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Cameras are rolling at Pitt


Kelly P. Rottmund

Jason Dunbar (Tom Altany photo)

Director’s Cut

A University of Pittsburgh police officer strolling David Lawrence Hall's vacant corridors hears irritated voices and the harsh thwacks of flesh hitting flesh. The officer bursts into the bathroom, and like a cowboy ready for a showdown, his hand hovers over his weapon. Two students in a fight immediately freeze. Others, who were in the bathroom watching the fight, hold up video cameras as the beginning of an explanation.

The officer has just met members of the student-run film production group The Sprocket Guild. The members have grown accustomed to these extreme reactions. The guild’s shoots aren’t usually cordoned off because the member’s conflicting schedules don’t allow them to plan that far ahead. "We’re a lot more guerilla than big-budget filmmaking," admits Cary Hill, the guild’s vice president. The students simply show up unannounced with cameras, lights, and props. Pittsburgh accommodates this style, says Hill, a senior film studies major, because it has many interesting locations where permits aren’t required for filming.

Five years ago, Pitt students didn’t have many opportunities for getting hands-on film experience. This didn’t bode well for anyone interested in a media production career. "No employer is going to take the time to teach them these skills," says Hill. Some students filled this void by forming The Sprocket Guild four years ago. The group has grown from just a handful of members to nearly 200 student and community participants, 20 of whom consistently work on projects. In the guild’s first four years, it has produced four films.

The Sprocket Guild isn’t just for those pursuing film and television careers, says president Jason Dunbar. It’s open to any students interested in making a film, for whatever reasons. Dunbar points out that the guild is a great way for people to experiment without spending their own money on equipment. "There are no strings attached except that if you start a project you have to finish it," he says. This fall, the group will begin producing Situations, an adaptation of a book written by Dunbar, a third-year political science and philosophy major.

So far, no studios have picked up any of the guild’s work for distribution. Once a year, though, the group’s members host an on-campus screening of their work that is open to the public. One project, Masters of the Game Part II: Smoke and Mirrors, was also shown on Pittsburgh’s WBGN channel last year.

This fall, six projects, including Situations, are slated for production. It will be The Sprocket Guild’s most ambitious schedule yet. The filmmakers’ aspirations are getting more ambitious, too. They hope to screen some of their new works at the Sundance Film Festival.

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