Behind the scenes with Filmic

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By Austen Hufford, Digital News Editor
Published January 29, 2013

At the end of December, Tabassum Mohibi opened her acceptance e-mail to the University. She immediately hugged and cried with her best friend, who also got in. The next day, Mohibi opened up the acceptance e-mail once again and watched the embedded YouTube video.

“It made me want to come here even more,” Mohibi said. “When I saw the video, it made me feel maybe I belong there.”

In 92 short seconds, the video — entitled “The Letter M” — attempts to emulate what it means to be a Michigan Wolverine. Dining Hall Block ‘M’ Belgium waffles, blue books, the Fishbowl and the ubiquitous M-card all make an appearance. The video has been watched almost 70,000 times and the comment section is filled by admitted students and alumni alike.

The video, however, wasn’t created by a professional film crew or the University’s marketing department: It was envisioned and produced by Filmic Productions, a University-student-run film studio.

Founded in January 2011, Filmic has been responsible for some of the most memorable marketing materials for University students, including “The Michigan Transportation Musical” and Desmond Howard’s “Stay in the Blue” video campaign, which aired in the Big House on game days throughout the football season.

“The last two years have been a whirlwind, because we haven’t really stopped making videos,” said Stephanie Hamel, Filmic producer and LSA senior.

Composed of 21 University students, Filmic contracts projects from the University and other companies — as they see fit. Smaller teams play the primary role on specific projects, but in most productions all Filmic members play a part.

Filmic has become known by University administrators and staff for their unique take on marketing. Mary Jo Desprez, the University's alcohol and other drug policy and prevention administrator, said their perspective as students helps them create a high-quality product that the campus can relate to.

“Here’s this incredible group of creative students who all work together very well, but they also work really professionally,” Desprez said. “What sets them apart is the ability to navigate those things as well as keeping their finger on the pulse of what's interesting and relevant to students.”

Three years ago, some of the founding members of the group were taking their first ever film class.

In the winter semester of 2010, three of the eventual Filmic founders become partners for their Introduction to Media Production group projects. LSA seniors Roddy Hyduk, Steve Coffey and Josh Buoy enjoyed collaborating in 2010, and continued to work together in their next production class the following semester.

The team, however, wanted to get more production experience than just through the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures alone, which they felt is not solely production-focused and includes theory and cultural components.

“Our goal from the beginning was to do more work than the production courses offered through Screen Arts and Cultures allowed us to,” Hyduk said.

And so Filmic was formed early 2011 and quickly found their first project: an online contest ran by a Canadian design and manufacturing firm where participants had to make a 30-second video about how to fry an egg. The deadline was in three weeks. The project was just interesting enough to get Filmic out of their notepads and behind the camera.

Production began in earnest and soon they had completed two whole days of filming for their 30-second clip. They ended up fifth out of about 200 entries.

In a series of coincidences, Filmic quickly progressed from entering free-for-all online contests to producing professional videos for the University.

Business Prof. Thomas Lyon is the father of one of Filmic’s founding members and owned the house where they filmed their egg video. After viewing the final product, Lyon asked the group to produce a promotional video for the Erb Institute — a group which promotes using business to create an environmentally sustainable society. Filmic spent most of winter 2011 semester producing that video.

“We didn’t necessarily have a specific type of work we wanted to get to. We just wanted to create content and do it well,” Hyduk said. “The Erb Institute was the first opportunity to create content for the University and that kind of just kept leading to more and more opportunities.”

Upon completion, two Filmic members showed the video to Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones. A few weeks later — now the summer of 2011 — Jones offered Filmic the chance to produce four short public service announcements for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the Spectrum Center, Expect Respect and Stay in the Blue.

Filmic accepted the project and began working. They had one month to come up with the ideas and another month to produce the films.

“It was when we learned to best work with one another as a team because we had to finish four PSAs in two months,” said LSA senior Chris Duncin, one of Filmic’s original members.

Group members said they learned to work on tight deadlines through trial, error and many sleep deprived nights — skills which continue to affect how Filmic works. They spent long hours during summer 2011 working together as a team. According to Filmic, each 30-second PSA required about 300 hours of work.

The PSAs were shown at home football games throughout the 2011 season, and Filmic hasn’t looked back since. Currently, the group is working on five projects including videos explaining the University’s budget and a film encouraging students to explore Ann Arbor.

Buoy noted with pride how Filmic videos are now shown to students throughout their collegiate career: when they are admitted, on Campus Day, at orientation and during football games.

“It has been the coolest experience to kind of have a little bit of influence on every step of those first important moments of the college career,” Buoy said. “For me, it’s the coolest legacy I think we ever could have left, and we’re so thankful to have been able to do that.”