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IAP film courses offer dark nights, bright lights to actors and directors

The poster from the film 'Night of the Living Dead.'
The poster from the film 'Night of the Living Dead.'

MIT is going Hollywood this Independent Activities Period (IAP) with several courses on filmmaking, including two promising offerings in contrasting genres--the mystical dark nights of zombie-land and the bright light of documentaries.

Comparative media studies (CMS) graduate students Kristina Drzaic and Neal Grigsby will co-teach a course on zombie filmmaking on Jan. 23, and Generoso Fierro, a filmmaker and senior administrative assistant in the literature section, will teach a course on documentary filmmaking on Jan. 11.

"We love zombies," said Drzaic with a laugh, adding that a zombie film is an obvious choice for a quick shoot with a limited budget.

Zombie movies have enjoyed a resurgence with such films as "Land of the Dead" (2005), the final work in zombie-ist George Romero's quartet that began with the classic, "Night of the Living Dead" (1968). Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) was remade in 2004. Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" (2002) is another example. Drzaic has made several of her own zombie films.

"There is a strong tradition of low--budget zombie filmmakers," Grigsby said. Perhaps the best known and most critically acclaimed has been the original "Night of the Living Dead," but the genre is a popular one, as reflected by the course enrollment.

There are only 10 spots in the Jan. 23 daylong course and the waiting list already has more than 40 people. Surprisingly, most of the students on the list are female, Drzaic said.

By inviting a lot of people to the course as extras, Drzaic and Grigsby hope they will get a better gender mix. "We only have one boy," she said with a laugh.

The action-packed eight-hour day starts with an overview of the history of zombie films and an introduction to the camera equipment. The class culminates in a viewing of the student films.

During the day students will write their scripts, do the makeup, shoot their five-shot films and edit them. Everything is included in the class budget, including makeup and five cameras for shooting.

"If you are going to shoot a movie in a day, it definitely has to be a horror movie," Drzaic said.

Grigsby agreed, stating, "I am not sure I would want to take a semester-long course on zombie filmmaking, but for a day it works well."

Both teachers expect the course to be a lot of fun and--since the films will be shot all around the MIT campus--they warned people to look out for zombies on Jan. 23.

Fierro's course, "Documentary Filmmaking: A One Day Survival Guide," will also be a full house. "I only wanted 15, originally," Fierro said. "But I expanded it to 20 because of the demand. I think there is a real love for documentary film right now."

Fierro said he hopes the course will inspire people to start "documenting what is around them."

For Fierro, who also has a Jamaican music radio show, documenting his world has meant making films about Jamaican music. He hopes that his course will help educate aspiring filmmakers about some of the legal issues involved in the documentary process.

Students will learn the basics of shooting a documentary film, editing and getting it seen. The course will also touch on the festival submission process.

"Documentary Filmmaking" will be in Room 32-124 from 6 to 10 p.m. For more information, contact Fierro at x3-5038 or

"Make Zombie Madness!" will be in Room 1-246. For more information, contact Drzaic at

Kristina Drzaic and Neal Grigsby recommend:

"Shaun of the Dead" (2004)--Edgar Wright
"Night of the Living Dead" (1968)--George Romero
"Dawn of the Dead" (1978)--George Romero
"Brain Dead" (1992)--Peter Jackson
"Evil Dead II" (1987)--Sam Raimi
"Plan 9 From Outer Space" (1959)--Edward D. Wood Jr.
"The Un-Life of Katie" (2006)--Kristina Drzaic (Available on
"Resident Evil Zero" (2003)--Video game
"Zombie College" (Flash animated series on Icebox created by Eric Kaplan, index.php?id=show& showid=s20)

Generoso Fierro recommends these documentaries:

"Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait" (1974)--Barbet Schroeder
"From the Journals of Jean Seberg" (1995)--Mark Rappaport
"Titicut Follies" (1967)--Frederick Wiseman
"Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" (1996)--Bruce Sinofsky
"Gates of Heaven" (1980)--Errol Morris
"Seven Up Series" (1964)--Paul Almond
"Dark Days" (2000)-- Marc Singer
"Hearts of Darkness" (1991)--Fax Bahr
"Waco: The Rules of Engagement" (1997)--William Gazecki
"Dig!" (2004)--Ondi Timonder

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 20, 2006 (download PDF).

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