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January 1, 2011

Film classes take on statewide project

John Little had only been at his new job at Central Wyoming College for a few weeks when he volunteered to take on a big assignment — one that would ultimately test his skills as a filmmaker and as an instructor.
Little, who was hired to start a new film program at Central at the request of the Wyoming Film Board, offered to create a video for the Wyoming Summit on Community Colleges. The film included stories on students, alumni and community partners from all seven of Wyoming’s community colleges and is being  shown in Cheyenne to Gov. Matt Mead, state officials, college presidents and board members and industry partners in December.
In a very small window of time, Little developed the concept, was involved in the majority of the filming, directed, produced and edited the video though he also turned it into a class project for three of his film courses.
“It was a great class experience,” Little said. “They literally had hundreds of hours of practical experience, the kind of hands-on training that is really important for film students.”
Little and his students traveled more than 2,000 miles to visit every college campus from Sheridan to Torrington to shoot “tons and tons” of film. He essentially threw the original syllabi for his classes out the window and utilized the task as teaching moments. “It was less about books and more about the real world,” he said.
The project was so successful, he is pocketing his syllabi and his students are out making a film on their own. “They have really knocked my socks off,” said Little, who has traveled and lived all over the world making films. The classes are working on a 15-minute film based on the legends of the haunted Acme Theater in Riverton, which will be shown to the public in December.
“I’m stepping back and letting them do it,” he said of the students who have been assigned tasks as producers, directors, editors and actors. “Based on the experience of the summit film, they’ve really got their act together.”
Several of his students came out of Amanda Nicholoff’s television program and worked as production assistants on an independent film and on the TV series Modern Family that were shot in Wyoming this summer.
And using Wyoming as a backdrop for film and television was the entire reason the Wyoming Film Board came to CWC about starting the film program. The state can attract more filmmakers here if there is an educated workforce to assist.             “That’s what we’ve set out to do,” said Little, a former physicist who has made literally hundreds of science-based documentaries and entertainment films for the Science and Discovery channels as well as at Montana PBS.
Little was drawn back to academia and taught film and television at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point until he was awarded a Fulbright professorship to teach film and communication in the Middle East in Oman. Research took him to central east Africa, to the island of Zanzibar, where he started a charity project and obtained 40 computers for a trio of very poor schools.
He purchased land on Zanzibar and plans to build a film institute and hostel for visiting volunteer teachers.