Lights, Camera, Action.  Saddleback College has an outstanding film school under the leadership of Professor Charles Myers.  There are several features  of the Saddleback program that differentiates it from others.  One example would be the equipment.  They are 100% digital, high-definition, and tapeless.  The students start out on a Panasonic AGDVX 200 camera and in their second semester begin learning the RED Digital Cinema camera system.  They have prime lenses, matte boxes, tilters, and follow focuses for the cameras as well as dollys, steadicams, and jib arms to create fluid camera shots.  On the lighting side they use professional fixtures from Mole-Richardson and Kino Flo and also have specialty lamps such as HMI's.  Audio is taken care of with Sennheiser systems including fully blimped shotgun microphones and wireless lavaliers.  Their editing suites have the full cmyers7-p1060485suite of filmmaking software including the Final Cut Studio suite, After Effects, EP Budget and Scheduling, and Final Draft.  Students learn and have access to all the tools they will ever need for their productions. OCS   Okay, your equipment is state-of-the-art.  How does this translate into an effective program?

Charlie Myers   A big plus of working here at Saddleback is the tremendous faculty and staff.  Every one of the faculty has professional experience in the subject they teach and they continue to pursue professional projects.  This is very important as this means that everybody stays current with the industry and that the faculty also has the ability to place the exceptional students in jobs.  I think it is smart for students to look into the bona fides of their instructors, regardless of the subject being taught, and find out if the teacher actually has hard experience in the class material.  At Saddleback they sure do.

Another one of the benefits of having a really creative and professional faculty and staff is that it lends itself to an entrepreneurial atmosphere.  We do things differently at Saddleback.  For example, we like to shoot a feature film every year or two.  It is a huge endeavor that requires contracts, financing, insurance, clearances, distribution, the whole process.  I believe that our feature film productions are the single best filmmaking experience a student can have, as they learn so much about the preparation and process of making a full-length movie.  Another thing that we do differently is that we place a huge emphasis on students getting paid work as soon as possible.  It would be fair to say that our program is designed to train students to get entry-level jobs in entertainment and keep them.  Well over half of my Film II class was already getting regular paid work on sets while they were still students.  We regularly place students at RED and have had students working on Social Network, Spiderman 4, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Transformers 4, Green Hornet . . . dozens of productions in just the past few months alone.  Recently a student got picked up for Spiderman 4, ran into another former student that he knew from Saddleback in the art department and then the two of them ran into another former student they knew from Saddleback working on the RED camera team.  At the Emmy Awards we had a former student on the producing team and, at the event itself, two other former students won their second Emmys.  It is that kind of student success that we prize most highly here and I think our students’ work ethic speaks for itself.

OCS   You had a successful career designing theme parks.  Was there an aha! moment when you decided that teaching the next generation of filmmakers was your life’s work.
Charles Myers   The idea of a single aha! moment isn't how it worked.  What I discovered is that there are a series of continuous aha! moments and that is what makes the job so wonderful.  It's like your own kids - you don't have one aha! moment but thousands of them sprinkled throughout your time together with them.

OCS   What do you tell students about the most important thing they need to do to be successful.
Charles Myers   Character.  We emphasize character building throughout every single class in the program.  By character we are talking about work ethic, professionalism, communicating, being on time and respecting deadlines, never complaining or gossiping, attention to detail.  The technology we teach will change every year; character will last you a lifetime.

OCS   You have two Red cameras with Prime lenses.  Pretty heavy artillery for a film program at any level.  What is your relationship with Red and how well are your students doing in the marketplace.
Charles Myers   We are fortunate to be perhaps the leading college to place employees at RED.  For the students it is just a fantastic experience as they get thrown into the fire right from the first day at work and it is a terrific test of their character from the get-go.  After working at RED for a while, students have the opportunity to move on to working on feature productions and then the travel, fun, and work really begins.

OCS   Are DSLRs part of your program?  If so, what kind of results are you getting with them?
Charles Myers   We are not using DSLRs at this point in the program but are looking at them.  It has always been my belief that the manufacturers are all going to coalesce around a 35mm chip, 1080p - 2k resolution camera with interchangeable lenses.  DSLRs will be but one more item in that broad category.

OCS   Do one or two things (students, projects) stand out during your tenure?
Charles Myers   No one person or production truly stand out.  Every semester is a surprise and when the surprise is gone is when it will be time for me to change jobs.

OCS   How do programs such as yours compare to the 4 year programs such as those at Chapman and Cal State Fullerton?
Charles Myers:   I think we run the best program out of any public institution in the state.  The two big private schools, USC and Chapman, have certain advantages to be sure but, with a massive price tag.  My experience has been that saddling a newbie filmmaker with a quarter of a million dollars of debt is a questionable practice when that newbie is likely going to be working for nothing or near nothing for the first year or so.  Everything we have been talking about here at Saddleback comes at a price of $22 per unit, around $1,500 for the full program, and students come out with marketable skills.  Now THAT is a good deal!

OCS   You have a good number of students actually making a living in the industry.  Generally a small percentage (5%?) of students eventually make a full time living in the industry.  What would you say to students who are thinking of entering your program?
Charles Myers:   What no film school wants to talk about, the proverbial elephant in the room, is that the vast majority of their graduates will never work a meaningful career in entertainment.  Especially the big expensive private schools don't want to talk about it.  I first learned this at USC where I was a member of a class of 24 of the most elite film school students in the nation - even then most of my class never had any sort of meaningful career in entertainment.  That is one reason that we focus on character building at Saddleback as that allows us to coach a student into peak performance mode regardless of what they choose for a career.  Some of our program's most successful students made their names in areas such as clothing design, nuclear engineering, finance, software development, and at least two priests.  These people come back and talk about how it was the film classes that gave them direction.  The reason is that in the process of making their pictures they learn things like teamwork, how to deal with fluid situations, problem solving, communication, leadership, and other skills that prove useful no matter what field they choose to go into.

EDITOR’S NOTE:   When I decided to become a producer after some 30 years in the computer graphics industry, I took Film I with Charlie Myers.  My goal was to learn what everyone on a production did, why they were important, and what movie making was all about.  I have remained a fan and friend of Charlie’s ever since.  I could not have asked for a better teacher and taskmaster.  In addition to the hundreds of students he inspires, Charlie has a fascinating story on how his personal journey took him from being an aimless young adult, to a chance encounter with an inspirational instructor at Saddleback College, to earning degrees at USC’s film school, a successful entertainment career, and eventually becoming head of the Saddleback program.  I look forward to telling that story in a future article.  For more information about the film program at Saddleback go to

Saturday, July 20, 2024