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De Anza Film and Television Program guarantees fame and fortune

Program that helped launch careers of "Underworld" director and "Superman" composer holds annual festival

Ehssan Barkeshli

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The De Anza College Student Film and Video show will include a screenwriting competition for the first time since it was established 29 years ago.

Students were to submit entries to De Anza College film and television instructors, along with the first ten pages of an excellent screenplay, a short summary of their story by May 22. Entries are judged by anonymous third party reviewers on several categories, including plot, characters and readability.

Last week, 10 semifinalists were chosen. At the show this Friday, the first place winner will be awarded an all-access 2009 Cinequest film festival pass.

The competition is the brainchild of screenwriting instructor Barak Goldman, who was hired last year by the De Anza film and television department to help invigorate and expand the screenwriting curriculum.

“Screenwriters often go unrecognized,” Goldman said. “This competition will get them into the eye of the general public.”

The student show offers the Film and Television Program a chance to gather as a community in appreciation of the creative output of students over the academic year. Prominent participants who have transferred out of the De Anza film department, such as Len Wiseman, director of “Live Free or Die Hard” and A-list film composer John Ottman, who wrote the score for “Superman Returns,” saw their films on the big screen in the years they attended.

“I think [Wiseman] had a music video in the show shot on 16mm which was professional looking, especially for 20 years ago when we had lesser facilities back on the top of the Flint Center,” said film production supervisor Thomas Schott, who helps organize the festival every year.

Zaki Lisha, founder and director of the De Anza Film and Television Program, said, “I am contacted by a lot of the people who went to De Anza, and they keep raving about what a difference it made in their lives.”

Film critic and De Anza film theory instructor Susan Tavernetti said that the festival is one of the best evenings of the year for students and faculty in the program. “It often marks the first chance for students to experience their work in front of a paying audience, to hear laughter and gasps at all the right moments and to bask in the applause.”

The 10 page limit allowed more students to submit their screenplays for the competition. The program garnered over 40 submissions this year.

“A screenplay must make an impact in the first 10 pages,” Goldman said. “That’s the entry point. A company, Lion’s Gate for example, recieves 70 to 80 screenplay submissions a day, and the readers and assistants can’t read through all of them.”

“I want the screenwriters to work hard, love what they’re doing, find their creative voice and practice, practice, practice,” he said.

Goldman graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from UCLA and continues to develop his own writing projects to complement his curriculum, which he says compares well against film schools at UCLA, USC and NYU.

“The program here has similar technology, vibe and level of education,” he said. “The only thing missing from De Anza is the millions of dollars in endowments.”

Goldman just finished installing a library of over 300 feature-length and television screenplays for students who will be expected to leaf through examples of produced screenplays to learn to imitate qualities like structure and format, the way student directors do by watching films on DVD.

The De Anza Film and Television Program consistently ranks as one of the top community college film programs in the country, and De Anza students’ work has been showcased at film festivals such as San Jose Cinequest every year since 2001.

Lisha was hired on vague terms by De Anza to start a film and television program in the fall of 1974, when he was 25 and still writing his Master of Fine Arts thesis, having recently graduated from USC’s film school.

“[De Anza administrators] didn’t know exactly how the program was going to be, but when you’re 25, you have this incredible enthusiasm, and I wanted to jumpstart the program as fast as possible,” he said.

Lisha began finding part-time instructors to help him expand the program. There was no physical film department, so he was forced to start out of the photo department. He wrote up a number of courses and proposed them to a board.

From there, the program, which was mainly about film production, quickly grew to include film studies, animation, television, screenwriting and more recently, digital filmmaking. In 1979, the annual film show saw its first year.

“In USC especially, there was not a lot of contact between students and instructors. There was a strict attitude that was extremely critical — not nurturing — and that did not help a lot of students,” Lisha said.

The film and television show is one of the ways in which De Anza feeds students and inspires them to impress an audience, he said, and the screenwriting competition will do the same.

“One of the things, in order to grow as a film school, is to have great stories to tell, and it starts with the script,” said Lisha.

Goldman was hired because instructors felt the program would flourish if it had a primary screenwriting instructor who didn’t teach a variety of courses, but focused on screenwriting, Lisha said. “We’re lucky to have Barak do that for us.”

The De Anza Student Film and Video Show will be held June 13 at 7:30 p.m. in Room A11.

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