Since its birth in 1979, Studio 22 has taken creative risks on wild ideas and somehow managed to turn them into actual films. Originally filled with early video pioneers looking to push the boundaries of the film industry, the student film production group was known for its short flims.
In 1981, The Love Project was a mockumentary-style musical, chronicling a television station’s quest to create a documentary about love. Decades later, through digital ink and paint animation, Bystander told the story of a single father who moved to New York. Today, undergraduates still consider Studio 22 an outlet where they can experiment with cutting-edge techniques while gaining professional experience. But budget cuts have jeopardized the group’s potential as a place for unrelenting creativity.
During Fall Quarter 2016, Studio 22’s student film grant program was dismantled. The Radio/TV/Film (RTVF) department’s Media Arts Grant (MAG) program gobbled up its thousands of dollars of funding, undercutting the group’s autonomy.
The MAG program funds student filmmakers for projects that take up almost the whole school year. Before MAG, the Studio 22 executive board of RTVF undergraduates evaluated pitches in the fall, giving students a chance to present their screenplays. Studio 22 then selected around 10 films a year to grant funding, which generally received between $1,000 and $4,000.
Today, Studio 22 picks and funds just two films a year. Each gets a $4,000 grant, backed by an annual $7,500 donation from Northwestern alumnus Bill Bindley (Speech ‘84) and $500 from the RTVF department.
Studio 22 co-President Megan Ballew says there are two main issues with the transition to the MAG system: the new system doesn’t hold students accountable for their projects, and Studio 22 can only consider projects that MAG already backs when it chooses who to give the rest of its $500 “plus up” mini grants.
After receiving a Bindley grant from Studio 22, senior Erin Gregory spent the 2016-2017 academic year refining the script, thinking about character development and refining technical skills for shooting her original film, The Creature Without a Name. While she had worked on sets for other Studio 22 projects and unsuccessfully pitched in the past, developing her own film made Gregory think more seriously about the logistics and creativity behind filmmaking. She can’t imagine completing the project without Studio 22’s support.
“They’re so involved with it the whole way,” Gregory says. “It’s not just getting a grant – it’s getting a support system that comes with the grant.”
Studio 22’s other co-president, Tyler Gould, says that when Studio 22 takes pitches, it looks at more than just the idea, which is the biggest component of the MAG application process. They want a unique story and a film with high production feasibility, but they also take the student directors’ and producers’ experience into account.
MAG recipients don’t have the same expectations; all students have an adviser, but the projects don’t have deadlines or offer extra resources like the script rewrites and contract advice Studio 22 provides. Ballew says some past MAG recipients haven’t even completed their projects. This is likely because the MAG system is not meant to give students support – its purpose is purely financial.
“There’s not that accountability,” she says. “If someone’s not sitting there holding them accountable, [the project] is not going to happen.”
While Studio 22 has lost its funding, the group has found alternative ways to continue helping student projects. By meeting with potential filmmakers before MAG pitches are due, Studio 22 can pick a group of projects it sees potential in and help each film through the MAG application process – refining scripts, tightening pitches and supporting potential writers, directors and producers.
“The scary thing,” Ballew says, “is that we might get an applicant who pitches to us, we help them with their MAG application, it doesn’t get a MAG and therefore it can’t be made.”
Studio 22 no longer has as much influence over which student films get made, but the group’s reach has expanded on campus. They now host industry-specific speakers and organize panels and script writing contests. Last spring, the group screened La La Land and brought the producer, RTVF alumnus Jordan Horowitz (Comm ‘02), back to campus for a moderated talk following the Best Picture mix up at the Oscars.
As students across campus cram for finals, Studio 22 filmmakers and executive board members prepare for a winter quarter jam-packed with shooting. The five Studio 22 projects – including its two Bindley films Crush and Men of Clay – will make final script tweaks with the Studio 22 script development chairs. The rest of the board will look ahead at bringing an industry speaker during winter quarter, a more general speaker in the spring and producing a film screening premiere at the end of the school year.
“Moving forward, we’re just really trying to focus on how to better support the filmmaking community throughout this transition because it’s hard on all of us,” Gould says. “It’s hard on the department. It’s hard on the student groups. It’s hard on the students themselves.”
Editor’s Note: Megan Ballew has previously contributed to NBN.