Cinematic arts students’ shaky “found footage” shorts found praise from two film industry executives who critiqued their work as part a Media School bootcamp this fall.
Indiana University alumnus Dave Neustadter, executive vice president of production at New Line Cinema who executive produced projects like “Black Adam” and “Mortal Kombat,” and his close friend Dan Cohen, a partner at 21 Laps Entertainment and producer for “Stranger Things” and “The Boogeyman,” met virtually with students to critique each film created during the intensive Found Footage Bootcamp.
Students learned about the style of found footage, which are narrative films stylistically shot as if recorded by a real person. They often fall within the horror genre, using shaky, handheld cinematography and jump scares, among other tropes. Popular examples of found footage films include “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity.”
Craig Erpelding, senior lecturer and director of the BFA in cinematic arts program at The Media School, organized the bootcamp in collaboration with the Student Cinema Guild, a collective of film students and university cinephiles. Eight groups of students made short films shot in the style of found footage based on a few of Neustadter and Cohen’s favorite films within the genre. The Student Cinema Guild devised several prompts for the teams to incorporate within their shorts, and students were given one week to shoot and edit. Students earned college credit for taking the bootcamp course.
Neustadter and Cohen screened the films and offered live feedback to students during a virtual session in early November.
Caleb Good, a junior pursuing his BFA in cinematic arts, directed a short titled “JaredsCameraMOV.35,” in which a pair of dice cause supernatural events to occur during a role-playing game between friends. Good said he appreciated the feedback from Neustadter and Cohen.
“You are only given seven days to create a three- to five-minute film, which requires a lot of planning and communication to accomplish,” Good said. “They found the film to be fun, and it was extremely inspiring when they expressed that they would love to see it longer.”
Neustadter and Cohen said they enjoyed interacting with and encouraging students who dream of one day working in the film industry.
“I really loved that there were eight pretty different stories, and they used things like jump cuts or blocking to disorient you in different ways,” Cohen said. “I was genuinely impressed by how creative they were across the board.”
Neustadter shared similar thoughts.
“Dan and I were saying there were a handful of them that really had genuine tension, and a couple of them had well-crafted scares,” Neustadter said. “Overall, it was definitely impressive, and they should all continue doing this.”
Before he was a successful Hollywood producer, Neustadter was a student at IU. He graduated with a BA in theater in 2001. In 2003, he became an intern at New Line Cinema, and he worked his way up to become executive vice president of production.
According to the pair, the first step for students who wish to pursue a career in entertainment is to move to Los Angeles.
“It’s like ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’: You’ve got to take a leap of faith,” Neustadter said.
Cohen said recent graduates must understand that they will struggle in the beginning, just like he and Neustadter did, but opportunities will arise.
“For a minute it’s going to be rough, but once you can get your feet settled and do an assistant job, then the fun begins,” Cohen said. “I look back on that time fondly. Being an assistant here is graduate school in its own way. In a couple of years, you pick up a ‘masters of Hollywood.’”
Students in the cinema guild who helped organize the bootcamp said they took Neustadter’s and Cohen’s advice to heart and appreciated the experience.
Mel Taylor, an officer in the guild, is a senior who will soon graduate with a BFA in cinematic arts with a concentration in directing, producing and cinematography. She said there is a community of IU grads in Los Angeles who help each other out, which is reassuring for her as she prepares to set out on her post-college journey.
“They’re called ‘Hollywood Hoosiers,’ which is just a lot of Hoosiers who have gone to L.A.,” Taylor said. “The community has become really strong out there, and we’re able to reach out to them because of our connections with former officers in SCG.”
Hollywood Hoosiers, an extension of the IU Alumni Association’s Los Angeles Chapter, is a network that supports IU alumni in the entertainment industry. They host mixers and writer panels, and they even get together to watch IU sports — a favorite activity for many alumni, including Neustadter. He and Cohen sometimes attend IU basketball games together.
“I’m a big fan of IU,” Cohen said. “My favorite movie of all time is ‘Breaking Away.’ I think it’s a masterpiece, and I’m thrilled that IU has this film program. I am always happy to do anything to support it when Dave or anyone asks me.”
Neustadter said he hopes that programs like the bootcamp will encourage IU film degree students to take their first steps toward becoming tomorrow’s storytellers. He said that if he can do it, so can they.