The power of sharing ideas and stories in the medium of film originally drew Chris Galegar, Sam Gottsch and Kevin Kisling to the field. All three wanted to work in the industry and chose The University of Tulsa for their undergraduate studies to provide the foundation they needed to successfully launch their careers.
In the film studies program at TU, students acquire the analytical skills to understand and interpret film and to make films that tell a story effectively. From writing the script to making final edits, students develop a thorough knowledge of film production.
The mission of the department of film studies is signified by its name: to provide undergraduate students with expertise in all dimensions of film as both art and business. Students leave prepared to pursue a career in film production or continue with graduate studies. Three program alumni recently shared their stories, including where their careers have taken them after graduation.
The force is with Chris Galegar
Chris Galegar (BA ‘09) grew up in Tulsa and felt drawn to film because of its storytelling power. “I always found stories in everything, and film is a way to explore narrative in so many different avenues,” Galegar said. From the story on a script page to editing scenes together, to the manipulative nature of sound design, Galegar loves working with these elements to craft a piece that speaks on multiple levels.
“Even the subtly suggestive capabilities of composition and color within an image make a profound impact on a film’s story,” Galegar said. While commercial work pays the bills, he finds documentary and narrative work more artistically rewarding. His favorite film genre, documentary, is generally under-appreciated and often viewed as stuffy. Galegar explains that this can be the case when it is a paint-by-numbers piece, but is otherwise the most experimental and exciting field in filmmaking.
When looking at different undergraduate film programs, Galegar says the balance between the academic analysis of film and the hands-on production courses at TU were a huge draw. “The interdisciplinary nature of the program is a vastly beneficial approach to the field. It is far more pragmatic than other one-size-fits-all programs,” Galegar said. Because of the numerous avenues into the industry, the openness of the TU film studies program offers a unique study into that reality.
Although Galegar says that the film industry does not have a typical job market, he does not want that to discourage anyone with a passion for filmmaking. While filmmaking represents a broad and collaborative space, most people specialize in a small piece of the tapestry like writing, producing, directing, shooting, editing or scoring. Galegar notes, however, the importance of having a functional understanding of as many aspects of the filmmaking process as possible to effectively communicate with and understand the limitations of collaborators. If a student is passionate about writing and directing, having a solid understanding of the broader production techniques and post-production processes will not only help them develop better stories, but also to communicate more succinctly and confidently with their crew.
For a few years after graduation, Galegar taught a film production class in the TU film studies department, which offered a great opportunity to share some of the wisdom he had gained from working in the field and to develop a class he did not have during his time in school. “That experience was exciting, weird and funny all rolled into one. I had a great time working one-on-one with the students,” Galegar said.
Galegar is also quick to point out that nothing trumps experience when entering the job market. Following graduation, he took a job as an editor at KOTV, Tulsa’s local CBS news affiliate. “Cutting daily news packages and 45-second b-roll loops was not even the least bit sexy, but it gave me a ton of practical experience and thought me to think quickly on razor-thin deadlines. Never underestimate that kind of opportunity to hone your craft. Even if you have intuition and ambition, without experience to sharpen those skills, you have nothing,” Galegar said.
Last year, Galegar used those skills to re-cut the “Solo: A Star Wars Story” trailer. He felt the original trailer was milquetoast and was worried the creators were retreading familiar territory recently covered in the origin story of Captain Kirk in JJ Abrams’s 2009 “Star Trek” film. Just to show some friends, Galegar set the footage from the first “Solo” trailer to young Kirk’s favorite song and posted it to YouTube. “Within 12 hours, Topher Grace was tweeting at me about it and movie blogs all over were writing about it,” Galegar said. The video ultimately racked up close to a million views, which Galegar says still feels absurd. He wrote about the experience on his podcast blog.
