Lights, camera, class
by Paul Gonzales
Sep 27, 2012 | 2126 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kathleen Cuyler film class studies the film Kiss of Death as they discuss Richard Widmark's type casting due to his work in the film.
Kathleen Cuyler film class studies the film Kiss of Death as they discuss Richard Widmark's type casting due to his work in the film.
Kathleen Cuyler speaks to her film class at Coastal Bend College in Beeville where the students will analyze aspects such as cinematography, editing and sound.
Kathleen Cuyler speaks to her film class at Coastal Bend College in Beeville where the students will analyze aspects such as cinematography, editing and sound.
Beeville — The flickering movie screens of the past have long been replaced by the gentle hum of digital projectors.

We’ve reached galaxies far, far away without leaving our reclining theater seats while clutching our buckets of popcorn.

But we’ve been there before. In 1902, we took “A Trip to the Moon.”

And Kathleen Cuyler doesn’t want you to forget that.

“Once you’re interested in films you can’t get away from it,” Cuyler said.

“When I was a little girl, we went to the library, and we saw the making of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

“And as a little girl, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s how they do it. They can make magic happen.’”

Love of film

Cuyler, a full-time English professor, also teaches a film appreciation class at the Coastal Bend College Beeville campus.

In the class, students analyze major film elements such as cinematography, editing and sound.

Students are even encouraged to bring in snacks for extra credit – to complete the movie-going experience, of course.

“One of my passions has always been film, so I thought, ‘Most schools like Del Mar and San Antonio have a film class.’ Almost every college has a film class, and it’s in the catalogue for accredited transferable courses, so I was wondering why we weren’t doing it.”

Cuyler graduated with her degree from CBC before transferring to the University of North Texas in Denton, where she got her bachelor’s and two master’s degrees.

When she returned to Beeville, she saw a job opening, applied and began teaching English in the fall of 2010.

Her sisters, who had gotten degrees in radio, television and film, recruited her while she was at UNT to help make a feature-length horror comedy spoof titled “Unscared.”

“I helped them with writing their scripts or whatever I could.

“For me, it was a lot of work, because I was going to school and teaching and doing this at night, so I wasn’t getting much sleep.”

But the process never seemed daunting for Cuyler, having watched many making of dvd special features and behind the scenes documentaries.

“I felt like it was kind of normal. I’ve always been interested in the filming process.

“A lot of the cast said it was the best thing they’ve ever been in, so I thought that was pretty good.”

And the feature, though never released, won the award for best trailer at the Texas Sundance Film Festival.

Starting from scratch

So, having some hands-on experience is more than likely a plus for someone trying to get a new college course that no one at the college probably had even thought about.

“My boss, Mr. Jeffrey Massengill, is really receptive to us having new ideas, so he said, ‘If you do the legwork, we’ll try it out and see if it works’.

“Then we have to go through the process of it being accepted and put in to our catalogue then, hopefully, eventually being added to a core component, which takes a while.”

And, though it may seem any student would jump at the chance to watch movies for a class, Cuyler mentioned that one of the many problems she’s facing is just awareness.

Most students aren’t even looking for a class like this to be offered at CBC, and the few who fall upon it think it won’t be transferable if they go off somewhere else after.

“Right now, I have three students in my class, and I do it as an independent study.

“A lot of people think it’s not going to fill anything on their degree plan, but it does.

“It transfers as a literature elective at this point. So, it does fill that little block of electives.

“Because it’s an independent study doesn’t mean it won’t transfer. It means you get more attention.”

The class

During her classes, Cuyler will discuss certain elements and show a PowerPoint of things students should be aware of while the film plays.

“The one thing that I do establish with my class at the beginning is that we’re not going to look at it like that was then. That’s old or that’s cheap, were going to look at with what I call the anthropological view.

“When an anthropologist goes to a tribe, they don’t say, ‘Oh, you are all savages. You’re running around naked, how disgusting.’

“You have to become part of the tribe to notice what they’re doing and there’s a purpose for that, so let’s learn what that purpose is.

“We look at movies the same way. We’re watching ‘A Trip to the Moon.’ This is the first time there’s ever been special effects.

“Before, you could go in and see a girl jiggling her hips, and it’d be awesome.

“But for the first time, you had things disappearing in smoke and flames.

“Put yourself in their shoes and now how do you feel? You don’t just say that’s old and that’s cheap, it’s not like what we have now.

“And that’s the way you’re really going to get into the movie experience – by thinking what it was like back then.

“I think it’s fun. Just looking at it and being able to say, ‘Did you guys notice this? This is really cool, look at that.’”

And, while introducing old films isn’t as daunting as it is fun for Cuyler, it does come as sort of a head scratcher.

“I’m really surprised that a lot of these students have not seen things besides the most modern releases.

“They don’t explore some of the older movies. They’re not aware that there are movies that are interesting out there.”

Books to films

Cuyler’s being an English instructor is another one of the reasons she was drawn into creating a film class.

And not just because so many books get turned in to movies, either.

“I was asking another class I was teaching, ‘What’s the difference between seeing a story in a movie or reading it?’

“They said, ‘You don’t need as much imagination with a movie,’ and I said ‘no, that’s not it.’

“You do need imagination, because we have these series of cuts, and you start realizing that this close-up shot of this person and a close-up shot of a train coming at us have a relationship.

“Somehow, our brain automatically formulates our imagination, and it works without us to say that there’s a relationship between those shots.”

What’s next?

With some feature film experience under her belt and a love for film, she has no intentions of closing her English books just yet.

“I really am happy with my job right now.

“I mean, you get to stand up and talk about what you enjoy, and I have a good boss.”

The film course is the one that may be getting a wardrobe change for next semester.

Having a one-hour and 20-minute class, it seems hard to cram films and lectures into that block.

“I’m actually thinking about trying the film course as a night class, because, in a three-hour segment, we can get the whole movie in.”

And surely, once the word gets out about the class, eager film viewers are more likely to sign up.

“I think it’s an awesome class. You get extra credit for bringing popcorn.

“My job isn’t to dissect the movie and ruin it for them; we’re not going to over-analyze them.

“It’s like when you see an attractive person and you want to get to know them better.

“The same thing when you fall in love with a movie; you want to know more about it.”

For more information about the film course visit

Paul Gonzales is the entertainment writer at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 116, or at
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