The Binghamton Film Initiative (BFI) began as an attempt to fill the gap in communication and collaboration between the theatre and cinema departments at Binghamton University. It has since evolved into much more, providing a springboard for aspiring filmmakers in all aspects of the field.
The project, which is neither chartered nor funded by the Student Association or any other campus entity, is the brainchild of 2015 graduates Tyler Downey and Jared Biunno. When they couldn’t find an organization that suited what they were looking for, Downey and Biunno decided to start their own. BFI grew as the founders pulled other interested students into the project, adding Oliver Lau and Nick Maciarz, both juniors majoring in cinema, to the core team.
“They’re not very encouraging in student collaborations,” Lau said of the cinema department. “Our school, our cinema department is more focused on avant-garde experimental filmmaking, so it’s a rarity that they would encourage any student to [make a narrative film].”
The goal of BFI is to educate students on how to create films through hands-on work, but it also encourages student collaborations. To that end, the BFI website hosts a database of over 200 students interested in all aspects of filmmaking, from acting and writing, to sound work and lighting. Through this database, students are able to reach out to put together crews for their own films. However, even with this resource, creating a film from start to finish is a challenge.
BFI understands this challenge intimately and invites interested students to work on their sets as production assistants (PAs). These assistants are responsible for the scut work (remedial tasks) on set, but they are rewarded with exposure to all of the aspects of filmmaking. Those PAs who survive their first few sets become a more regular presence on BFI productions and are often invited to try out lighting, sound work or whatever else they are interested in.
“We don’t want to be just this sole group that’s like, ‘No, you’re not good enough, get out,’” Maciarz said. “We want people to like come in, see how filmmaking is done properly and then go out and do their own thing.”
In addition to the core team of students, there is a lot of support for BFI from alumni. The founders were wary of losing that initial momentum. However, as a result of working on several films together over the past two years, the current students and recent graduates maintain close relations with eager alumni who provide financial, practical and technical guidance.
This past year, BFI began participating in film festivals in the Northeast, both to increase visibility and to prove to a wider audience that there are talented filmmakers coming out of BU. The entry fees were self-funded and the process for choosing the festivals to submit to was as much about the location as it was about the spirit of the festival. One of the major festivals BFI participated in this year was the SUNYWide Film Festival, held at SUNY Oswego.
“The money [to be won] is secondary,” Maciarz explained. “The experience and the people you meet are really what’s important at these SUNY [festivals].”
Festivals like SUNYWide have certainly increased the visibility of BFI on campus, but many people still don’t know about the group or BU’s filmmaking culture and connections.
“When you actually talk to [students] face-to-face, they’re like, ‘You know what, I’ve always wanted to act, I’ve always wanted to write, I’ve wanted to be in movies, but, you know, there’s nothing in Binghamton,’” Lau said.
Downey added, “We want to help you make those connections and help you realize you can get it done yourself.”