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Howard University Film Organization Uses Backlight Software to Produce Afrosurreal Anthology Series

Published on
September 19, 2023
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Howard University Film Organization Uses Backlight Software to Produce Afrosurreal Anthology Series

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Published on
September 19, 2023
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About HUFO

Since 1989, Howard University Film Organization (HUFO) has helped young Black filmmakers explore their passion through workshops, mentorship programs, and film production.

  • HUFO is part of Howard University, a prestigious Historic Black College and University (HBCU). 
  • HUFO membership is open to Howard University students 
  • HUFO's film projects provide members with valuable hands-on experience with filmmaking

For its short film anthology, Where’s Everybody At? HUFO partnered with Backlight to empower aspiring filmmaking with tools and technology used by professionals in the industry. Backlight’s sponsorship gave student filmmakers access to film production software to assist throughout all stages of production, including with scriptwriting, pipeline, media asset management, remote collaboration, review and editing. The HUFO team used Celtx, iconik, and ftrack software from Backlight Creative to manage organizational and creative processes across teams.

About the Project

Outside the classroom, HUFO offers its members opportunities to explore filmmaking career paths and access valuable professional mentorship. And through its film series, HUFO members can share their perspectives and express their unique voices as aspiring filmmakers.

“In conceptualizing what we wanted the series to be, we were drawn to the works of Get Out (2017), Sorry to Bother You (2018)—Black narratives that allow us to explore weird and absurd concepts,” explains Lauryn Johnson, president of HUFO. “We wanted our anthology to be in the Afrosurreal genre, as a way to explore things we experience as HBCU students but in a heightened, distorted, and fun way.” 

To help bring their scripts to life, HUFO evaluated the latest software used by video production studios. With access to the tools of the trade, students could apply the theory learned in the classroom to the writing, planning, and production of their short film projects. 

“Students have lots of creative ideas, but without industry experience, executing those ideas can be difficult,” explains Aaliyah Plummer, Vice President of HUFO. “By providing students with professional tools, they have a structure to follow to realize their creative vision.

Production Challenges 

Due to the students’ limited experience in film production, it was extremely important to have intuitive, easy-to-use software solutions they could rely on throughout the production for information, communication, and collaboration.

"I feel like the biggest issue with student projects is organization...[we] have the creativity, but how do we execute [these] ideas?" says Johnson. "Having software and technology used by the industry professionals ensures that students think it all the way through from the beginning."  

The production team on Where’s Everybody At? was looking for software solutions that could help them with:

  • Pre-production
  • Scriptwriting
  • Budgeting
  • Production management
  • Post-production
  • Media asset management

Aaliyah Plummer, HUFO’s vice president, also served as executive producer on the series. Being familiar with Celtx, a scriptwriting and pre-production management tool, she reached out to Backlight to request a grant to use the software for the project. 

Backlight not only gifted the organization with access to Celtx but its entire suite of video-centric software with added onboarding and personal support from the Backlight solution team.

Facilitating Post-Production and Collaboration with iconik

Having a centralized, accessible view of student’s footage during production would play a key role in moving the entire production along as planned. To do this, the team used iconik to manage assets and post-production.

First, the footage from their Panavision-specific camera went directly from the camera to a hard drive, then to a backup hard drive. Then, to help editors circumvent having to access footage from hard drives, they used the iconik Storage Gateway (ISG) to manage hard drive assets and make the footage proxy files instantly visible online from anywhere. Working with smaller files and having less downtime between capture and uploads expedited the editing process with iconik. At the end of the project, the editors replaced the proxies with the original files before sending them off to be color graded.

To help editors resolve feedback and make their cuts quickly, the crew used iconik’s collaboration features. Feedback and directions were communicated to editors with time-based comments on each shot. Accuracy during the reviewing process was possible with the footage, versions, comments, and drawn annotations all in the same place–opposed to tracking feedback through a Google doc. Students could then see how versions evolved during the production with iconik’s version management.

“Iconik took out the guesswork when working with other crew members to edit footage. I could easily identify the exact frame earmarked for edits thanks to time-stamped commenting.” 
— Jasmyn Lee, a video editor for one of the HUFO anthology series films

Iconik’s integration with Adobe Premiere Pro also saved the HUFO team significant time on the production with the ability to:

  • Quickly find and add footage from iconik to Premire Pro Projects
  • Upload non-iconik assets to iconik
  • Reconnect any missing file added via iconik
  • Upload entire Premiere Pro Projects to iconik
“Because everything was able to be labeled and go straight into iconik, it made it easier to search for specific shots during the editing process. Nothing was lost and it was always right there in iconik.”
— Lauryn Johnson, Writer/Director and President of Howard University Film Organization 

Smooth Planning with ftrack Studio

Managing limited time and resources for complex productions is hard enough, but without the added benefit of experience, the HUFO production team needed an intuitive solution to help plan and meet deadlines—ftrack Studio provided this. Before working with Backlight, the production team struggled to use a combination of email, text and Google Docs and calendars to do this.

The use of ftrack Studio helped the students learn about scheduling and mapping out the editing process and what deadlines are realistic. The ability to map out deadlines was extremely important because each episode could have slightly different deadlines based on the episode’s content.

“Without [ftrack], it would've been very difficult to stay on top of the project and set realistic deadlines. ftrack helped us to schedule and map out what the video editing process looked like and determine realistic deadlines for our editors.” 
— Lauryn Johnson, Writer/Director and President of Howard University Film Organization 

Backlight Streamlined their Production

With the help of Backlight solutions iconik and ftrack project collaboration was vastly improved and the HUFO anthology team were able to more easily streamline their production. HUFO wrapped post-production in Spring 2023 and have since entered their work into film festivals.

The completed series is composed of three short stories:

  • Where’s Everybody At?: A Black HBCU student wakes up one day to find that all other humans have been erased from the planet except for...white people.
  • Permanence: Nino wants to get a tattoo to impress his crush, but when he meets a mysterious tattoo artist who can show him the fates of the clients who were tattooed before him, he must finally make a choice about what he really wants.
  • Sitting Ducks: At a school facing increasing bomb threats, students throw a “bomb” party to distract themselves from the gravity of the situation.

Following the film festival circuit HUFO will once again collaborate with Backlight to distribute its content more widely across viewing platforms using Zype, Backlight’s OTT streaming technology.

If your school or university would like to partner with Backlight please contact us here.

Learn more about our products and request a free trial:

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