Silver Screens, Big Screens and Small Screens: Award-Winning Baylor Filmmaker Shares How He Hopes People Watch, Experience His Movies

Professor says, ‘The best way to learn how to make movies is to make movies’


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    Credit: Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing & Communications

    Chris Hansen, M.F.A., who serves as professor and chair of the film and digital media department in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences, works with an actor on the set of “Seven Short Films About (Our) Marriage."

Newswise — WACO, Texas (May 13, 2019) – The movie-watching experience continues to evolve. And while directors wish all people could experience their movies on the silver screens in theaters, they know most people these days will be watching on the big screens in their living rooms or on the small screens in their hands.

The movie-watching experience and the takeaways matter, said award-winning filmmaker Chris Hansen, M.F.A., who serves as professor and chair of the film and digital media department in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences.

“As a director, I want people to engage with the story and the characters. I want you to be able to put yourself in the characters’ shoes and see the world from their points of view so that, whether you agree or disagree with their actions, you understand where they’re coming from,” Hansen said.

Hansen has directed five independent films. His most recent project, Seven Short Films About (Our) Marriage, is now in post-production.

In the following Q&A, Hansen shares thoughts on how we – as audience members – can do our part to get the best movie-watching experience and what he – as the director – hopes we take away from that experience.

Q: As a director who puts in countless hours and organizes a team that puts in countless hours on a project, what do you hope audiences take away from your film?

A: Film critic Roger Ebert once called films “a machine that generates empathy.” I see my films falling within that description. I want to generate empathy in the viewer for these characters and their situations, and I want audiences to come away talking about and thinking about their struggles.

Q: So much goes into making a movie. There’s the script, cinematography, setting, dialogue, music, costumes, etc. Is there any one thing you hope your audiences notice?

A: I hope that I, along with the other artists who have collaborated on the film, have created an experience where none of those things stands out above the other, except that they create a moment or moments that move people. If you’re thinking, “That was great dialogue,” then that can take you out of the world of the movie.

Q: Your films are all available on various streaming platforms, which means that people are most likely watching them on televisions in their homes. What are your thoughts on the home viewing experience?

A: The quality of the home viewing experience has gotten better and better over the years. We now have (or have access to) better and larger television screens, terrific audio systems and movies available in high-resolution formats. On the flip side, the home does not afford the best viewing environment because it’s not immersive the way a theater is. The experience of the theater provides fewer interruptions and allows the viewer to be fully immersed in the world of the movie, although even that environment is being disrupted by people using their cell phones in the middle of a movie. Still, it’s better than the home viewing experience, which gives the viewer many distractions and interruptions.

Q: When you watch films at home, what steps do you take to limit distractions?

A: As a person with a wife and children, I try to plan viewings of movies around their schedules, so I can watch uninterrupted when I know people won’t be home. And I try to control my own distraction level, but the “always on” nature of email and texting are hard to resist. My preference would always be to have people turn the phone off, turn the lights off and turn their attention solely to the screen. That’s hard to get people to do at home.

Q: What are your thoughts about people watching movies on their smartphones or tablets?

A: Very few filmmakers I know would express a preference that people watch their work on smaller screens. It’s just not ideal, and there are so many carefully planned details that can be missed. Having said that, I’ll admit to having watched films and TV shows on my tablet, especially when I’m traveling. The truth is, given the changing nature of the world we live in, people are going to watch in whatever way is most convenient for them. But watching on a screen as small as a phone means you’re getting a much more utilitarian experience of the film. You can say you watched it and can probably recount the plot accurately. But you will often have missed the fuller experience of seeing the film on a larger screen.

Q: When students come to you and say, ‘I want to make movies!’ what’s the first thing you say to them?

A: One of the first things I tell people is that the best way to learn how to make movies is to make movies. You learn by doing and getting critical feedback from someone who has done it and understands the form. And of course, in our program at Baylor, we also teach the theory side of things. We believe in a solid balance between theory and practice. We teach our students how this is done, but then they just actually have to do it and learn from their successes and their failures.

Q: Do students in Baylor’s film and digital media program have the opportunity to work on your films? If so, in what ways?

A: Students in our program do indeed have the opportunity to work on faculty-led projects. We make our films in the summer and offer the opportunity as a credited course so that they can have a lab-like learning experience. Students rotate through crew roles while working under professionals who help them understand their jobs. Some of our students have called this one of their best learning experiences in our major because it takes all the things they learn in the classroom and puts those to the test on a project that’s much larger in scope than what they’ve been able to experience before. And being a crew member on a film set can be a stressful experience. We’re dependent on the weather and limitations of time and money. It’s a great way for them to understand the ups and downs of the process and how they’ll respond to the pressure.

Q: What can you share about your newest project and where can people find your previous films?

A: My latest film, currently in post-production, is a feature film called Seven Short Films About (Our) Marriage. It’s the story of one marriage that unfolds over seven episodes over a number of years, as this couple struggles with the common issues that marriages face and try to make their love last. My films are currently all available on various streaming platforms. You can find Blur Circle, Where We Started, Endings, and The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah either on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and in some cases, on Blu-ray disc via Amazon and other outlets.

 

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments and seven academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences.

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