With classes continuing to be held remotely, cinematic arts students face new obstacles


Now that we have entered into the second semester of online classes, students are discovering unforeseen challenges with remote learning. While planning class schedules during their first online semester, some students were able to push back some of their in-person lab classes until APU was back on campus. Students quickly realized that they could not continue to postpone such classes after learning that the spring semester would be fully online. This has forced labs that were previously in-person to be completed remotely — a change to which both students and professors alike have had to adapt to. 

As a junior cinematic arts major at Azusa Pacific, Nils Heindstedt has experienced the challenges of completing intensive work remotely first hand. Heinstedt is a writer, creative producer and cinematographer on one of this semester’s advanced productions: an upper division major requirement that relies heavily on in-person interactions. “The key difference is having to plan for the unexpected in a major way. Instead of one set production plan, we are having to plan for three different scenarios depending on the severity of the pandemic,” he said. 

Heinstedt explained that shooting days are restricted and locations are harder than ever to secure in the midst of the pandemic. Usually the department allows for multiple shoot weekends, but under remote conditions filming is required to be completed in a week block.

The most challenging aspect, Henstedt said, has been the distance between him and his crew members. “Being remote and online makes collaboration more difficult.”

Another challenge that Heinstedt and his team face is the ever changing regulations that are being created during the pandemic. State regulations are already heavily enforced and many  COVID-19 protocols are fluctuating as time moves on. “Regulations and protocol seem to constantly be changing; securing locations and actors has become incredibly difficult especially for locations we have no connection to.”

Paolo Cascio, a professor of cinematic arts at APU, has found online teaching to be “challenging, frustrating and exciting” all at the same time. Although he has worked in the film industry for decades, he has only recently transitioned into teaching: a change that has been further complicated by the virtual teaching environment. 

Cascio teaches a number of technically intricate courses that include cinema-TV production. In this class, many of the learning outcomes have to do with learning how to operate cameras and configure lighting. In a remote environment, Cascio had to come up with creative ways to instruct his students, such as using multiple camera angles to show the camera he is working on over Zoom. He has a wide shot that he uses for teaching, a close up front view to show the equipment he is working on and an overhead view to capture what he is explaining. On top of all this, he directly plugs the camera he is working on into Zoom so that the class can easily see his camera’s settings and better comprehend the ideas he is teaching. 

One piece of advice that Professor Cascio lives by is to “attack problems, not people.” He is aware of the frustrations of remote learning and empathizes with his students. He believes that both students and professors should be working together to smoothen out any complications. One way Cascio tries to encourage engagement and reduce burnout is by offering breaks during long classes. That way people can get up, stretch, grab a bite and come back more refreshed, thus able to retain more information. 

But not all Zoom obstacles can be overcome as easily. Cami Norman, a junior acting for the stage and screen student at APU, said that what she has struggled with the most during this time is connection.

“The biggest obstacle I face as an actress and BFA major is making real-life connections via Zoom in the absence of physical, and therefore, emotional connection.”This semester, the acting for stage and screen majors are doing a virtual production of “A Winter’s Tale” over Zoom via a live show. While it is hard enough to coordinate a show in person, it is even more difficult to do so with the addition of technical obstacles. Yet even with these new challenges, Norman is remaining positive about how the group is handling the production of the show. 

This begs the question: are students getting the information they need to do well in their respective industries? The other question students have begun to ask themselves is whether they are receiving the same schooling experience with at home learning as they would have had with in-person learning. 

Although many compare in-person education to online schooling, the truth is that the two are very different, and both have their own pros and cons. 

“I am learning skills I would have never learned in person such as editing my own scenes,” Norman said. “Being a part of post-production has also given me insight to the entire process of filmmaking.” 

Although Heinstedt feels that he is not getting as much out of online learning as he would have in person, he submits that it is not all on the professors, and that students must be willing to apply what they learn in class as well.