The University may not have a film department, but it offers many opportunities for its young artists, from disparate classes in different departments to student organizations on Grounds. Yet there is an exceptional program that consistently attracts motivated filmmakers to the University.
Students call this program Overranked. For five years, it has been supporting student filmmakers at the University in writing and directing their own short films.
More than 10 years ago, a group of student filmmakers applied to the University for course credit for films they had worked on independently. They approached Paul Wagner, an Oscar-winning independent filmmaker based in Charlottesville, to act as their mentor and support their efforts. Wagner was eager to help.
“For a few years I supervised them doing their own movies, but I would meet with them every week and give them suggestions and kind of guide them,” Wagner said. “It gave me the idea that I then took on the drama president.”
Wagner envisioned a program that could educate student filmmakers within the University’s pre-existing artistic infrastructure.
“U.Va. could create a film program just for writer-directors, and not have to have a full curriculum and multiple faculty members and a separate department to teach film,” Wagner said. was the idea basically, by going to the theater, to build on the great things that U.Va. at.”
Doug Grissom, a playwright, associate professor and acting chair of drama, had been teaching screenwriting over the summer for years when Wagner approached him with his idea. Together, they created their own year-long filmmaking course in 2017. Students now take screenwriting with Grissom in the first semester, writing several screenplays before choosing one to develop. In the second semester, students study directing with Wagner and shoot their films.
Young filmmakers at the University know Grissom and Wagner’s program as Overcranked, a name coined by its first cohort of students. When they heard of the first hand-cranked cameras in Wagner’s class—the terminology for producing slow-motion footage by rapidly turning the crank or accelerating—they “grabbed it as a metaphor for what it’s like to class,” Wagner said.
“There’s an intensity, and I think that’s what the students like,” he continued. “It’s very personal because these stories are very personal and powerful…If that means anything to you, you get upset.”
Overcranked is selective. Students interested in the program apply for the screenwriting course when enrolling in the fall semester, and this represents their application for both the screenwriting and the spring directing course – one course cannot be taken without the other. After submitting writing samples, selected students are chosen to interview with faculty, and then admissions decisions are made.
Students spend their first semester with Grissom working on their screenplays, and the second semester with Wagner learning directing and directing techniques and shooting their films. This second semester is relatively self-directed, with teachers providing benchmarks and tasks that students strive to accomplish on their own schedule with their collaborators.
Fourth-year college student Rainah Gregory, who completed the Overcranked program last year, created a movie about two friends who struggle to communicate and deal with anxieties surrounding the sexual experience.
“Two best friends decide they want to end their first time, and the dramatic question is, will they or not,” Gregory said. “I wanted to explore the pressures of society.”
She drew on her acting background — both through her acting major and a 16-month conservatory at the American Musical Dramatic Academy — to work with the actors in her own film.
“I feel like that really helped me in terms of directing because I think sharing language and understanding with actors is important,” Gregory said.
Karen Zipor, a fourth-year student at the College, also acknowledged the role of her collaborators, noting the importance of building relationships and fostering a support network of other artists.
“Make a lot of friends,” Zipor said. “Go to a lot of sets and make a lot of friends. Be nice to everyone you work with because they all give their time and energy to your project.
Zipor shot his movie Overcranked this semester, based on a subversive horror script.
“Horror is the scariest thing known to man – a Jewish mother,” Zipor says. “It’s very ironic, but he also has a heart. It is about a man struggling with the death of his mother and the loss of his cultural identity in Judaism.
Third-year college student Mia Gaultieri explores a different genre in her mumble-inspired film depicting the experiences of two middle-aged women.
“They’re both involved in this art scene in their city, and they’re much older, and they end up becoming friends and falling in love late in life,” Gaultieri said.
She is still touring and enjoys the insight she has gained working with artists outside of college.
“It was really cool to work with older actors and hear their opinions on some of the dialogue, like, oh my god, my character would never do that. It was really cool to see them care so much about their roles and really wanting to be authentic,” Gaultieri continued.
While Gaultieri was an experienced filmmaker when she applied for Overcranked, the program challenged her to develop her writing skills.
“I think before taking this course, I was only writing with the intention of shooting. Otherwise, I didn’t see it as a productive thing to do,” Gaultieri said. “But I’ve since completely changed my mind about it, and I think it’s enough to create, even if on a first reading, you say to yourself, what did I just do, it’s horrible. You just have to keep writing.
Busy students bring a variety of perspectives to the program, and their work is influenced by educational experiences outside of film. Gregory is a minor in American Sign Language and Deaf Culture, and dreams of one day collaborating with Deaf artists on film projects. Zipor has a dual major in drama and computer science, and both contribute to his professional work in animation.
Grissom and Wagner express their pride in the films that have come out of their program. “It was wonderful for me to understand U.Va. students better in terms of what interests them, the stories they think are important to tell,” Wagner said. strongly felt.”
Those interested can attend the free premiere of this year’s Overcranked movies on May 2 at 7 p.m. at the Caplin Theater.