The 6:1 View of the Universe Media production grads: jobs that take them from cliffs to couches

The 6:1 View of the Universe
Kyle Berkompas balances himself on the side of a cliff while shooting footage for Sender Films, a rock climbing film production company.

Spielberg uses a 6:1 shooting ratio to craft each of his blockbuster films. This means that every scene that you see in Jaws or War Horse, for example, was shot at least six times to get everything just right.

God does even better than that, says former Calvin media production professor Brian Fuller.

"He has a 1:1 shooting ratio."

So when a media production student comes back from a shoot with three takes for each scene, he has to ask the question, "Do you really think your directing skills are somewhere between Spielberg's and God's?"

The point? Being an accomplished filmmaker like Spielberg—and an aspiring one in Calvin's media production program—can be a humbling experience.

This means you might have to shoot a scene 12 times before you get it right, but in the process, you'll learn everything it takes to make a stellar product.

"The idea here is that you just do it and keep doing it to get better at it. It's how you train your mind, your hand and your heart."

The graduates of Calvin's media production program can tell you stories about just what it means to do things over and over and over again until it was done right: late nights in the film editing suites, learning sophisticated professional editing software and collaborating with other majors on every class project.

But these same grads also tell the story of just where hard work, humility, attention to detail, repetition, collaboration and determination can get you in the film and media industries.

Extreme work

Kyle Berkompas just spent two months sleeping in a tent. In Yosemite. After long days of dangling from 3,000-foot rock faces with a video camera in one hand and a rope in the other.

“I’m pretty excited to get down at the end of the day—you make the wrong move, and you’re dead. And not only is it a high-stress environment, but you also have to make sure your camera is in focus and your audio is good.”

The 2010 media production grad works for Sender Films, the premier rock climbing film production company in the United States. When he’s not out on the field capturing video of world-famous rock climbers, he’s in his office in Boulder, Colorado, editing footage for documentaries and ads for companies like The North Face and Clif Bar.

Sacrifice and Olive Garden in pursuit of the dream

Working for Sender was Kyle’s dream job throughout college, and when he got an unpaid internship with the company after his senior year, he gave up a paid position at another company in Colorado to pursue it. Following his passion meant long days at Sender followed by waiting tables at Olive Garden, but when Sender offered him a full-time position that fall, the hard work paid off.

“Rock climbing is the first sport that I got passionate about, but I also have a passion for filmmaking. It’s important to combine what you love so that your work doesn’t feel like work,” he said.

To change the world—or not

Kyle says a lot of new college graduates want to change the world—at least he did when he started working at Sender Films.

“In my first few months I was really cocky and thought I could change things, but then I realized that I just needed to work hard. My boss flat-out said to me, ‘We’re not looking for creative people. We’re looking for people who have passion and who work hard.’ “

This is where Kyle’s experience in Calvin’s media production program helped him shift his thinking about his role as a rookie in the workplace. Working on projects at Calvin—including a documentary film shot in New Jersey—gave him a work ethic that is pure gold to employers in the film industry.

“The long hours in the editing rooms and shooting on weekends showed me what kind of work ethic was needed to make quality films … and it showed me what it takes to be in this industry.”

While someday Kyle might be the creative genius running a media production company, for now he’s content to spend long days shooting and evenings backing up video files by campfire.

Charles Breiner

All in the family

Charles Breiner spends his days sitting on a couch. But this isn’t just any couch—it’s the living room couch made famous by Phil and Claire Dunphy of TV's Modern Family.

A 2009 Calvin graduate, Charles is on the production staff as a stand-in on the Emmy-winning show. This means that he works through the scenes for each episode of Modern Family for sound and lighting purposes while the actors who play Phil, Claire, Gloria, Jay and others get their hair and makeup done. Still, he gets plenty of time to be around the actors.

“Ty Burrell (Phil) and Julie Bowen (Claire) are two of the funniest people on earth—they work off of each other so well. It’s crazy because some of the funniest stuff doesn’t even make it to the screen,” he said.

Getting off the couch

In reality, Charles does more than just sit on a couch all day. He’s constantly observing the actors and making sure he understands what the production staff need in a given shot. By paying attention to detail and the various aspects of production, he’s able to do his job well. This awareness comes directly from his experience in Calvin’s media production program, he says.

“If I didn’t have the knowledge and been able to demonstrate what I was doing, I might not have lasted as long as I have. It was clear to my boss that I had knowledge of how things work.”

Though Charles’ primary interest is in film editing, Calvin’s media production program prepared him to understand every part of the production process.

“I’m of the opinion that the more you understand the complete process, the better you’ll be at your specific job. All of these people are working together in such a collaborative art. If you’re able to take all of their roles into consideration, the easier you’ll be able to work collaboratively with them.”

Creating community on campus and on the job

While at Calvin, Charles loved the way Professor Fuller encouraged all media production majors—freshmen and seniors alike—to work and play together—even enjoy dinners at the professor's house.

“Brian really understood the collaboration, how interacting and working with each other is very important for what we do. And from the very first day, he's making sure that we do that. He's so good at tying that in biblically—reminding us of how Jesus called his followers individually, by name. That kind of camaraderie is really valuable while you're at Calvin, and now beyond Calvin.”

As Charles makes his way as a sort of “freshman” in the world of Hollywood, the benefits of community collaboration and plain old hard work make even more sense.

“Your resume is never going to get you hired; your interview and experience will get you hired. So having the ability to do lots of things at Calvin will definitely help you get jobs down the road."

Ahna Terpstra


MAJOR: media productions 

ON-CAMPUS JOB: lab assistant for media production

HOMETOWN: Grand Rapids, Mich.

Ahna Terpstra loves being a lab assistant in media production because she gets extra experience troubleshooting problems that other students encounter when using equipment. She decided to be a media production major because her interest in creative storytelling fit really well with media and filmmaking. 

She is very involved in the department—most recently, she went on a spring break trip to film a promotional video about alumni for the computer science department and interned at Deep End Films in Grand Rapids. She also went to Peru with a group of students to film a movie, Pescadora, over the summer with a media production prof. 

Ahna’s advice to new media production majors? “Get involved with other students’ projects. Juniors and seniors will need help, and you can get extra experience and meet more people.”

Envelope, please

The broader film community is noticing student-produced films at Calvin. In fact, pay a visit to Calvin’s media production department and you’ll walk by walls covered in student film posters adorned with film festival award logos.

Check out a few of these notables:

Boston Latino International Film Festival (2011)
Cusco International Film Festival (2011)

Coffee Shop: A Musical
Central States Communication Association (2011)
Grand Rapids Film Festival (2011)
SoCal Film Festival (2010)
Silk City Film Festival (2010)
Anchorage International Film Festival (2010) 

Lip Dub @ Calvin College
Myrtle Beach International Film Festival (2011)
River Bend Film Festival (2011)
SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival (2011)

Four Minutes Later
Central States Communication Association (2011)

Wedding Night
Detroit Independent Film Festival (2010)
Showbiz Expo Film Festival (2009)
Young Cuts Film Festival Repechage (2009)
Waterfront Film Festival (2008)
Flint Film Festival (2008)
Chiaroscuro Film Series (2008)
Indy Awards (2008)

The Landlord
Waterfront Film Festival (2009)
Chiaroscuro Film Series (2009) 

Laid Off
Waterfront Film Festival (2009)

Photos: Jill DeVries, John Stoffer, Steve de Jong and Benjamin Ditto

VERGE: spring 2012

First-Year Experience