Exposure: Cinematic storytelling

Lights, camera, action – there’s something magical about cinema. It has a magnificent history, from flickering pictures of the silent era to the crystal clear, computer-generated imagery of today.

Because of cinema’s undeniable beauty in its ability to tell a story – an art form like no other – thousands of students every year choose to major in filmmaking. And especially now more than ever, with the easy access to digital technology and the Internet, even more students than before are pursuing degrees in cinema, in hopes of attaining a fabulous career as some revolutionary director. But as most know, it’s not easy.

A 2011 article in The New York Times gave a lengthy report about the changing landscape of careers in cinema – essentially, because of the ease that digital technology provides, movie companies have cut many entry-level jobs where recent graduates might start, but also because of digital technology, students are flooding in at an increasing rate at many universities.

A tough marketplace to enter indeed, but it doesn’t stop students like Brianne Charnigo, a senior digital communications student at Lycoming College, from pursuing what she loves.

From the fairly small town of Sinking Spring in southeastern Pennsylvania, Charnigo is triple minoring in photography, commercial design and Spanish. She’s scheduled to graduate in May and, like many students, she isn’t sure what’s going to happen next.

“I don’t really know exactly what I want to do – I love being creative and making things, especially films, so any type of job in the film industry would be a dream, especially since it’s so competitive,” she said.

She’s been experimenting with filmmaking since she was young, but didn’t realize it was something she would actually want to pursue as a career until she got to college.

“I’d always make silly movies and edit them together with a terrible old digital camera I had in high school. I would always steal my parents’ camcorder when I was young. I think it was something that I always kind of wanted to do but didn’t realize it for quite a while,” she said.

She was an undecided major as a freshman, but after taking Lyco’s introductory digital media communications class, she realized that filmmaking is what she wanted to do.

Now at the end of her college career, she has pinned down the specific parts of cinema that she enjoys.

She enjoys camerawork and actual filming more than editing.

“I’d love to be a cinematographer or to work in production in general, rather than the post or preproduction stages of a film,” Charnigo said.

Like a good film student in today’s marketplace, she has a lot of her work uploaded to YouTube. An interesting and comical production of hers, titled “Bigfoot: Out of the Shadows,” is a sort of spoof on the underdog story of someone starting out small and making it big. In this case, the someone is Bigfoot.

“I don’t know exactly what inspired [“Bigfoot: Out of the Shadows”]; the story evolved a lot when I was in the process of developing it. It was originally going to be a serious story about Bigfoot trying to figure out why he was a big lonely bear wandering the woods without others of his kind,” she said. “[But] I realized that trying to make it serious was ridiculous because I had a Bigfoot suit and that’s just really difficult to use in a serious way.”

The excellent production quality of the video, completed for a course at Lyco, is very noticeable.

She uses a Canon Rebel, which works for both still photography and video, but also, she said, she is lucky to have access to a lot of great equipment through the college.

Noting that she prefers to laugh during a movie than cry, most of her work is in the comedy genre. But she doesn’t like comedy that “goes too far.”

“I can’t stand things that just go too far or are too mind numbing. I think there’s a certain balance that needs to be found with comedy that’s really important if it’s going to be any good,” Charnigo said.

Like many students at the end of their college career, Charnigo is both excited and nervous. She hopes to move to Los Angeles, Calif., and start looking for jobs, since there’s more opportunities in the film industry there.

“I want to continue to build up a portfolio and maybe eventually go to film school, depending on what kinds of jobs I’m finding with just an undergraduate degree,” she said.

But Charnigo knows that, whatever she does or doesn’t find, filmmaking is important to her because it allows her to express herself creatively but also allows her to tell stories, both of which make her happy.

“People who know me know that I’m full of stories, some good, some bad but I’m usually a chatterbox. Making films allows me to tell stories that are better than the ones I’m constantly blabbing verbally,” she said, adding, “[Filmmaking] takes a lot of time and work and there are many things that can go wrong, from actors quitting to equipment failing to not forgetting to charge batteries.

Despite all the obstacles, it’s worth it in the end, even if you need to reshoot the same scene 12 times to get it just right.

“It’s a great way to express yourself that’s unique from other forms of art,” she said.