Movie professionals teach their skills to Tri-C class

By Daryl V. Rowland
Special to the Beacon Journal

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Veteran Stunt Coordinator, Richard Fike, demonstrates stunt fighting techniques to Tri-C students, as part of film production course offered by Tri-C and the Cleveland Film Commission. (Daryl Rowland/Special to the Beacon)

CLEVELAND: If you’ve ever wanted to break into the movie business but didn’t know where to start, Cuyahoga Community College may have the answer.

In conjunction with the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, the college has created a program to introduce students to a range of film production skills and prepare them to take entry-level positions on productions in Northeast Ohio.

The Film Tech Training Program at Cuyahoga Community College was developed with the help of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, industry professionals and members of IATSE Local 209, which represents studio mechanics. Its first full classes began in January.

Lee Will, who runs the program for Tri-C, explained that the goal is “to develop a regional talent pool to support both big budget Hollywood movies that shoot in Northeast Ohio, as well as smaller productions that are produced and financed in the region.”

Currently, when major movies come to town, producers staff most departments by flying in seasoned production people from elsewhere. The new program is envisioned as a way to begin to supply crew and technicians locally.

If graduates succeed, they would make shooting movies in Northeast Ohio more economically attractive for Hollywood studios, as well as helping the regional economy by generating more income that will be spent or invested here.

Over four weeks of instruction by industry professionals, participants learn about key production departments, equipment and protocols that will enable them to work in the industry’s entry level.

The course began with two days of instruction from Ivan Schwarz, executive director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission. The class covers various departments, roles and chain of command, terminology, set etiquette, call sheets, production assistant training and responsibilities, and walkie-talkie etiquette.

The next segment focused on location scouting and management, taught by Bill Garvey, an experienced location scout in the region, who has also worked in New York City.

Richard Fike, a veteran stunt coordinator — and a colorful and charismatic instructor — taught a segment on special effects, pyrotechnics and weapons on set, as well as a day devoted to stunts, stunt fighting, falls, working with fire and automobiles.

On the day the Beacon Journal was invited to attend, Fike paired students off to stage a scripted fight scene. Each pair worked on technique to make falls and punches appear real, and learned which camera angles would support the illusion.

At the end of the class, each pair was filmed performing the routine. Most of the students were able to deliver a convincing fight by the end of training.

The next class was Art Department, set dressing, property and props, taught by industry veterans Jennifer Klide or Leyna Haller.

Instruction in the stages of audio recording and processing was taught by Jon Andrews. After that, students devoted several days to the camera department and its various roles, including how to set up and shoot interviews, among other topics, with instructors Kiely Cronin and Adam White.

Finally, the students learned about the lighting and electrical departments, taught by Dan Jarell. Presumably, by the class’s end, students would finally know what a “best boy grip,” “best boy electric” and a “gaffer” really do on a movie set.

The final day applied all the skills and knowledge to an actual professional shoot. The finished product was to be used as a training video to teach all Tri-C students the basics of the ALICE procedures, in preparation for potential on-campus gun violence. (The acronym stands for Alert, Lockdown, Information, Counter, Evacuation.)

As Lee Will observed, the final video would be “one of the most overproduced training films ever made, with special effects, fight scenes, explosions. The whole thing.”

Because the goal is to provide up-to-date professional training, the organizers tapped instructors who are all working professionals in the field.

Will explained that the students learn how things are currently done in the industry and they can potentially be hired or recommended for jobs by the instructors. The downside is that occasionally the teachers may have to reschedule a class when they have to work on an actual production, as happened with one of the audio classes.

Some of the students in the first class were from Summit County. Mitch Elliot from Cuyahoga Falls heard about the program from his mother, who saw a mention on Channel 5.

“I’ve always been interested in film and telling stories. I do short films on the side, but hopefully now I can get a PA job on a big budget film and see what that’s like,” he said.

The course is not cheap; it runs more than $1,500.

“I worked a lot of overtime and saved up. It was worth it,” Elliot said. “If anyone wants to get into the industry and they can afford it, I’d recommend it. Because Cleveland needs more people who can do these jobs, so they don’t keep bringing people from out of town to do everything.”

Elliot thinks Northeast Ohio and other Midwestern locations like Chicago can eventually rival Los Angeles or New York, by joining together as a film destination. “I was considering moving out to California to get into movies,” he said. “But Mr. Fike, the instructor, said there you’re a little fish in a big pond, but here you can be the big fish.”

Patrick Wulff, from Stow, found out about the program from his wife and mother-in-law. They were watching TV and his mother screamed, “Patrick, get in here.” “When she used my full name, I knew it was important,” he said. “I burnt the dinner, but I called and got in that day.”

Wulff graduated from the University of Akron with a degree in theater arts two years ago. He said he has always had a passion for film and TV. He was particularly inspired by Patrick Stewart on Star Trek and by claymation sequences in Jason and the Argonauts.

Wulff currently works at Home Depot in the lumber department. “Lifting wood all day is really hard, ” he said. “But I want to be in the movie business in the next couple of years and this program is the way to make it happen.”

The next session begins on Feb. 9. For further information or to sign up, call Lee Will at 216-987-4307 or visit

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