Christensen  36:42 

All right. Thanks so much. Thank you.

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Student Film Screening Fall 2023