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award-winning filmmaker Chester Lampman, MFA Film & Digital Technology ’12

Chester Lampman and his wife Mary at the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival
Chester Lampman and his wife Mary at the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival

If you think of award-winning filmmakers, Chester Lampman, MFA Film and Digital Technologies ’14, may not be the first to come to mind, but make no mistake—he’s the real deal. His thesis documentary “The Marquee on Main Street” was accepted to six film festivals, and also won a Recognition Award for Short Documentary from the Hollywood International Independent Film Awards in May 2016.

“The Marquee on Main Street” is a short documentary centered on three small, independent theaters in and around Pittsburgh: the Strand in Zelienople, the Oaks in Oakmont, and the Hollywood in Dormont. Chester interviews the owners about the challenges they face keeping these small theaters afloat in this era of multiplexes that use digital platforms. “Hollywood is essentially forcing theaters to go digital,” he says. “It makes it so much harder for single-screen theaters to get movies.” View trailer here:

“These places are community treasures,” Chester continues. “Once they’re gone, they’re much more difficult to bring back, if they even can bring it back.” He cites the Oaks as an example. “The Oaks was closed and brought back as a performance art space. They still show some movies, but on a much rarer basis. They do what they have to do to survive, but the space is still there.”

“The Marquee on Main Street is an award-winning short documentary by independent filmmaker Chester Lampman that explores the historic single screen cinema experience. Weaving a story of rediscovery with profiles of several independent neighborhood movie theaters, the film celebrates their histories, examines their challenges, and highlights the people that keep them going. All in an effort to prove that these often overlooked community treasures still have much to offer the movie going public. After all, one screen is all you really need.” – Trailer for “The Marquee on Main Street”

When Chester first he came to Pittsburgh after attending University of Pittsburgh Bradford, he landed a job in independent video production. Then he joined the army, and after three years in active duty, returned to find how much the film industry had changed. “Everything was digital, everything was high definition,” he says. “The mental skill was still there, but my technical skills had become outdated. I would have had to start over in the industry at minimum wage, and I wasn’t about to do that.” Instead, he got a job outside the film industry.

Soon after that, he came to a friend’s graduation at Chatham. “I heard people graduating with an MFA in film, and thought maybe I should look into that.”

He liked what he saw. In 2012, Chester enrolled in the MFAFDT program. In order to take advantage of the GI Bill, he had to be enrolled full-time, and he also worked full time to support his family. “I took three classes each semester and did project stuff on the weekends,” he laughs. It took him two years to complete the program.

“People come into the program with all different levels of expertise,” he adds. “I knew some of the theoretical stuff, but needed the technical expertise. I’d never turned on a Mac before. I’m sitting there, trying to find the power button—everyone was supportive,” he says.

“I could have gone to to some workshops if all I had wanted was a skills upgrade,” Chester says. “But actually earning an MFA was a much better use of the time and money.”

Chester dates his interest in documentaries to his junior year in high school. “I took a specialized course on the Civil War, and the teacher showed the Ken Burns documentary,” he says. “I was fascinated by it. It was the first time I realized you could learn and be entertained at the same time, and that it was a function fo the images, the music—all the elements.”

Chester was also attracted to the do-more-with-less aspect of documentary making. “Filmmaking is a team sport,” he says. “When you’re making a documentary, you can use a much smaller team.” (In fact, Chester’s team was him and one other person—at most.)
“There are also avenues for documentaries,” he says. “It’s easier to get people to see your work. Ten or 15 years ago, we didn’t have that.”

“If I were talking to someone thinking about coming into the program, I’d say to prepare to take everything seriously. Don’t look at the project work just as project work—treat it as an example of your ability, and recognize that you’re building your portfolio from day one. If you take attitude from the start, you’ll be building your portfolio all along. That’s how I look at my film—it’s proof of my ability. Hopefully I can use it as a stepping stone for other films I want to make.”

“Will I ever make a Hollywood feature film? Hell no. It’s never going to happen,” he laughs. “Documentary is interesting to me because you get to pick something you have an interest in, research it, find a unique and interesting way to tell a story, and hopefully engage the audience. I like to learn when I make something.”

Chatham’s accelerated, one-year MFA in Film & Digital Technology program is one of the few accelerated MFA programs in the United States that includes both film and digital technology. Focused on advanced project work in a range of media production areas, principally film/video, interactivity, and the web, it is designed to extend and develop students’ experiences and knowledge in the field of media production and their understanding of creative and critical practice within the media industries.

 

 

alumna profile: Danielle Burkhart, MFA Film and Digital Technology ’12

Danielle Burkhart Photo[1]
It could not be said that as a student in Chatham’s Masters of Fine Arts in Film and Digital Technology, Danielle Burkhart sat on her thumbs. She took classes and held several part-time jobs, but perhaps most transformative to her career was the time she spent working as a digital video graduate assistant. “My grandfather always told me, ‘you are only in school for a limited amount of time so give your best effort. It will pay off,’” said Burkhart. “Through the assistantship, not only did I become familiar with the applications available to editors, but I also had the opportunity to use these programs while working on productions at Chatham.”

Students who are awarded this competitive assistantship through Chatham get both a tuition discount and real-world experience through filming all events on campus. During the course of their work, they also serve as ambassadors of the Film and Digital Technology program. “I felt a lot of confidence and pride in knowing that Danielle was a representative of our program and of the University,” says Assistant Professor of Film and Digital Technology Kristen Shaeffer. Shaeffer also supervised Burkhart’s assistantship, and Burkhart considers Shaeffer a mentor, calling her guidance invaluable and her role in the community as a young, female, successful communications professional an inspiration.

While the MFA in Film and Digital Technology is offered as an accelerated one-year program, students have the option to complete the program at their own pace. Classes are held on weeknight evenings, allowing students to continue working during the day. “Students graduate with a strong portfolio,” says Shaeffer. “Films made as part of the production classes become a launching pad into the professional world of conferences and festivals.”

Or somewhere entirely different: After graduation, Burkhart worked the Pittsburgh Pirate’s digital video board. “Never did I have two days that were the same, she says. “The majority of my time was spent with Pirates production, where I worked ballpark events, home games, Pirates events in the community, and even spring training. When I was not out shooting these events, I was editing pieces for the Pirates Video-On-Demand channel, social media, or the Pirates official website.” Burkhart was with the Pirates for seven seasons. She is currently Athletics Multimedia Services Coordinator at St. Francis University, where her main areas of responsibility are live webcasting, media for the athletics website, and production for the video board. She still occasionally does work for the Pirates.

To learn more about Chatham’s MFA in Film and Digital Technology program, visit chatham.edu/mfafilm.