Jessica Knight, a senior studying digital filmmaking at Ringling College of Art and Design, is currently holding auditions for her thesis film, “A Fair Exchange.” She is in the second class of a program that graduated seven students in its inaugural graduating class last year. Now, the four-year-old program is almost four times larger; the freshman class has 27 students.
Although it’s a new program, instructor June Battersby points to the fact that The Hollywood Reporter listed it as No. 23 on its “25 Best Film Schools” list.
“I was surprised that we’re just one behind Chapman University,” she said proudly, explaining how esteemed Chapman’s program is.
Battersby said Ringling’s hands-on approach allows students to learn all aspects of filmmaking.
“Students are thrust into positions of responsibility, and it can be very overwhelming,” she said. “But it’s the same experience when you get into the real world.”
Knight has already amassed film cred — she filmed one project as a junior, but “A Fair Exchange” is bigger in scope; it has more locations, and she has more resources to use this year. She was given a budget for the film and has to manage the money, schedule and a team of sophomore students who act as her film crew.
The film is one the redhead wrote her junior year. It is inspired by a true story of a young woman from Virginia who sold her virginity online so she could afford grad school.
Knight admires screenwriters known for clever dialogue, such as Diablo Cody, writer of “Juno.”
Once she chooses a cast, she and her crew have six days to shoot. Knight has a cinematographer, casting director, executive producer and even a location manager, to name a few of the roles the sophomore students play.
Knight did all of this when she was their age. It is the Ringling method. Students will have taken on the roles of writer, editor and director and will have made a feature-length thesis film by the time they graduate.
After an hour-and-a-half of auditions Saturday, only four people had tried out.
“This is usually how auditions go,” said Battersby.” You have a few in the beginning and then a flood toward the end.”
Knight will probably hold another casting call. She is also waiting on a few taped auditions to be mailed in from Miami. Battersby doesn’t know how typical it is for actors for student films to come from elsewhere, but on Saturday she had an 18-year-old Miami woman, Diana Garle, who arrived at 4 a.m. for the audition. Chance Finstad, a 24-year-old model, came from Daytona Beach.
Two Sarasotans auditioning, Shawn Genther and Erin Hood, aren’t newbies to starring in Ringling students’ films. They both stressed students’ professionalism as their reason for coming back.
“It’s a first-rate crew,” Hood said. “They are being taught a professional way, they’re hard workers, and they are just really good at what they do.”
Each year, all of the students’ films are submitted to the Sarasota Film Festival, which provides them with more exposure for their works.