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Charles the butler in student production of The Tell-Tale Heart.

University student Eric Holme earns major villain points as Charles the butler in a screenplay adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart.

Retelling the tale of a madman: U class brings filmmaking to life

U class brings filmmaking to life

By Pauline Oo

What would I do if I were tormented by someone's eye? I might get a little careless with a #2 pencil. Charles, on the other hand, is not as hasty. The butler from the University's screenplay production of The Tell-Tale Heart would rather spend eight straight nights watching the person sleep, hoping that on one fateful night he'd scare that person's beastly eye to death. For three weeks this summer, nine University of Minnesota students brought Edgar Allan Poe's creepy classic The Tell-Tale Heart to life. The students, who enrolled in Martin Gwinup's video project class, worked 12-hour days as either cast or crew, lugged props and heavy lighting equipment from one location to another, and conferred with each other on whether a shot made the cut or if a retake was necessary. The result of their efforts will be a 20-minute film for TV. "You can talk about [filmmaking concepts in a classroom] until you're green in the face, but when you see and experience them firsthand you get it," says Gwinup, an associate professor of sound design/technology and stage technology in the U's Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. "The students learn quickly that you don't just grab a camera and go out and start shooting. There's light, audio, actors, makeup, costumes, and the legalities of [renting] a location to deal with. If you don't plan well, everything is going to fall apart." Gwinup offers this intensive film production class every two years, sandwiched between a preproduction class in the spring and a postproduction/editing class in the fall. Many of the students involved in the filming of The Tell-Tale Heart this summer were also involved in the project's planning and preproduction, which included script development, storyboarding, location scouting, casting, and creating equipment lists. And some will see the project all the way to its conclusion in the fall. During postproduction, the students will take the raw footage and edit or enhance it with music, narration, and other technical effects.

"You can talk about [filmmaking concepts in a classroom] until you're green in the face, but when you see and experience them firsthand you get it," says University professor Martin Gwinup.

University senior Luke Brown says Poe's short story about the horrendous and vile deeds of an insane butler was chosen for its simplicity. "It is a fairly simple story, told from the viewpoint of a villain," says Brown, an interdepartmental major who served as the film's director. "It doesn't have that many characters, and it all takes place in one house." But due to budget constraints, the students ended up shooting their movie in three different locations: Rose Arbor Inn in St. Paul; Aurora Staples Inn in Stillwater; and Eastcliff, University president Bob Bruininks's home in St. Paul. "We needed a bedroom, bathroom, hallway, and sitting room, but we could not find all of those in one place without having to pay $5,000 a day to utilize the space," says Gwinup. "So we had to be creative." Each student had designated parts in the production. While acting roles were filled through auditions, Gwinup assigned the roles of the production crew. "I make the decision of who is going into what position, based on their work in [past related courses] and what they are ready and not ready for, because this is not a class about learning the basics. I want to make sure the student has every possibility to succeed." For University student Alex Needham, success meant convincingly playing a man in his late 60s. In his role as Mr. Burns, a.k.a. "The eye," Needham opted to shave his head for the part instead of wearing a skullcap. He also found himself paying attention to how older people moved or behaved. "My part required a lot more time and energy than I thought it would by means of the image," says the senior majoring in studies in cinema and media culture. "I had to wake up quite a bit earlier and be prepared to spend 45 minutes to an hour putting liquid latex on my face for wrinkles. I also shaved the top of my head and left hair around the back and the sides. I figured, 'Hey, three weeks out of my life I can handle being bald.'" Needham will be part of Gwinup's postproduction class in the fall. He signed up to further his education in filmmaking and for "the chance to edit a movie I'm in." To view trailers from the screenplay adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart, see

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