BU Today

Arts & Entertainment

Cell phone cinema

COM offers experimental course in mobile-phone moviemaking

BU students are pioneering a new form of dramatic storytelling.

“This is just the wackiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Jan Egleson, who has directed more than 20 films and television series. The 11 students in the College of Communication lecturer’s course on mobile-phone moviemaking are crammed into a narrow third floor COM hallway.

As a student walks briskly down the hall, another follows behind, recording her on an Amp’d brand mobile phone, while bringing up the rear, a third holds aloft a $10 Radio Shack microphone attached to a flexible green Nerf-style fuzzy stick. The stick’s intended function is a mystery, but it is currently serving as a boom mike stand. (The class also fashioned a tiny dolly made from toy car parts for another shoot.)

In just 15 seconds, cameraman one’s allotted recording space is used up, and another student, heretofore pretending to casually talk on his own Amp’d phone, takes up the filming slack as today’s leading lady begins a monologue.

This is just an exercise, but by the end of the semester, the students in Experimental TV: Producing for the Very Small Screen will have created 10 three-minute films, all entirely by and for mobile phones and primarily for a young market, which Amp’d Mobile will release on its network. The course is the result of a conversation between Amp’d VP Seth Cummings (COM’97) and Cathy Perron, director of COM’s television program and a former professor of Cummings’.

“It’s kind of a lot of pressure,” says Chris Miller (COM’07). “If we pull it off, it could change the way things are done.”

The idea is so new in the United States that nobody is quite sure what to call it. “What do you call a dramatic movie you watch on a cell phone?” Egleson asks. His class is meeting in a classroom adjacent to Studio E (from which emanates the grating sound of heavy camera equipment being moved around, prompting him to joke, “That’s the old technology, man!”). The top choice seems to be “mobisodes.”

Under Egleson’s direction, the students in the experimental production lab operate like a professional team, hashing out details in meetings, then shooting scenes inside the COM building. Through trial and error, they are learning what kind of audio, colors, and techniques work and what don’t. One student suggests that the brevity of the mobisodes precludes dark subjects, but another disagrees: “It could be a serious topic treated humorously.”

“This is important,” says Egleson, “because we have to write this material. We’re not in the world of Tennessee Williams here. But it is possible to tell a serious story in a bright environment.” He cites the films of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch.

What’s exciting about the rapidly improving technology, he says, is “that people can generate their own content and find new ways of sharing it.” Compared to the traditional modes of visual storytelling he works in, “it’s very spontaneous and very quick and technically pretty easy to do.”

Nicole Herrington (CFA’02, COM’07) predicts the mobisodes will catch on. “Pretty soon, it’s going to be like iPods. Everyone’s going to be watching them.”