Spartan Film Studios, a part of SJSU’s Radio, Film and Television program, pulls together a full movie studio for students across multiple disciplines who are interested in learning about the movie industry.
“We’re all in the same building,” said Barnaby Dallas, an SJSU adjunct RTVF professor and executive co-director of Spartan Films, during their Cinequest Film Festival presentation Tuesday. “It’s kind of like a mini-studio.”
According to Dallas, the Studio has worked for the last 12 years as an arm of several departments, mostly RTVF and theater, to produce a collaborative training process for students.
He said Spartan Films serves to brings students who are interested in acting, directing, design, cinematography or editing together.
“We tell narrative stories,” Dallas said. “That’s what we do.”
Shohei Shiozaki, an alumnus of SJSU’s RTVF program, is one of the Studio’s graduates. He went back to Japan, worked on several films, and is now back in San Jose to present his short “Goldfish Go Home” at Cinequest, according to Dallas.
Nick Martinez, executive co-director of Spartan Films, said the Cinequest showings work as a venue for students to volunteer, see great films and network.
“Residuals are paying off,” Dallas said. “We’re creating not just films but also filmmakers.”
Martinez, the general manager of KSJS and RTVF adjunct professor, said Spartan Films brings students through the ranks of a full four-year film program, from freshmen to seniors.
“They’re training each other and getting each other to the next step,” he said.
The hands-on approach adopted by the program provides real-life problem solving, real deadlines and the stress at the level of industry, Martinez said.
“Through all the mess that might be with the budgets in California, the university system here is probably the best in the nation,” he said. “The CSU’s job is to train students in four years and get them a job in the real world, and we’ve really taken that to heart. What we’re trying to do is give students an opportunity to have an experience to work on a real (movie) set.”
Dallas said the program evolved into a pilot program to get the students started: a first feature film for a student to work on, such as Jared Hess' quirky “Napoleon Dynamite.”
Robert Krakower, an RTVF alumnus and writer-director of the Spartan Film Studios feature “Always Learning,” recently moved to Los Angeles to break into the movie industry.
He said the experiences through Spartan Film Studios as a first assistant director gave him the rounded experience and understanding of the industry from scheduling to budgeting to shooting.
“There was no shock,” Krakower said. “I realized I had to move up through the process.”
“You have these levels of people who will get you jobs when you’re out of school,” said Zach Sutherland, an RTVF alumnus and writer-director of the Spartan Films feature, “Cheap Fun.” “It’s what’s been happening for us as of late.”
Both “Cheap Fun” and “Always Learning,” the latter of which was shown at Cinequest during the presentation, are examples of what Martinez refers to the large summer projects that truly test the students, working five or six days a week, 13-hour days, with the rules of the Screen Actors Guild and other unions for several weeks straight.
“The best thing I ever got told by a student was 'I never wanted to do this again, because it wasn’t something I was interested in,'” he said. “I’m glad because at least it’s something they found out while they were in college.”
The intensity of skill training combined with real problems on sets — for example, the camera equipment malfunctioning, gear overheating, or a comical story where a student had to find a police car to film within 12 hours — are all real problems dealt with sets over the last several years, Martinez said.
“It’s a completely unique, scary as hell, and gratifying experience,” he said.