Cal Poly Students Turned Award-Winning Filmmakers After Taking These Two ISLA Courses

Updated: Jan 1

We may not be a film school, but that hasn’t stopped Cal Poly students Shanti Herzog and Casey Wieber from winning awards at some of the hottest film festivals in the nation.

After taking ISLA 340 and ISLA 341: the back-to-back crash courses in screenwriting and short film production, the two students learned the fundamental skills needed to produce professional-grade short films under the instruction of award-winning editor and screenwriter, Randi Barros.

"One of the great things about Cal Poly not being a film school is that there are students that never even thought about screenplay writing who just absolutely fall in love with it and who are so good at it," Barros said. "I’ve been telling students for the past several years you know 'enter your work in festivals' and now finally students are listening and they're winning those festivals."

Herzog, a journalism major and Wieber, an art and design major claimed first place prizes at the 2019 CSU Media Arts Festival after taking their professor’s advice. Herzog won first and third in the screenwriting category for her scripts “Rosie” and “The Roof,” respectively, while Wieber took home gold in the promotional video category for his intimate portrait of a local tattoo artist titled, Danny Derrick: The Private Studio Experience.” Other award-winning Cal Poly students include Matthew Lam, Brendan Carretero and Michael Gould.

"Winning at the CSU festival didn’t just feel like a ‘job well done’ for a script I wrote," Herzog said. "It felt more like a nod from the universe that said, 'you’re good at this, you can do this, keep doing it!' I’ve wanted to be a writer since I could read, so it feels almost surreal to have come full circle and be pursuing something my 10-year-old self was dreaming about."

In ISLA 340, students develop their storytelling skills by writing screenplays, learning the basics of photography, lighting and audio, and producing short films using editing software like Adobe Premiere. Before taking the class, Herzog saw herself more in a video production or directing career, but soon discovered screenwriting was something she could see herself doing for the rest of her life.

"I expected to like screenwriting, but I didn’t expect it to feel as strongly as I did about it," Herzog said. "As soon as I wrote my first script, I was like 'Okay yeah this feels so good. I want do this like maybe forever."

Wieber was looking to take his passion for still photography to the next level by learning how to create narrative-based films. Prior to taking ISLA 340 in Fall 2018, he had made two music videos that he described as having "cool visual effects but no real focus on visual narrative." During 340, he learned how to create a music video that was both aesthetically pleasing and that followed an actual storyline.

Taking those skills even further in ISLA 341, where students delve deeper into the cinematic process, learning how to shoot close-up, medium and wide shots, pans and tilts, as well as collaborating with student actors and mastering their knowledge of camera settings, Wieber created the video that would go on to win at the film festival.

"Winning first place in this category was an absolute thrill," Wieber said. "It really helped boost my confidence and solidify my ambition to pursue filmmaking further. It was the first festival I had participated in and really proved to me that you never really know what could happen if you don't just go for it."

His video "Danny Derrick: The Private Studio Experience" showcased his friend’s local independent tattoo studio that provides tattoo-seekers with a much more comfortable, less intimidating tattooing experience than traditional multi-artist parlors.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with the traditional style shop by any means," Wieber said, "But Danny's dedication to providing a calm and caring atmosphere as well as a good memory of the experience for someone who is about to alter their body forever is something that really resonates and makes his shop unique. I feel that this is the reason the film won. You can make a film look amazing visually, but if that emotional connection isn't there then it’s just basically a spectacle."

Video courtesy of Casey Weiber

After his experience of winning at the festival, Wieber said he’s hooked on filmmaking. He has since started his own video production company: 1134 Films, and plans on releasing two more music videos this year with hopes to produce more short films in the future.

Both of the young filmmakers’ will have their videos showcased at upcoming film festivals where they’ll have the chance to shine in front of filmmaker executives and industry celebrities. Herzog's "Rosie" and Wieber's "Moving Pains" will be showing at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival from Mar. 17- Mar. 22 where students can purchase tickets for only $12.

Barros, who will be on the panel of judges at the upcoming Central Coast Film Festival, is looking forward to seeing her students' videos showcased at the quickly-approaching SLO IFF, where she said their chances of getting noticed by industry professionals can lead to amazing job opportunities after graduation.

"Once you get your work out there and you start to get some notice, people will want to read your other scripts or they’ll want to maybe hire you to work on a television show or something like that," Barros said. "People will pay attention and they’ll wanna know who you are."

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