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FEATURE ‌ Let the Good Times Roll

Trident Tech is a hidden gem for aspiring film industry hopefuls

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Have you ever gone to the movies, plunked down your $10, and walked out muttering about how even a monkey could make a better movie than the one you just spent your hard-earned dollars on? Well, guess what, hotshot? We've got a hands-on teaching program right here in the Lowcountry that will significantly increase your chance to prove your filmmaking mettle to the rest of the world ... or at least that primate you want to best.

The Film Production program at Trident Technical College, led by Program Coordinator Russ Schaaf and Instructor Rebecca Pryce and featuring a rotating cast of adjuncts including John Barnhardt, Marilyn Buist, and Jonathan Gaynor, offers a low-cost, high-payoff series of classes designed to give students a wealth of experience in just about every aspect of filmmaking, eventually shepherding them into entry-level jobs on actual film shoots across the Lowcountry and the state. But be warned, starfuckers: Russ Schaaf has no time to indulge your dreams of touching Mel Gibson.

"We explain to [prospective students] that we are not interested in creating directors and producers and scriptwriters, there are too many other schools that do that," Schaaf says. "Our little niche is to teach the other side of the industry: how to set up an office, how to understand all the equipment and tools available to you, and how to go through post-production, edit your film, and put it all together. There's not very many schools that stress that."

As a two-year college with a strong focus on inclusion, community, and future job placement, Trident is willing to work with nontraditional students, and the film program is no different, offering most classes at night so that students with full-time jobs can still attend, or so that students currently working on movie shoots can have their days free. Students can choose one of three certificates offered at Trident – Filmmaking, Non-Linear Film Editing, and Film Production – or pick and choose their own courseload.

"Our goal is to get students trained so they can get jobs in the industry, but along the way they build up so many skills and so much knowledge about equipment that they can start producing their own little things, and they have access to all this gear any time they want it, as long as it's not being used by another class, so they have opportunities to practice and to make their own projects for just the cost of film stock and processing," Schaaf says. "We get a lot of people who do just that, become a film student for a semester, shoot their movie, and then quit ... but that's all right, too; usually they need help, so they use our students to help them – our students get experience, this guy gets out and makes a movie, gets a name for himself, our name's slapped on it somewhere, it works out."

In case this all sounds too good to be true, wait for the big finale: tri-county residents with lottery tuition assistance can enroll in a full 12-hour semester at Trident for the ridiculously low price of $561. Those five Benjamins offer access to an experienced teaching staff, multiple 35mm and 16mm cameras, two rooms and two sheds full of all types of equipment, three trucks (camera, grip, and electric), and editing labs featuring both computers and traditional AVID machines.

"This place is like a barbershop," Schaaf says. "They keep coming back, they just stop by – we have a lot of students who keep in touch with us. We keep our alumni and friends in contact and get together with them, they mean a lot. The networking just keeps becoming more vast and is very helpful to our students." –Sara Miller

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