On A Global Scale: An Introduction

BY Felix van Kann, October 4, 2019

On A Global Scale is a bi-weekly series about international co-productions by Columbia filmmakers.


Headshot of Felix Van KannWelcome to the first edition of On A Global Scale. This bi-weekly series celebrates the international spirit of the Columbia University film program and the incredible global collaborations coming out of it. Whether this means introducing the diverse and fascinating projects Columbia filmmakers from all over the world have taken on together, describing specific challenges of shooting in unfamiliar parts of the world, or embracing the cultural exchange through a cinematic lens, we let filmmakers tell their wildest stories about the creation of exceptional international content. 


Following the – at least in film school – (over) extensively used expression “show me something I have never seen before” in its most literal sense, we will accompany Columbia filmmakers on recapping their journeys home or to places they have actually never been, with or without a camera. We follow alumni nurturing the global relationships they built during their time in New York and get behind-the-scenes insights of both the challenges and beauty of learning about the world through film. Shooting outside of the country comes with many hurdles, but it is always an adventure. And what filmmaker doesn’t like adventure?


My interest in this topic was incited during this summer when I was on my first international shoot – in my home country of Germany. Sound like a paradox? Let me explain.


Rising into the second year of our MFA program, every Directing, Screenwriting and Creative Producing student is required to create an 8-12 minute short film over the summer months. Three of my classmates made the incredibly bold decision to shoot their films in their respective home countries in Europe. So, one beautiful summer day in early June, a group of unknowing Columbia students set out to travel across the ocean to live through what would turn out to be one of the most memorable filmmaking experiences of their lives, at least for one of them, meaning me. 


My peers and I spent three weeks in three different countries and shot three different movies in three different languages. We all worked on each other’s sets in different roles depending on what each production needed and helped each other wherever possible. 


I was mainly a sound recordist (which is particularly fun when listening to people fight in Swedish and you have no clue what they’re saying). This cut me out of the actual producing process, but witnessing the amount of planning and organizing that my three classmates put into the making of their films was beyond comprehension. They were not only required to obtain the school’s and insurance’s approval to film overseas, they also had to cast and prepare every little detail of their movie from New York, bowing down to nothing and no one in the process to make their vision come to life in the authentic settings they had imagined them. Their endurance paid off: each finished film took audiences into unique worlds, revealing the very core of their voices as filmmakers. Being from Germany myself but never really having worked on a German film set, it was an intriguing experience to see my country’s peculiarities from somewhat of an “outsider's” perspective. 


Throughout the shoot, I recognized my own culture more clearly than usual after having to deal with German child employment laws, filling out confusing forms about shooting in public spaces in Hamburg and managing our location, a German soccer field along with all the visitors that came with it. But I was also able to experience an international group of creatives unite with only one goal in mind—to make the best movie possible. 


But enough of my personal anecdotes, and back to what matters most. This series will shed light on what I find to be one of the greatest parts of our career path as young filmmakers: getting to know culture through film. Experiencing it, sharing it, valuing it. And getting to know the filmmakers behind it who don’t shy away from the endurance one needs in the crazy world of international co-productions and collaborations. Welcome to On A Global Scale


Stay tuned for more stories to come.