'Premiere' of a double film workshop in Hamburg

It was glorious California sunshine in Hamburg when professors Kevin O'Brien and Elyusha Vafaeisefat from CSU Long Beach came in June to continue the film technology faculty exchange, which has been in existence since 2014. This time they had planned something new. Under the coordination of Martina Hentig in the production lab at the Arts and Media Campus Finkenau, there was not only going to be a workshop for Bachelor's students in Media Technology but also one for Master's students in the Sound - Vision - Games degree course.

Group of students and professors

CSULB film master class, June 2023

On 12 June 2023, the master class kicked off with a discussion about short films that led to one participant's question: 'How do you get started?' This became the impetus for both the Master’s workshop and the Bachelor's workshop that followed. Using the opening scenes of 'Big Wednesday' and 'Blade Runner' as examples, the group talked about the importance of conflict as well as of lighting and production design in film storytelling. The students were then challenged to pitch an original idea for a scene of conflict with two characters that they could light and film in the style of 'Blade Runner'.

It took just one day in the master class for two of the ten participants to write a screenplay in collaboration with Elyusha about a difficult discussion between a professor and one of his students: In the age of AI and ChatGPT, who is copying what from whom? The next day, this script was filmed with two students in the leading roles, edited immediately afterwards and then turned over for a stimulating discussion in the group.

Micha Gress, who wrote the script for the short film together with Bernd Welte, said of the master class: ‘We all really enjoyed Kevin and Elyusha's workshop. In less than a week we created a short film and are extremely happy with the result. In addition, they gave us valuable advice for our own projects, told us about their experiences in Long Beach, and gave us fascinating insights into the Hollywood film world.’

Kevin O'Brien was also very pleased with the result, ‘Not only did the short film look good, but the content of the scene was also relevant to the current issues connected to the rise of ChatGPT in academia and around the world. From starting with “Where do we begin?” to a finished scene, we feel it truly showed how working collectively as a film crew can yield excellent results when people collaborate, share, listen and support one another.’

Overall, we believe all the students learned that they have a voice, that they have stories worthy of being told and that they have wonderful friends and classmates who will support them as they progress in their study of media production.

Kevin O'Brien

In the Bachelor's workshop, which had more than 20 participants, countless questions and suggestions about storytelling and cinematography were at the forefront. Curious and thirsty for knowledge, the young students, most of them from the first semesters, took advantage of the unique opportunity to explore all conceivable dimensions in order to absorb one of the CSULB's leitmotifs: first the content, then the technology, and then the symbiosis of the two.

Divided into two groups, the students also developed a script and filmed it in just under two and a half days on campus. The lively discussion during the critiques at the end of the workshop was particularly interesting, with many memorable quotes. A couple of them stood out for Kevin and Elyusha: ‘We did something outside of our comfort zone. I like sound, but even though I was scared, I had to try to work a camera...’ and: ‘It was great. We got to work with people we didn't know or who were new to us.’

Oliver Pilz summed up the experience for himself as a participant by saying, ‘The workshop was a lot of fun! Personally, I would have loved to have heard more from Kevin about film history, but especially for the first-year students, I think the “hands-on approach” was just right. On the one hand, it gave them their first insights into the dramaturgy of film and the production lab early in their studies, and at the same time they learned what our partnership with CSULB is all about.’

In both workshops, Kevin and Elyusha stressed the importance of forging new relationships when you want to assemble a film team. And they urged students to continue working on their own projects and to form small production teams with their newfound friends.

Summing up the workshops, Kevin wrote: ‘Working with both the Master's and Bachelor's students was a delight. Both groups showed a great willingness to try new film production techniques and jobs, and they were eager to learn and practise methods of narrative filmmaking. Overall, we believe all the students learned that they have a voice, that they have stories worthy of being told and that they have wonderful friends and classmates who will support them as they progress in their study of media production.’

Text: Wolfgang Willaschek and Kevin O'Brien


Martina Hentig
Production Lab
HAW Hamburg

Prof. Wolfgang Willaschek
Dept. Media Technology

Ingrid Weatherall
USA Strategy
International Office