Film Production & Screen Acting Students Discuss Toxicity in the Film Industry

Posted by Dee Cunning on 7/15/2020 in Student work

Learn how our second-year Film Production and Screen Acting students unravelled the topic of toxicity in the film industry with an inspiring live stream series.

Tackling Toxicity

How do you make a film? How do you play a character? As our Film Production and Screen Acting students learn from day one at Catalyst, you can’t ask how without also asking why. Knowing how to ask the right questions is an essential skill for every artist – whether you use it to glean important information, to analyse your own thought process, or to connect more deeply with your audience.

The Future of Filmmaking – a live-streaming platform created by our second-year students as part of their end-of-semester assignment – set out to do all three. Their six inspiring discussions with industry professionals, including some of our multi-talented tutors, opened up an important dialogue about some of the negative aspects of the film industry. The talks covered everything from sexism to censorship, creative pressure to the payment pyramid.

“We set out to raise awareness of how we can eliminate toxicity from the film industry, in order to make it a safer place for all creatives around the world,” says Screen Acting student Daniel Straube, who led the production team.

Prior to Corona, the students’ original assignment was to film a documentary on the topic. In fact, they had already begun interviewing filmmakers at the Berlinale film festival in February. “That was a big highlight for me,” reflects fellow Screen Acting student Edan Rowett. “In the beginning, I was shy to go up to people and initiate the interviews. However, once I got into the flow of things, I found the task quite enjoyable.”

Nevertheless, the live streams became yet another example of how the creative limitation of the lockdown period ended up adding a valuable new dimension to ongoing projects at our school. Not only did the students engage with diverse perspectives that could strongly influence their future work. They also trained their organisational, presentational and interpersonal skills through a whole new medium.

Challenging the Status Quo

“For some people, toxicity is just treating people badly. For others, it means not having the necessary resources to make a film, or even that you feel threatened by others”

The first discussion – with German actress Sylvia Mayer and actor, director, scriptwriter and Screen Acting programme lead Adam Donald – tackled the relationship between teamwork and ego. “Getting to know Sylvia Mayer was very interesting and lots of fun,” reflects Daniel Straube, who presented the stream along with Film Production student Jayden Bailey. Since ego is such an extensive topic, especially with regards to the film industry, Daniel worked hard to focus the discussion as the moderator of the stream.

“I needed to use another set of skills and forget about a lot of things that I know as an actor,” he explains. “Instead, I tried to be 100 percent present to what my interviewees were saying, in order to guide them to get the answers that I wanted to get from them.”

In his producer role, Daniel had the opportunity to talk to 15 people. “What really impressed me,” he continues, “was that the people I talked to who came from similar areas – including Europe, the States or from the Bollywood scene in Asia – had similar opinions about what toxicity meant. This gave me another perspective on the subject. For some people, toxicity is just treating people badly. For others, it means not having the necessary resources to make a film, or even that you feel threatened by others, for example.”

Edan Rowett presented the fourth discussion, Film Production Outside the Western World, along with Film Production student Alfredo la Corte. Venezuelan director and producer Edwin Corona Ramos and Malaysian filmmaker See Wee Aw were the special guests.

“The topic of fighting toxicity was a challenging one, but I managed to get engrossed in it,” Edan tells us. “Especially when it came to researching the film scenes and political situations of Venezuela and Malaysia for the podcast, which also touched on censorship outside of the Western film industry.”

A Team Effort

“We decided to eliminate hierarchy and have more dynamic roles, in which everyone was needed for the execution of the final outcome”

While our Screen Acting and Film Production students always work in close collaboration, they don’t usually swap sides of the camera. Yet, as you may have already picked up from actor Daniel Straube’s role as lead producer of the project, The Future of Filmmaking team was conceived to be radically open.

“Having in mind the assignment’s theme of toxicity, we wanted to be conscious of our way of working,” Film Production students Alba Llach and Agostina Cerdan tell us. “We wanted to use the project as an example of what we are trying to portray with the initiative. That’s why we decided to eliminate hierarchy and have more dynamic roles, in which everyone was needed for the execution of the final outcome.”

For Daniel, this was a particular highlight of the experience. “Not only did I have the opportunity to interview people and be in front of the camera, but to be behind it,” he enthuses. “It was very interesting because I had never gotten to know the job of the producer. Now that I’ve done it myself, I know that it requires a lot of organisation. I am able to see the magic behind being a producer.”

Edan Rowett agrees: “During this long and rewarding experience, I had the chance to step out of my role as an actor. I dabbled in different professions – including production, interviewing and hosting a podcast – which I found a very valuable insight for possible pathways in my further career.”

A Lightbulb Moment

“The process of working together with all of these people, meeting new filmmakers, and organising and listening to the conversations has been a truly rewarding experience”

If you’ve had a chance to watch any of the interviews or engage with The Future of Filmmaking Facebook or Instagram channels (if not, the time is now!), what shines above all is the students’ driving passion.

“The process of working together with all of these people, meeting new filmmakers, and organising and listening to the conversations has been a truly rewarding experience,” Agostina Cerdan and Alba Llach reflect. In fact, the pair were so inspired by the collaboration that it gave them an idea for their next project.

Fancine will be an online magazine made by cinema fans for cinema lovers,” they reveal. “It will be a database with all the filmmakers and film collectives in Berlin – a space to connect, collaborate, share ideas, and inspire to keep creating. Stay tuned!”

Click here to watch all of the video discussions and Berlinale interviews. Keep up with The Future of Filmmaking on Facebook and Instagram.

Next, click here to read how our Electronic Music Production & Performance students tackled the challenges of Corona with their own streaming series.