In the world of film production study, Johns Hopkins
might never be lumped in with the likes of the University
of Southern California or New York University, but the
Film and Media
Studies program in its short history has carved out a
niche for the independent-minded, thoughtful filmmaker.
For the past eight years, the man doing the carving
has been John Mann, a senior lecturer in Film and Media
Studies and the program's only full-time faculty member
focused on film production.
Whereas larger film schools train people for the
Hollywood industry, Mann says that Johns Hopkins seeks to
support filmmakers who can offer a unique perspective on
the world around them.
"We are not really about churning out third assistant
directors for a major motion picture. We are not tied into
the industry like other schools. We want our students to be
able to express themselves through film and to follow their
own creative path," Mann says. "I hope that our students
are able, while they are here, to develop a thoughtful
approach to filmmaking that allows their theoretical work
to continually inform their production work."
Founded in 1995 under the auspices of the
Department, Film and Media Studies offers Homewood
undergraduates courses in the theory, history and criticism
of film; media studies; screenwriting; and film
Students in Mann's classes learn the filmmaking craft
using 16mm cameras, the standard for lower budget and
limited release films.
First, students learn how to craft a single shot,
taking into account composition, available light and
exposure. From there, the students work either in groups or
individually on black-and-white or color nonsynced short
films, typically three to five minutes in length. They edit
the films either at the program's modest editing suite on
Gilman Hall's fourth floor or the Mattin Center's Digital
After students complete the Advanced Film Production
course, focused on the use of synchronized sound, they may
either take a Senior Project in Film Production course or
pursue independent study, through which they can fully
explore their individual approach to filmmaking.
Mann says that JHU student film projects defy
pigeonholing and can be anything from a silent avant-garde
piece to a narrative-driven comedy.
For C. Anderson Miller, his path led him to create a
stop-motion 16mm animated film called Wednesdays. Miller, a
senior majoring in film and media studies, used a
hand-cranked motor to shoot the single-frame animation
sequences that detail the journey of discarded organs from
the operating table to a janitorial closet, where they
assemble themselves into a janitor who hates Wednesdays.
Why Wednesdays? Says Miller, "Because the week is only half
Miller says he "fell in love" with the Film and Media
Studies program when he heard about it on his first visit
to Johns Hopkins from his home in Kernersville, N.C.
"There's a wonderful balance here between
production-oriented classes and film criticism-oriented
classes," he says. "You can basically make your own
concentration out of the courses you take."
With his own filmmaking, Mann favors short
documentaries and experimental films for which he is often
writer, director, cinematographer and producer. In 2003, he
created Running to Keep From Falling, an eight-minute film
that explores alienation and anxiety themes through
recordings on telephone answering machines. The film
received an honorable mention at the 2004 Black Maria Film
Festival, an international juried competition, and was
screened at that year's Maryland Film Festival. Several of
Mann's works have been shown on PBS, including 1997's
Locust Point, which details through that Baltimore
neighborhood the immigrant experience in the early
In addition to the program's core production courses,
Mann has developed and taught such courses as Experimental
Film, Documentary Theory, Film and Haiku and, this
semester, the Craft of Filmmaking, in which each Friday a
filmmaker comes to class to talk about her or his work.
Visitors have included Peter Bogdonavich, Leslie Thornton
and Ross McElwee. Mann says the course allows students to
speak with each filmmaker about his or her vision of
filmmaking and to talk in a small seminar setting about the
importance of film as an art form.
In Lost and Found Film, students splice together
pieces of archived films to create a wholly new short work.
Mann says that since students have no emotional connection
to the archived films, they feel less constrained by the
editing process and are more apt to flex their creative
"The students are often surprised to see their editing
skills grow by leaps and bounds during this course," Mann
says. "And it's always interesting to see what they come up
Mann says he prefers that his students not emulate him
but rather follow their own creative path, wherever that
Anna Prebluda, a sen-ior majoring in film and media
studies, says that Mann brings a unique view and vision to
every class session.
"I never feel as though he is trying to teach us how
to produce or make a film but rather that he is constantly
asking us to think like a filmmaker," says Prebluda, who is
from West Hartford, Conn. "His classes are not so much
about evaluation or learning technical skills but rather
about how to re-examine the world through a visual medium.
Aside from a genuine love and fascination for the cinematic
process, Professor Mann brings a constant enthusiasm for
his students' ideas to every class."
Prebluda to date has completed several film projects,
including a short silent piece and a longer independent
study film about a girl who finds an old movie in a barn.
Currently, she is planning a shoot for a film in which she
examines the gestures of ballet dancers and ballerina dolls
through the use of close-up photography.
Linda Delibero, associate director of Film and Media
Studies, who has taught film at JHU since 1989, says the
film production experience at Hopkins is very different
from those offered at the big-name film schools, which tend
to focus on narrative-driven films that function as
storytelling devices. At Johns Hopkins, Delibero says, the
study of film production and film theory go
"Students here are really encouraged to think hard
about the very nature of film and what it does as a visual
medium," Delibero says. "They're asked to put film in the
context of its aesthetics. I don't think there are many
film programs that work as hard as we do to make the
connections between producing and studying film as clear
Delibero says that Mann's courses are oriented toward
understanding narrative in unconventional ways, which often
leads to some very experimental, thought-provoking
"Our students are Hopkins students. They're very
smart, creative kids, and we want to challenge them to make
films that reflect those gifts," she says. "Getting the
fundamentals of operating a camera, etc., is not the hard
part; it's making films that are smart, interesting,
imaginative in challenging ways. And that's what these kids
can do that students at the big "factory" film schools
don't necessarily learn."
Both Delibero and Mann say that the program is still
somewhat of a well-kept secret. The program currently has
40 majors, many of whom discovered the program after they
enrolled at Hopkins, as well as film minors and occasional
"We're a very young program and have only really begun
to take off as a major in the past five years," Delibero
says. "And, like many programs and departments in the
humanities here, students discover us mostly when they want
to take a break from their pre-med or other
science-oriented courses. But things are beginning to
In the past two years, an increasing number of
students have come to Johns Hopkins specifically to study
"Word is getting out," she says.
The Film and Media Studies program screens student
films at the end of each semester, typically during the
first week of finals. Look for the dates in The Gazette
calendar or go to