When he relocated to Houston in 2018, Galegar opened a boutique freelance production and post-production house. He works on everything from creative consultation for campaigns and narrative development to editorial services, motion graphics and color correction. He also continues to keep close ties with Tulsa, even working as the sound editor and colorist on a short film by Jeff Van Hanken, Wellspring Associate Professor of Film Studies, called “Lonely Hunter”, earlier this year.
In the future, he and fellow film studies alumnus Jacob Graves are planning a few documentaries. One involves the bizarre production of a cult midnight movie. “We also share of love of music and have worked in fits and starts on a few stories that explore the careers of various independent musicians,” Galegar said. Whatever the future holds, the force is sure to be with Galegar’s endeavors.
Sam Gottsch finds the art of film in football
Sam Gottsch graduated in May 2018 with a degree in media studies and then came back to finish his fifth year of football, which allowed him to complete a degree in film studies in 2019. Gottsch moved to Tulsa as a freshman in high school, and now lives in South Jersey.
Gottsch became interested in film his senior year of high school and scheduled a meeting with Joseph Rivers, J. Donald Feagin Professor of Music and Professor of Film, to learn about the film program at TU. “He made me feel welcome and I knew that it was what I wanted to do. I mainly came to TU because of the film department’s professors,” Gottsch said. His first class was film history with Van Hanken, where he learned that film is an art form, what the films meant in the past and how they impact people today.
The idea that film has an impact on people’s emotions and changes the way people feel by what directors capture on screen drew Gottsch to the industry. “When I watch a great movie, I walk away feeling some type of way, whether it’s inspiration, happiness or sadness, but I love it when I’m moved by film. I was drawn to this career because I want my work to move others,” Gottsch said.
During his last year on campus, Gottsch joined TUTV, which helped him land his current internship at NFL Films on the show NFL Matchup on ESPN where he works in the producers’ department. “TUTV has so many resources and it was one of the first places I was able to truly practice creating and editing videos,” Gottsch said. When looking for a job in the film industry, many employers ask to see a portfolio of previous projects and TUTV provides a space to collaborate and create work to include.
The summer after graduation, Gottsch worked on a couple of projects for the visual artist Kalup Linzy, an artist fellow at the Tulsa Artist Fellowship. He says that working with Linzy was a great experience because it was his first look at what he could achieve as an individual who chooses to work in the creative industry. “People always think you need to move to Los Angeles or New York to have success in the film world, but working for Kalup and connecting with other artists in town proved to me that it doesn’t matter where you live, you can create anywhere – especially Tulsa – as long as you put your ideas into action and make use of all your resources,” Gottsch said.
Like any career, Gottsch says, the work you put forth is what you get out of the field. The film industry is no different. Most of Gottsch’s success comes when he is vulnerable with his work and dives in, even when he is unsure of the final product or process. His dream project is to make a music video for a famous artist because music videos are a visual representation of what artists try to portray with their words. “You can create a whole different world that makes a song even more powerful and I think it would be a fun collaboration,” Gottsch said.
Kevin Kisling: Steadicam-ly working in the industry
Kevin Kisling (BA ‘10) is a Tulsa native who moved to Los Angeles after majoring in film studies with a minor in creative writing. Since graduating, Kisling has worked in a variety of different fields from writing, shooting and editing job safety and training videos for oil, gas and green energy companies to creating product videos for a wristwatch company, to working for a company that filmed behind-the-scenes-activities on movie sets. He recently transitioned to working in the camera department of film and TV as a Steadicam and camera operator.
As a camera operator, he works freelance, which means that some gigs last a day and some last a week or a month. “This makes for a very fun and unpredictable life,” Kisling said. Finding work in film is a marathon, not a sprint, and while working in the industry takes perseverance, the increasing number of people, studios and streaming services shooting films and TV shows increases demand for skilled professionals.
“I chose to study film at TU because the program is very close-knit, collaborative and hands-on, which has served me well,” Kisling said. Learning how to collaborate was a skill he continues to employ daily.