RTF students’ thesis film productions disrupted by COVID-19

Noah Levine

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

Daniel Hurtado de Mendoza was supposed to graduate this spring. Now, he’s planning on taking another semester to finish what he said is the pinnacle of UT’s filmmaking program.

Hurtado de Mendoza, radio-television-film senior, is in associate professor Richard Lewis’ Film Production Thesis course, which helps students direct and produce a high-production-value short film for their portfolios. The class is made up of upper-division students who were selected from a pool of applicants. 

When UT announced the decision to move classes online, production teams were prohibited from gathering to shoot films and check out equipment. 

While some thesis students had already shot their films, several had their filmmaking plans shattered. Moody Dean Jay Bernhardt said in an email that production would not be allowed during the rest of spring semester or during the summer because of coronavirus concerns. 

Jonathan Broughton, who was set to direct a comedy about a person’s ploy to stop their best friend from getting pregnant, said he and his classmates had worked frequently on their projects all semester. 

“(We were) writing the script and putting so many hours into it just to find out we're not allowed to do it this semester or during the summer,” said Broughton, radio-television-film senior. “It's heartbreaking to see a dream you had (get) crushed by these unfortunate circumstances.”

Students who did not complete their films were given the option to Q-drop the course or complete an alternative assignment. However, students said they were unhappy with these alternatives because they had to apply to get into the class and were looking forward to completing their films.

“There are prereqs before you are allowed to apply for (the course),” Broughton said. “The application is showing some of your previous work and pitching your (thesis film) idea basically, and the professor decides which directing/producing pairs are accepted in the class. It’s an ordeal.”

Lewis initially set out to organize a period of time in the summer when his students could return and shoot their films using UT’s equipment. Lewis said this plan was eventually shut down by the Department of Radio-Television-Film.

Jared Bordeaux, radio-television-film senior, said he was able to direct his 1920s jazz club drama. 

“I've been working on this project since last summer, and I've been thinking about it for two years,” Bordeaux said. “If I was in their shoes, I have no idea what I would do, especially during my last year. I feel like it's the capstone of your whole film school career.”

Hurtado de Mendoza was set to direct a Western dark comedy about gun control and said he hopes that staying an extra semester will allow him to finish the film using UT’s equipment despite the class not being offered in the fall. 

Ultimately, Hurtado de Mendoza said it’s not fair that he was unable to complete the 12-minute short film and access the advanced equipment that the course promised. 

Hurtado de Mendoza also said while some students own their own film equipment, those who aren’t as privileged are out of luck without University resources. 

”(Students) at an economic disadvantage are having a major career and creative opportunity taken from us,” Hurtado de Mendoza said. “We will no longer have our thesis projects to showcase in future job searches.”