Since 2014, professors and lecturers at HAW Hamburg and CSULB have worked with student teams in Long Beach and Hamburg to share their expertise in directing, screenwriting, dramaturgy, virtual reality and sound design. A joint student project in 2018 resulted in the short film 'Oceans Across'. At the beginning of 2020, plans were in place for a new round of workshops, when corona struck and everything came to an abrupt halt. It looked like there would be no exchange or collaboration. But as the world learned to work together virtually, a new idea was born – a joint online workshop across the Atlantic Ocean. Stories, visuals and sounds were to be created in between inspiring lectures and talks about the guest filmmakers' personal journeys, professional work, and guidance for the future. All in one weekend.
For Wolfgang Willaschek it was a new approach: 'In some way it is totally crazy. For eight months now, universities around the world have been talking about nothing else but the challenge of finding a way between online and in-person teaching, as if it were some formula to solve. You cannot replace close proximity with digital distance, but you can bring people together who would not otherwise meet. They can collaborate by looking through the keyhole of the digital medium into the distance with a view into intimacy and inner life bringing them closer. In the past we have had different workshop formats, but never student teams on different sides of the Atlantic. What a challenge! What an appeal!'
At the kick-off meeting on Friday evening, nine students from CSULB and eight students from HAW Hamburg were put into German-American teams. After a short introduction, Cassis and Patrick set the challenge: The students were to use their own stories to describe their personal 'hero's journey' on the path to achieving their dreams. Using four questions* and five minutes to record each answer. Each team would then edit another team’s stories and the results would in turn become the narrative of one short film. The students were also tasked with portraying the visual metaphor of a character with a torch overcoming an obstacle. Visualisation and sound had to be DIY and from scratch. The teams were not allowed to use animation programmes or prefabricated sounds, but could only use what they had to hand in their corona-enforced immediate surroundings. The teams would work until 2 am German time and then start again the next day at 12 noon, in order to maximise the joint time together, due to the time difference between Hamburg and Long Beach.
Three days later, Kent and Wolfgang welcome their film students and a larger audience of faculty and students for the final presentation on ZOOM. Everyone is excited to see what the students have achieved in such a short period of time and to hear about their experiences. From the students the general feeling is one of exhaustion but also elation at all the things they had experienced. ‘The weekend was a total rollercoaster,’ says Shane Brunton from CSULB and self-proclaimed die-hard film enthusiast. 'I was really nervous about whether I would be able to contribute, but we were a fun and strong group and we carried each other through. I really enjoyed the editing and finding the story within.’
Luke Wagner from CSULB was given the job of turning the individual videos into one short film. ‘It was really challenging. I had to whittle 20 minutes of material down to eight minutes and tell a story. The focus was to capture what I felt was emotionally poignant.’ The material was then passed on to Ole Christiansen, Patric Pappenberg and Tim Passgang in Hamburg, who were responsible for sound and post-production. The soundtrack had to match the DIY approach of the visualisation. ‘I had four hours to come up with new sounds. That would usually take me three days,’ Ole admits, laughing. ‘I went out and recorded horses in the fields behind my house. I was really pleased to capture that snorting noise they make. That is hard to get.’