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Fast Out of the Gate

Film student Ryan Blitzer on the value of "gear the first year," Cannes, expanding connections and SMU Meadows

By Ryan Blitzer
(B.F.A. Film & Media Arts; B.A. Advertising; M.A. Popular Film & Media Studies '17)

On the set of "Pieces," a new film by student Ryan Blitzer. L to R: Ricco Fajardo (M.A. Theatre 2012), Matthew Roy, Jessica Cole (B.F.A. Film '17) and Jayson Salomon (B.A. Film 2016).

Ryan Blitzer’s latest film, Pieces, is about Nathan, a young, compassionate and dedicated journalist living in Dallas. When he starts experiencing episodes of “lost time,” Nathan realizes something is wrong with him. After he’s arrested for a felony he did not commit, his strength, intellect and stability come into question and he works with his best friend Cooper, Cooper’s teaching assistant Marley, and his defense attorney to earn the verdict he believes he deserves. See the trailer and follow "Pieces" on Facebook.

Actors Ricco Fajardo (M.A. Theatre '12) and Matthew Roy.

My love for filmmaking started to develop in high school and was greatly expanded, even in my first week of classes, at SMU.

Among all the film schools in the U.S., not many allow a student to touch cameras and lights until one is a junior, let alone in the first class.  This is one reason I turned down schools like UCLA, Florida State University and UT Austin. At SMU I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was learning equipment that would allow me to start making films immediately, and most important, correctly. I was on set six weekends in a row on six different films in the second semester of my freshman year, while simultaneously taking advanced production courses at SMU. The knowledge I learned in the classroom was immediately reinforced on film sets on which I had the privilege of working.

I also made new friends! Through the Student Filmmakers’ Association (SFA), I made immediate connections with like-minded individuals. I was one of the directors of photography (also known as the cinematographer, the person who creatively makes the director’s vision come to life on the screen) on a film produced by SFA. The experience I gained on the first day on set was all due to the mentorship of other film students. I’ve since made many films, including a feature film, with the same group of people.

Cannes Red Carpet
Blitzer at Cannes 2014, with Erin Hedrick (B.A. Film and Media Arts, '13; M.A. Advertising '15).

I was able to secure an internship at the Cannes International Film Festival in May 2014. The famous festival and market was an excellent place for me to meet anyone and everyone from all around the world and to also learn about the business side of film. I worked on the Croisette, the main thoroughfare of Cannes, for two weeks to analyze scripts, meet with international distributors, network with professionals and celebrities and work on a digital filmmaking magazine. Over and over, everyone tells you that it’s “all about who you know” in the film industry and now my network spans the globe, from Los Angeles to South Africa.

Do you know what films are popular right now? I learned the answer a year and a half ago from a meeting with a film distributor: family films. I was able to use knowledge such as this to expand my studies. On top of that, SMU has allowed me to work on earning a Master of Arts in Popular Film & Media Studies. I’m completing the new 4+1 program as a “3+1,” earning my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film & Media Arts, Bachelor of Arts in Advertising and a master’s in four years. It is great that SMU allows students the flexibility to challenge themselves in this way.

On the set
Blitzer on the set with Director of Photography Jayson Salomon ((B.A. Film & Media Arts '16).

Knowing the production, historical, theoretical and industrial side of film, I was able to start directing films of my own. My first film, Reveal, was made in my freshman year and was an official selection of the 2015 Palm Beach International Film Festival. It also won an Award of Merit from IndieFest. My current film, Pieces, is my thesis film, a requirement that B.F.A. students have to complete in their senior year. I work closely with a committee of outstanding professors (mine consists of Dr. Mark Kerins, Dr. Rick Worland and Dr. Rita Kirk) to produce a short film over the course of a year. I may turn Pieces into a feature film after graduation, now that SMU has given me the knowledge to direct a feature film. Knowing that at other schools students compete to even have a chance at producing a thesis film, I feel fortunate that SMU offers me the chance to direct a film that I can submit to film festivals at the end of the process.

I’ve been able to stretch my abilities and incorporate film into many of the things I’ve done at SMU. I was the photo editor for the Rotunda yearbook. I’m a Resident Assistant in Armstrong Commons, the creative director for a local small business and for a student-run communications consulting firm, and a Hunt Leadership Scholar. After I graduate I will have a portfolio that appeals to both film and advertising professionals and I’ll have a huge network of connections to start securing work quickly. I don’t believe I would have had the opportunities available at any other school. Thank you SMU! Pony up!

Read more about SMU Meadows Division of Film and Media Arts.

Read more about SMU Student Filmmakers’ Association.

Read more about Ryan Blitzer.

Photos courtesy of Ryan Blitzer.

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