Note: This story appears in the Friday, Nov. 29 newspaper on Page A1.
NELSONVILLE — For a week in October, the streets of Brooklyn served as a classroom for four aspiring filmmakers from Hocking College.
These students were on the set of former “Saturday Night Live” star Billy Crystal’s new comedy film, which wrapped shooting on Nov. 14 and is expected to release sometime in the spring.
“It seemed like everyone was really happy to have us on set, and they were so open to teaching us about the professional field,” said student Bethany Truman. She was accompanied by classmates Dakota Dunn, Madison Ephlin and Audrey Reeder.
The partnership between Crystal and Hocking College was spearheaded by Josh Crook, who is the director of the college’s film and video production program. Crook, a New York native, is a director and producer known for his 2009 film “La soga.”
Crook was instrumental in developing the film program — which began at Hocking College just a year ago — and focuses the coursework around hands-on learning.
“At a lot of schools, students are studying theory out of a textbook, and they aren’t out in the field that much,” he said. “I think to understand filmmaking you have to grasp the mechanics of it. You have to go out there and just shoot films, make mistakes. I don’t think there’s any better way to learn than just by doing.”
With this approach in mind, Crook contacted a producer in New York earlier this year who was part of Crystal’s crew. Crook inquired about sending students to the city to be on set for a week. The offer was quickly accepted.
Once the students arrived, they floated around to various departments: some worked with the camera crew, while others mingled with the production team. Much of the work involved completing quick tasks, like grabbing a camera battery, and students constantly observed the fundamentals of professional filmmaking. An average work day was 12-15 hours full of activity and surprises.
“We definitely had to push ourselves, and there were some unexpected moments,” Reeder said. “We had to hold receivers in the cold for hours so that was kind of difficult. But because we were willing to do anything, we all came out with a ton of connections for our future careers.”
Their hard work did not go unnoticed. Crook regularly checked in with the crew to see how his students were performing and was delighted to hear the positive impressions they made.
“I remember one time I called and they were shooting this scene and the cameras were having trouble because it was raining and cold,” he said. “Audrey (Reeder) was out there working in the rain for hours. Everybody in the crew saw how dedicated she was.”
The students were also able to spend time with Crystal himself. One of the students described him as being a jokester.
“We were told to be careful because he might be mean, just due to the stress, but when we got there he was really just funny,” Truman said. “He didn’t have a ton of free time on set, but when he did he was standing in the corner making a joke.”
Ephlin spent most of her time with the script supervisor, who let her sit in an “official” chair next to the director’s seat, giving her exclusive access to the inner workings of the film.
“Every time Billy Crystal came back to talk to the producers, I was right there,” Ephlin said. “It was surreal, I just learned so much even from observing. And eating pizza on set was probably the other highlight.”
Despite the long hours and hard work, the students embraced the opportunity and the connections formed. In the future, Crook hopes to continue partnerships like this to foster relationships between his students and professionals in the field.
“Josh (Crook) prepared us pretty well for what we were walking into and I just liked having so much to do,” Truman said. “It was great because it didn’t feel like I was spending 12 hours working. It felt like I was spending 12 hours doing the thing I love most in the world.”