Basking in the ‘Moonlight’

At FSU film school, the emphasis is on story

(page 1 of 2)

Johnston Roberts

Brady Holcomb, working toward a BFA in production, lines up a shot for Ro[XY], a film of the FSU College of Motion Picture Arts.

Don’t become too jaded by success or the lack of it that you lose the point of it all,” Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight, told an audience of rapt film school students a little more than a month after his film triumphed at the Oscars. 

Six graduates of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts collaborated to make Moonlight, including Jenkins, who graduated in 2003. After earning eight Oscar nominations in February 2017, the Moonlight team took home statuettes for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor.

Tickets to a Ruby Diamond Concert Hall screening and question-and-answer session with Jenkins on March 31 sold out in less than two hours. Even harder to get into was an event with Jenkins, editor Nat Sanders (’02), and co-editor Joi McMillon (’03) in the Askew Student Life Center held in the afternoon — a master class only for students of the College of Motion Picture Arts. With the whole film school in attendance, Student Life Cinema was at full capacity. 

Brady Holcomb (BFA ’19, production) was one of those students in the room when Barry Jenkins came on stage. “My classmates and I glanced at each other down the rows, waiting for him to come in the room. Was this really happening?” 

Reb Braddock was named dean of the College of Motion Picture Arts in May. He says that the Moonlight win may already be leading to an uptick in applicants. The college accepts between 7 and 10 percent of those who apply. “My predecessor Frank Patterson, while serving as dean, always said that the difference between our film school and some of the ‘better-known’ film schools in the U.S. is that we did not yet have our Spike Lee or George Lucas. We are seeing that aspect change right now.”

For students, Moonlight served as evidence of the continuing nature of the professional bonds formed at their school. Braddock describes the film school’s approach as taking a limited number of smart students with diverse voices and putting them into working teams. At the same time, he says, “There is a unique ‘level playing field’ structure to our program, which mandates that even though our students are always working in teams, they each individually get the opportunity to lead that team.”

To put it another way, Brady Holcomb explains that while students specialize in distinct roles, they gain work experience in every aspect of filmmaking. “Each project we break into cycles, and each cycle, we play a different role. So we have an appreciation for the work demands each person is taking on.” 

The small size of the program, with only 30 in each class year, helps students form close bonds. Holcomb describes completing the first-year project: “At the end, the five people in my group agreed that we were not friends anymore, we were a family.  The professors, too, are an extension of that family.” Family, according to Holcomb, can be relied upon for honest feedback. “They’re unafraid to critique your work. When they say what you’ve done works, you know that’s true.” 

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