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An Inspiring Introduction to the Cinematography Industry

Student S.O.C. advisor, Hugh C. Litfin, takes students to visit L.A. Cinegear Expo

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(Left to right) Academy of Art University and S.O.C. students Jessie Brickley, Joy Zhang, Brenton Cooper, Trevor Smith, Genevieve Evans, Chenlu Zhu and Levi Salas meet with International Cinematographers Guild President Steven Poster, A.S.C. pictured center. Photo by Hugh Litfin, S.O.C.

Cinematography instructor Hugh C. Litfin exemplifies Academy of Art University’s way of going above and beyond to provide his students with extraordinary hands-on learning experiences. He takes his students behind the scenes of the most cutting edge production houses in Hollywood and helps them get up close and personal with the industry’s latest technologies.

Litfin is the Academy’s Student Society of Camera Operators (S.O.C.) advisor, and each summer he organizes a trip to Los Angeles, planning several events for student S.O.C. members to coincide with L.A.’s Cinegear Expo in June.

“This year was my first time at Cinegear, and I felt like a kid in a candy store,” said Tobias Winde Harbo, a cinematography student from Norway. He became inspired to join the S.O.C. after taking cinematography 2 with Litfin, “It’s a great opportunity to learn about the industry and meet professionals working in the camera department.”

Students who are already S.O.C. members or those who are in the process of becoming members are invited on a first come basis to attend these workshops and events hosted by Litfin. The focus is to give exposure and training to the students specifically in the areas of visual authorship (from camera acquisition through exhibition), camera cranes and lighting equipment and technologies.

“We saw the newest equipment on the market, free screenings followed by Q&As with the filmmakers and lots more,” said Harbo, who will graduate at the end of the semester. “A must for any film student trying to keep up with the news in the industry.”

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(Left to right) Joy Zhang, Chenlu Zhu, Levi Salas and Hugh Litfin, S.O.C. attend the Sony DCMP 4K Workshop at Sony Pictures Studios on Stage 7. Photo by Ryan Wiendl.

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Students gathered for a group photo in the Steadicam manufacturing plant at Tiffen in Burbank. Photo by Hugh Litfin, S.O.C.

The groups of students, averaging from eight to 10 in size, were given a rare, inside look at post-production houses in Hollywood, responsible for some of the finest features and television shows in the industry. This year, students got an exclusive, “eyes only,” behind the scenes tour of FotoKem’s Lab and Digital Post (“Batman”), Encore Post (“NCIS”) and Efilm (“Hunger Games,” “Spider-Man”) were also among the highlights of the week’s events. Students were walked through many different processes that range from film developing and printing through final digital color grading.

“The trip to Cinegear this summer was something I will never forget,” said Sophia Meneses, a recent cinematography graduate from Riverside, Calif. “It is so wonderful the way Hugh Litfin is so involved and passionate about the S.O.C. and how caring he is to his students. He goes above and beyond to make sure the Cinegear week is memorable.”

Select students were able to attend the Sony DCMP 4K Workshop on Stage 7 at Sony Pictures Studios, attend the Chapman Leonard Summer Showcase that featured and demonstrated the latest in camera crane, dolly and remote head technologies and tours of Panavision and Clairmont Camera.

“One of my goals for our students has always been to get their hands on the latest gear,” said Litfin, who arranged the tours through Larry Parker, executive vice president and Jeff Treanor, sales representative with Mole-Richardson.

“My students were given the afternoon, just for us, the whole Larry Parker Stage to learn about lighting,” said Litfin. After an introduction and an overview of electrical distribution led by Parker, experts showed students their new line of LED Fresnels and a side-by-side comparison of the traditional incandescent Fresnels. “My students were allowed to use the very first 5K LED Fresnel that was so new, it was to premiere later in the week at Cinegear,” said Litfin. “‘Just don’t break it, Larry laughed, it’s the only one we got for the show.’ Our students were the first to practice lighting with it before the industry even saw it.”

“I got to see all kinds of fun camera gear and meet many great people,” said Meneses. “The highlight of the trip for me was the visit to FotoKem. I felt so spoiled getting to see the way things work there.”

“We got to meet so many nice and interesting people who offered great advice and inspiring words for us starting out in the industry,” said Harbo. “The highlight of the trip was the tour we got at Panavision. We were guided through their rental house in Hollywood and got to see and try many of the Panavision cameras they had available. It was very inspiring.”

Sophia and Tobi

Academy S.O.C. student Tobias Harbo instructs fellow S.O.C. student Sophia Meneses on the finer points of operating. Photo by Hugh Litfin, S.O.C.

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S.O.C. Education Chair and Academy instructor Hugh Litfin, S.O.C. presents Student “COY” (Camera Operator of the Year), Second Runner-Up Award to Academy senior S.O.C. student, Botai Zhong. Courtesy of S.O.C. staff.

wo of the highlights that made Litfin proud were the pinning dinner of new Student S.O.C. members Sophia Meneses and Kezia Supit and an evening at the new Tiffen facility where students were able to meet one-on-one with Steadicam inventor and operator Garrett Brown. “I was so excited to see Garrett take such an interest to my students,” said Litfin. “That was amazing to see.”

“I was thrilled to be pinned into the S.O.C. this summer, and I am excited to see what opportunities will come from this,” said Meneses. “I am so thankful for all the people I have met and my experiences so far. Everything in this industry is a learning experience, and nobody can make it on their own. We have to help each other climb the ladder.”

The week concluded with two days of the Cinegear Expo on the backlot of Paramount Pictures where the students were able to get hands on experience with the latest in camera, lighting and grip technologies. Many were networking and making new contacts including International Cinematographers Guild President Steven Poster, A.S.C. They attended panels, workshops and screenings, which made for a full week of events.

“The week’s events were an amazing look into the world that these students will be working with in the future,” said Litfin.

Each year, the S.O.C. has their Student COY (Camera Operator of the Year) Awards held in July.

“This year, I was very pleased to award one of our international students, Botai Zhong the Second Runner-Up Award,” said Litfin. The competition showcases the skill and craft of the camera operator on a student film project. The competition is national and this year’s winners included entries from USC and University of North Carolina. “As S.O.C. Education Chair, it was truly an honor to award one of our students,” Litfin said.