Film During the Pandemic with Harlow Schuman

Photo Courtesy of Crossing the Line

Photo Courtesy of Crossing the Line

Will Kanny

Film during the Pandemic is a new Patriot series that will interview students and teachers regarding film class during the pandemic (this is issue #1). Harlow Schuman is a passionate filmmaker who has been taking film throughout high school and has made several highly acclaimed short films. Some of these short films include Reflections and Holding the Rope have been accepted to many film festivals.

What was the process of making a short film in a lockdown? 

I would have to say that it was very different for both films. Holding the Rope was a much bigger production and I had to go through the whole process of looking up permits, and realizing that during the beginning part of lockdown it was actually illegal to film in public spaces. But to answer the question,  I tried to make films in stipulation of COVID so wearing a mask was a must. The crews are mainly just me with the interviewee in front of the camera. Everyone is wearing masks until they are in front of the camera and I just tried to minimize the risk by making sure it was very socially distanced. Overall the process, beside that, was pretty normal as for any small film crew would be. 

How were safety protocols followed during the production of these short films? 

I got really lucky in the fact that I had a lot of friends on cross country and because we were practicing we were getting tested twice a week so we knew we were almost completely COVID negative. Even still we stayed completely separated and we shot Reflections in my backward with masks on the entire time. Holding the Rope was also shot completely all outside and was socially distanced, too. We had a few alumni come in that were not tested by Viewpoint so for the alumni we had a very long lens on the camera so we could be further away from the subject. To be clear, the alumni were tested also, but not by Viewpoint. 

What are your short films about? How do they impact the world today? 

Holding the Rope is the story of a California high school cross-country team and the coaches who trained and inspired them to find purpose beyond themselves on a journey to win the 2019 State Championship. It took unwavering commitment, mental acuity, and trust in each other to achieve this historical feat—a legacy made possible through the collective heart they shared and continue to inspire. The team soon became a family after one inspirational team building activity that inspired the name of the film. 

Reflections is a microfilm about mental health focusing that people are allowed to feel. I wanted to give voice to the understanding that being in touch with how we feel gives us options for how we respond. I hope viewers can relate to feeling vulnerable, uncomfortable, tense, and uncertain. And then understand that when we feel that way to varying degrees, it’s not the totality of who we are. We also embody a lot of the strength and insight we may be seeking, so we can reach for it or remember it when we need to most.

With your experience making short films, do you think high schools should let students go in production under safety protocols? 

I do think so, because like what I said before I tried to make films that were safe to make under these circumstances. I am no expert on COVID or how it transmits, but I do have a lot of experience on set and what I do know is everything I did on set could be done with a mask, gloves, and a face shield. I think if you have a crew of five people that is enough to have two on camera, one on sound, and two making sure that everything is okay with the production. During post production there are ways in which you can manipulate the image of the film in which the actors do not have to be on screen together to be in the same scene once the film is finished. If you have an actor with a mask off alone on screen, who is very distant and making sure everyone else is tested and wearing face shields is a perfectly good and safe way to go about producing a small production for high school. 

How has making films in lockdown, elevated your film skills? 

Film is one of those things that you can learn about it for as long as you want but you don’t become good until you practice. The only way to improve is by making films and practicing your filmmaking skills. Being on the cross country team influenced me tremendously to practice my filmmaking skills, because I knew that if I practiced I would get results. Also, I think making these films during lockdown has elevated my skills as a filmmaker, because I came out with more experience after each film I made. Each film acts like a stepping stone, because after each previous film you learn what you did right and wrong and you apply it to your next film. 

Do you think going back to school will disrupt learning, and make it harder to learn about film? 

I did the pilot program and I do not suspect that learning will be disrupted. I do think there is going to be a learning curve going back to school, but it looks like most teachers know how to organize the class. I think it will make it a lot easier to make it learn about film because we will be able to have better conversations about film in person. Being at school is great, because it gives you a space to focus on the subject rather than being at home and distracted. Also, at school there is a lot more connection with friends and which I really value. 

If you are interested in checking out some of Harlow Schuman’s films click here.

This interview was done over Zoom.