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Take 1.618: Film at MIT by ARTalk

[by Danbee Kim '09] There are very few things for which I would get up at 6am. One of those few things is to film.

[by Danbee Kim ’09]

Before I got into MIT, I was torn by a dilemma – should I go to art school, or should I do the “safe” thing and get a “real” degree? When my acceptance letter from MIT arrived, things got a little easier. I figured MIT was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I should take while I could; I could always go to art school later, right? Somewhat consoled and way too hyped about getting into MIT to be feeling too torn up, I happily made my way to Boston in the fall of 2005.

However, my determination to put aside art for more “serious” schooling had a bad start – I participated in the Freshman Arts Preorientation (FAP) Program, and experienced one of the best weeks of my life. Ever since then, I’ve been making serious efforts to look into film schools and take as many arts classes here at MIT as I can fit into my schedule. All of the arts classes I’ve taken have been very good, some even inspirational, but it wasn’t until this semester that I took a class that made me lust for a career in art.

SP.785, or Digital Video Post Production, is a small class of about ten students handpicked by Professor Violetta Ivanova. We meet for two hours each Friday in the New Media Center, the Mac-world equivalent to an Athena cluster. The class is conducted as a discussion of film, film editing, production, and post-production. It’s amazing because not only am I learning from a professional film-maker, but I also get the opportunity to meet with other students who find film a fascinating and compelling subject. Here are some of my favorite lessons from this class:

“Making one bad movie will teach you more than watching ten good movies.”
Let’s start with a quote from Professor Ivanova on the wonderfully blunt and decidedly memorable lessons of experience. Having made quite a few short films and montages for fun, I can definitely agree that on the job training really forces you to get to know the world of film-making. For the class, we’ve been divided into groups to work on a film project that will potentially be aired on MIT TechTV.

This doesn’t discount the value of watching good films. I like to consider myself an active seeker of good media – I pride myself in knowing titles that I can genuinely respect as masterful uses of the medium. Whether they be mainstream or cult classic, animated or live action, a recent release or a forgotten black-and-white treasure, works in my collection of favorites are prime examples of cinematography, pacing, dialogue, editing, or content. And yet, this class has exposed me to media that has impressed and inspired me: the Media that Matters Film Festival, the BBC series Planet Earth, and the documentary Thirty-two Short Films for Glenn Gould.

“Do not underestimate your audience.”
Another quote from my professor, one that describes exactly what kinds of movies I hate – the ones that over-explain their pseudo-movie-science, the ones that assume their audience has the mental capacities and attention span of high-strung purebred toy poodle. The movies that really captivate are the ones that realize film is not just an audial experience. These movies take advantage of the fact that the audience can see every freckle on Freddie Highland’s adorable British nose, and understand the truth of “a picture is worth a thousand words.” What I also got out of this lesson was that art is a sanctuary for the creator, but don’t kill a great idea by trying to explain it too much.

“Film can be a way of life, even at MIT.”
There are very few things for which I would get up at 6am. One of those few things is to film Army ROTC water survival training, with an inventory of gear that includes an underwater camera, one that looks exactly like the underwater cameras seen in The Life Aquatic. And no, this was not a required part of class – that’s right, I volunteered, just like a Browncoat but without Serenity valley.

This class is part of a plethora of film opportunities on the MIT campus. My favorite class freshman year was 21M.011, aka The Film Experience, taught by Professor Thorburn, who is one of the most enthusiastic lecturers I’ve ever had. If you join the Lecture Series Committee, which projects movies at a reduced price on campus, you can learn how to feed film reels into cranky old-school projectors, focus them, and sync up the images with the audio. Campus Movie Fest is coming up soon – MIT participates in the world’s largest student film festival, and we’ve had some prize works make it pretty far in the contest. A lot of dorms have high-end camcorders that can be borrowed by residents, be it for class projects, Campus Movie Fest, i3 videos, or video auditions for tv shows like Beauty and the Geek. There are also a number of other film and movie classes in the Humanities, Comparative Media Studies, and Special Programs departments.

I figured MIT was the right thing to do first, and I still feel that way. Don’t get me wrong; I can get very excited about programming or neurological diseases or Fourier transforms. MIT encourages a love of knowledge that I can’t help but soak in. But I didn’t have to set aside film or my love of art when I got here. If anything, squeezing art in between math and science has made art even more precious and inspiring, and its taught me to look for art in unexpected places. It’s helped me find that golden ratio between what I love to know and what I love to do.

10 responses to “Take 1.618: Film at MIT”

  1. Anonymous says:

    first smile nice post!

  2. Hey, i am a filmmaker smile this is amazing to know!
    I have directed (and co-directed) 3 short films so far, and one 53 minute film (You can check its trailer on Youtube; search for “In Fair Palestine: a story of Romeo and Juliet”).
    I am really interested in pursuing filmmaking in my college years..
    i definitly agree with the first quote above! hehe
    Will get back to you later…

  3. Davorama says:


    I love film, but am not deeply into it. It would be really cool to explore, though. I’m glad MIT has so much and isn’t strictly science.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Firefly reference = love.

  5. Very cool! Looking into FAP for sure…
    And film making rocks.

  6. Every April the Comparative Media Studies Program hosts a competition of MIT student, faculty and staff video and film work entitled “The CMS Media Spectacle”. The event takes place on Monday April 28th, 2008 in Stata in room 32-123 and we are looking for submissions. The winners receive cash prizes and there is no entry fee. We are looking for films/videos/video podcasts/ mobisodes produced by MIT (and Wellesley) affiliates, staff, students and faculty.

    Any format, style or subject!



    EMAIL: [email protected]


    APRIL 15, 2008

  7. I wanted to take SP.713 “Promoting the Arts Through Design” but unfortunately I reached my credit limit :(

  8. Emily 2012 says:

    I really like art, but it’s something that I’m not sure I want to take for credit right away. Do you have any experience auditing classes? Are we allowed to? Is it discouraged? A class like 4.102 is one I think I’d really enjoy, but would feel guilty about taking for credit.


    This page should answer your question, which is yes, you can choose to be “listener” status in a class (aka audit), but of course, you receive no credit for that class. Once your a sophomore or achieve sophomore standing then you can designate one class per semester (for a grand total of two) as “Sophomore Exploratory” which means that when end of term rolls around you can either choose to keep the grade or redesignate the class to Listener status.
    I myself have no experience auditing classes.