Campus group provides support for student filmmakers

BY NOAH STAHL
Daily Arts Writer
Published April 10, 2008

Located on the top floor of the Union, the University Activities Center houses an eclectic bunch of student groups and programs. One of them, M-agination Films, is about as widely diverse as the floor that houses it. A co-president of the organization, LSA senior William Schoettler, is an electrical engineering major; LSA senior Sarah Crane, a member of the executive board, is double majoring in economics and environmental geoscience. Not unlike the band of misfits that makes up Steve Zissou's crew of documentarians in Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic," M-agination members join together with diverse backgrounds to make films.

Formed in 2000, M-agination was the result of a screenplay contest conducted by M-Flicks, a UAC organization dedicated to campus film culture. The winner of the competition, and the one who started M-agination, was Craig Gaynier, who filmed his script with the support of M-Flicks and the purchase of a new handheld camcorder. Since then, passionate student filmmakers - whether screen arts and cultures majors or not - have used M-agination as an outlet to create film.

"It's the only film group, at least that I know about, that actively works to bring people from all different parts of the campus community into filmmaking," said Schoettler. " 'Kind of a Big Deal' is the culmination of everything M-agination has done for the school year."

"Kind of a Big Deal," M-agination's annual showcase, played at the Michigan Theater.

LSA junior Martin Stano, a self-proclaimed freelance member of the organization, has contributed writing, directing and cinematography. Working on "Four Pizzas," a segmented piece created by four different directors. Stano got an early taste of the M-agination means of filmmaking as a freshman.

"I think our teacher, Terry Sares, put it in a good way," Stano said of the creative process. "It's 'scrappy,' in that you just pull together whatever means you have. it's not the coastal centers of the film industry."

Stano's contribution to the program was a music video for local band Mahoney. Having tracked them down through MySpace and mutual friends, Stano used the studio on North Campus, using the newly acquired HD camera.

Board member, executive producer/writer/director/actor and LSA senior Danny Mooney spoke similarly of M-agination.

"They're always like, 'Oh the industry, eh? It you want to make it, kid, it's about who ya know!'" he said menacingly. "(M-agination) is a place where people can just mess around and experiment and fail. It's a really good arena for that."

That's not to say that M-agination is all fun and games, though. Mooney spoke passionately about Kurosawa's influence on his own creativity and the abstract ways in which he approaches filmmaking.

"Every film - feature film or short film - is just a series of moments, so I try to think of those moments first and then build a story around it," he said.

Another critical facet of his approach to making movies, however, is the question, "What would be badass to show people on film?" ("I feel like my process is a little different from other people," Mooney said with a laugh.) Mooney, like many other M-agination filmmakers, is caught in the balance between creating a film that is both technically sound and personally gratifying.

Mooney participated in many of the projects in the "Kind of a Big Deal" screening, including "Fingers." This one, despite his passion for action, is targeted at the festival circuit.

"As much as I love people doing flips over things and shooting things, I want something that is really marketable," he said.

Beyond filmmaking - of varying degrees of seriousness - M-agination strives to indulge both the campus community's and Ann Arbor's thirst for the arts. Benefited by school funding (the budget of which is not an open matter of discussion) and the YouTube society's embrace of even the most menial flicks, M-agination has worked with the community at heart.

"When people go to ("Kind of a Big Deal") I think they're really going to realize there's some talent here," Mooney said. "I hope they have fun. Some of these pieces are not cinematic masterpieces and some of them know it. We really just want people to enjoy themselves."