Kutztown University’s Associate Professor and Department of Cinema Television and Media Production Chair Michael Johnston and Assistant Professor Jonathan Joy have totally redesigned their school’s program around a Blackmagic Design workflow and have grown their student numbers by 20% in the last several years. They are committed to getting their students hands on with gear and real-world workflows as quickly as possible.
PH: Can you share the motivations behind the decision to redesign the post production curriculum around DaVinci Resolve Studio and incorporate Blackmagic Design cameras? What inspired this significant change?
The overhaul and redesign was rooted in having the department in a 4K production workflow from start to finish. It was a simple decision due to the balance Blackmagic Design offered us — affordable production equipment that put students in fundamental and advanced production environments.
PH: The overhaul of the media program was a two-year process. Could you elaborate on the key goals and objectives that drove this overhaul process?
It was a win-win situation — for every piece of Blackmagic Design production equipment purchased, we’d received a copy of DaVinci Resolve Studio. Cameras, Speed Editors, Micro Panels, and Keyboard Editors were outfitting our editing suites and instructional computer labs.
PH: DaVinci Resolve Studio has become the exclusive post production tool for Kutztown University. Could you explain the factors that led to this choice and how it aligns with your vision for the students' learning experience?
It’s an industry standard tool for a one-time purchase. College students maintain an exorbitant amount of debt. Kutztown University is a state institution where many of our students come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. That’s not a negative, simply a reality. We want to put our students in professional production environments. Blackmagic Design has helped us. Theoretically, students can download the free version of DaVinci Resolve and only have the monthly cost of $4.99 for Blackmagic Cloud. That is cheaper than most streaming services and other subscription based video editing platforms.
PH: The integration of DaVinci Resolve Studio spans five newly renovated post production suites and two computer labs. How has this transformation impacted the way students approach editing and color grading?
The integration has produced a refreshing pedagogical approach which has transformed our professional outlook and in turn has given students access to more professional environments. I will mention a personal story from day one of this semester — my introductory post- production class gave me applause in the first two minutes because I said the whole semester we’d be learning DaVinci Resolve. Those are wins and gains I’m happy to take with me.
The impact is not just seen in editing or color grading but in pre-production and production. Students are making choices and seeing the connections of how those two phases of production inform post-production. When students in our introductory cinematography class recognize how shooting in 6K BRAW with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K informs color management decisions in DaVinci Resolve then we’ve done our job. It is the bridges in our curriculum that we’ve tried to build that make students the importance of all production decisions.
PH: Could you discuss how this workflow has contributed to attracting more students to the program?
The integration and overhaul with Blackmagic Design has put our department on the offensive. What this means for us moving forward is a greater reach beyond our region of Eastern Pennsylvania. We’re the only department of our kind in the Pennsylvania State System. We’ve surpassed high profile universities in Pennsylvania with any cinema or media production department. We’d like to consider a greater reach towards international students.
PH: Kutztown University has a diverse student body, including first-generation and economically disadvantaged students. How has the Blackmagic Design workflow and DaVinci Resolve Studio helped in creating an inclusive and engaging learning environment for these students?
How can I say this without diminishing the value of Blackmagic Design... the opportunity to access a robust, industry-leading post-production application for $0 but no more than $295 is remarkable. It seems criminal, but it is brilliant. The brilliance lies in the cost. That is where the inclusivity and engagement can happen especially beyond the classroom. When more students have access to the application (and if you buy into Blackmagic Cloud) then you can collaborate remotely. What is stopping students from working in real-time on in-class assignments from the department labs with someone in a dorm or off campus housing? Lastly, the integration of DaVinci Resolve on the iPad has been a positive, forward thinking approach from Blackmagic Design. It has changed the on-set dynamic and given us another learning tool that informs the post-production workflow.
PH: Could you elaborate on the decision-making process behind selecting Blackmagic Design digital cinema cameras for student projects? How have these cameras enhanced the quality and authenticity of the students' work?
The purchase of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K was driven by staying within our budget but giving students the opportunity to capture media in 4K or higher. This is the production industry. Everything students screen theatrically, stream or watch online that falls in the realm of media or cinema production has a minimum 4k workflow. Students need to be in professional production situations (or as close as we can possible get them) so they are prepared and are not surprised by what being behind the camera means. Blackmagic Design cameras has given us those possibilities.
The second question is difficult to answer because technology can improve productions, but it doesn’t always translate to enhanced quality or authenticity. This requires time to learn their craft of media making that can’t always be guaranteed success with the latest camera on the market.
PH: The curriculum allows students to engage in advanced coursework as early as their first year. How does the integration of professional tools like DaVinci Resolve Studio and Blackmagic Design cameras prepare students for real-world production scenarios from the outset?
It’s like learning how to ride a bike, play an instrument or learn a language — repetition. Now that students are able to move into advanced coursework immediately following introductory courses, I’ve seen a stronger connection with course material and the body of work produced. DaVinci Resolve Studio and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K cameras are industry leading production tools. Having them as department curriculum tools is putting students in real-world production situations.
PH: The redesign aimed to prepare students for real-world production environments. How do you measure the success of this preparation? Do you have any notable success stories from students who have benefitted from this approach?
I can cite Kaitlyn Todd, a senior CTM major that has put herself in position to be successful based on access to departmental equipment. Her aspirations are to be a cinematographer. Her drive began two years ago. Coincidentally, we were building new department equipment acquisitions around Blackmagic Design. This opportunity gave our student a chance to be a camera operator, camera assistant and producer of content in professional production environments. This has led our student to comfortably make the transition to production sets on feature films, commercials and short films in the camera department.
PH: As the industry continues to evolve, how does Kutztown University plan to keep its curriculum and technology offerings up-to-date to provide students with the most relevant and cutting-edge education?
While it is our job as faculty to be at the front of the line when it comes to the latest technology, I think this question can be damaging to survive in the production industry. We will evolve and change with the ebb and flow of production. However, our curriculum can’t be solely built on technology. If so, then we sacrifice the human element of media making. While the industry evolves (look no further than with the impressive innovation of the LED Volume walls found on movies and shows like The Batman, The Mandalorian and Hijack to mention a few), we as producers and adopters of technology must never forget that story is the core of media making. These tools assist in our visions but are not the vision. Blackmagic Design, clearly, has redefined our department in a positive way, but it is the students and faculty at the center that will dictate the evolution of our department.
PH: Looking forward, what are your aspirations for the continued growth and impact of the Department of Cinema Television and Media Production at Kutztown University?
Personally, I’d like to reach the international community of students. The growth, inclusivity and diversity of our department can succeed with a greater mix of students. Honestly, I’d love the department to be an incubator for cinematographers, editors, grips, producers, and writers.
Jonathan Joy is Associate Professor in the Department of Cinema, Television and Media Production at Kutztown University. He is a media practitioner, video artist, cinematographer, sound designer, editor, and educator. He teaches courses in video production, film/media theory and history, cinematography, and editing. His research interests include live cinema, "liveness," slow cinema, hybrid cinema and a non-traditional spectatorial model.
Michael Johnston is the Chair of the Department of Cinema, Television & Media Production at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. Michael teaches courses in Screenwriting, Filmmaking, and Film History. His short films and screenplays have screened and won awards at international film festivals like the LA Shorts International Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, and Philadelphia Film Festival.