Thread Magazine recently published an in-depth look at 419 Productions, the class-turned-production-team led by Professor Frederick Lewis. As written by Emily Barbus and published here,
Few Ohio University students outside the media school have heard of 419 Productions, but the same cannot be said about the rest of the world. Winning awards and earning recognition since day one, 419 Productions creates quality films that rival major motion pictures.
The production class has a friendly and energetic atmosphere. Students excitedly talk with one another and constantly move around. A familiar tune from Justin Timberlake plays through the speakers while Frederick Lewis, the professor leading the class, stands at the door talking at length to a few eager students.
Lewis, who has taught the course for 18 years, opens class with a few remarks, and after a short time, puts the spotlight on his students. After splitting into two teams at the beginning of the semester, the 60 students are currently in the process of producing two featurettes, which are small films averaging from 25-35 minutes in length.
Before the university moved to the semester system, 419 Productions was the capstone course TCOM 419, which is where the class got its name. The course was already branded by the time it switched over to its new name, MDIA 4719.
“Thanks to the class being named 419,” Lewis said,“ alumni all over the country are able to link up and get jobs. It’s become a network of driven professionals.”
Lewis has worked closely with his students over the years to create a total of 62 short films and two feature-length films, which have molded the class into a truly unique learning experience. Unlike most film and media school classes, 419 is a predominantly student-run course. Its emphasis lies in teamwork and building the necessary skills to work well with others in a professional environment.
“It’s more industry driven,” Lewis said. “[The class] fairly quickly became something where we try to emulate the industry model of teamwork and cooperation in specific roles on a crew.”
From budgeting and hiring actors, to editing and filming, the students of 419 do it all. Lewis is the executive producer for the teams and oversees production, only interjecting to give advice or a helping hand.
The highly-driven students who are a part of 419 have done most everything they can to make their films the best they can be. They often hold bake sales, work at Cedar Point, or use GoFundMe to raise money for their films.
And they aren’t asking much. The average budget for a featurette is about $12,000 and with equipment becoming more readily available through the school of media, the cost has dropped considerably.
Their biggest film to date was made in 2009, when Lewis and his class took on the task of creating a feature film based on a collection of short stories by Russell Banks. The film, “Trailerpark,” took a year to write and four months to film, adding up to be the longest production time in 419 history.
They rented eight house trailers and hired a cast of professional actors, and their work paid off. The film was chosen as an official selection for multiple festivals including the Cleveland International Film Festival, selling out all viewings.
419 Productions has also filmed in locations across the globe: from South Carolina and Tennessee, to Canada and Spain. The students work tirelessly to create the best picture they can make.
“We push,” Lewis said. “It’s not can we do it, it’s how are we doing it.”
Amanda Hall, president of 419 Productions, has been a part of the class since her freshman year. Hall says she values her experience with 419 because it gives her a glimpse into what the professional film industry will be like.
“My favorite part of 419 is being surrounded by 60 driven and passionate individuals who just want to learn and grow while we make movies,” Hall said. “You never stop learning in 419, whether it be about equipment or the types of people you get to work with.”
Ben Carpenter, a sophomore and head of lighting for Hall’s team, also appreciates the push to work hard, even when problems arise.
“We had to reshoot a day scene that was lost,” Carpenter said. “The only problem with that is that it was night. So, the grips had to stand outside in the 10-degree weather, anchoring four lights shining through the windows for about an hour. It was a good bonding experience.”
Through all the late nights and many hours spent on production, the students agree that their efforts are well worth it.
“419 is not only a special program to myself because of the lifelong friendships and industry connections I’ve made, but to so many others as well,” Hall said, “For a program that’s been running for 18 years, it’s affected the lives of a countless number of media students.”
With a constant drive and passion for filmmaking, 419 Productions is successful year after year. And with the help of Frederick Lewis, nothing is impossible for the small and hard-working group.