Annamarie in Prague

Annamarie is a junior and an SMU Distinguished Scholar who is spending spring 2012 in Prague, the Czech Republic. She is attending the CET Film Production program with SMU Abroad. She is looking forward to working with film students from all over the world at Prague’s highly competitive Film and Television School (FAMU).

Five more weeks of Prague

Streets of Amsterdam

It seems like mere days ago that I was sitting at Bread Winner’s café with my parents, grabbing a bite to eat before heading to the airport and getting on a plane that would take me to Prague.


The past few days have been a time of reflection for me. With five weeks left in this city, I am both excited to return home to my friends and family (and shower, and bed, and the English language), and sad to leave behind a place I have fallen in love with and people who have quickly become some of my closest friends. We are all avoiding the subject of our inevitable departure and trying to really enjoy our final month here.

With friends at our apartment

Now, although five weeks seem short compared to an entire four months abroad, we still have four whole days to continue making memories and to finally make our films. 816 long hours. 48,960 full minutes that I will most certainly not take for granted.

Two weekends ago I travelled with a few of my friends to the Las Vegas of the European Union: Amsterdam. Connected by canals, teeming with bicyclists and echoing bike bells, and composed of dark-brick buildings with white trim, Amsterdam could definitely compete with Prague for a “most beautiful city to ever exist” award. While in Amsterdam we spent our days proudly being as touristy as possible.

We visited the Anne Frank house – where the Frank family was in hiding until their location was betrayed and they were taken to concentration camps – and also took part in the Heineken Experience at the Heineken museum/brewery. Being the dorky film students that we are, we spent a solid 30 minutes watching Heineken commercials. We watched them all, from the vintage Heineken originals to the more elaborate and comedic commercials that air today; the behind the scenes and the extras, which showed humorous interviews with all of the characters. I have to say, we were quite impressed and entertained.

So close to the lemurs!

On Sunday, before we had to catch our overnight train back to Prague, we took a trip to the Amsterdam Zoo. From lions to lemurs to overweight seals, the zoo was the best way to end our trip, and after a 15-hour train ride, a shower, and a bite to eat we were back in a classroom, tired but ready to get back to work.

This past week we completed all of our core classes, so the majority of our time is being spent either in our elective courses or in group meetings, where we are finalizing our scripts, working on storyboards, talking with our production manager, and getting everything ready for our upcoming shoot. As the director of photography/cinematographer in my group, my main responsibility right now is storyboarding and composing a shot list. We shoot in just 11 days, so over the next 72 hours I will be spending a lot of quality time with the script, a pen and blank sheets of paper.

Springtime in Prague

It is exciting and terrifying and daunting and awesome all at the same time. And although I could definitely happily stay here for another year, I know my parents, my friends, and my dog, Sparky, are ready to have me home. So I have about a month to continue pretending that I am, in fact, a Czech citizen, and to take in as much as I can from this invaluable experience!

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Springtime in Prague

Hanging out with Beccah and friends

If you told me a month ago that I would be sitting outside in shorts and flip-flops, basking in the warmth of the sunlight, I would have laughed in your face. Coming from Dallas, the Prague winter was pure misery; snow, wind, and piercing cold made going outside almost intolerable. But this past week, Prague has decided to join the month of March, and we have been blessed with beautiful 65 degree, sunny afternoons.

View of the Charles River

This past weekend I was, what I like to call, lazy. Saturday I slept in until noon, then met up with a few friends to walk through Letna Park, a large park near my apartment that overlooks central Prague and the Charles River.

After relaxing for a bit we headed to Old Town to walk through the Spring Market, where we got some refreshing zmrzlina (ice cream) and walked by all of the souvenir and craft stands while listening to the sound of the Czech children’s play that was going on at the top of the square. Although I tend to think that most children’s shows are simultaneously humorous and (mildly) creepy, these elements are both intensified when the play is being performed in a different language, specifically Czech. It was entertaining to say the least.

Spring Market in Old Town

I spent even more time outside earlier this week, taking a walk along the Charles River between classes and sitting at a park across from FAMU, with only the interactions of the dogs playing to entertain us. My friend and I were thoroughly amused for a solid 15 minutes observing the dogs, and decided that we could probably spend hours watching them play in the park and never get bored. Dogs are actually hilarious.

Along with these lovely spring afternoons comes one of the greatest, most important spring traditions: March Madness. As I am not an avid college basketball fan, I actually have no idea how the tournament is going, but since a handful of my friends here are Syracuse University students, we all gathered at a local sports bar to watch their game in the Sweet 16 round. Although they are now out of the tournament, their victory in the first game was exciting for all involved. Except maybe Wisconsin.

Surprisingly, this laziness has not filtered into my academics, and with shooting beginning in less than a month we will soon be kept occupied with location scouting, casting, storyboarding, and rehearsing, so that at 9 am April 28 we are ready to go! As a last weekend of recreation before the madness begins, a few friends and I are headed to Amsterdam tonight on an overnight (15-hour, probably uncomfortable) train to explore another infamous European city. I am excited for the weekend and the month ahead and am looking forward to beginning the process of making our short film. Should be an awesome experience.


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Keeping up

Annamarie in Prague
So it has been a few weeks since I last posted, but since then we have finally come into contact with cameras! Earlier this week we had a 3-day lighting seminar in which we were broken up into groups and given the chance to work on the set at the studio. We rotated roles as director, director of photography, camera operator, and actor, set up the lighting to create the correct atmosphere, and shot each scene on 16mm film. Because lighting is always the most challenging and time consuming aspect of setting up for each shot, it was good to get the chance to work with some equipment before shooting our films in April.

Pan (Mr.) Michael Gahut (middle), our camera technology professor, on the set of our lighting seminar

Other than classes and seminars, I have been getting the chance to get to know Prague now that it is (sort of) warming up here. The past few Saturdays some friends and I have gone to the outskirts of Prague to explore the flea market. Filtering through treasures at flea markets and thrift stores is one of my favorite past times so I love that I have been able to explore the Czech flea market scene. Although there is the usual assortment of people’s old dishes and broken cameras we purchased some quality items: 2 recorders (yes, the instrument everyone is forced to learn in the 3rd grade), neon mohawk wigs, a violin, an old 8mm camera, some Bono sunglasses, tennis rackets, and a glass with a picture of the Charles Bridge.

The flea market in East Prague

I like to think we have had some pretty great successes at the market. Besides flea-marketing we have spent time finding new restaurants and pubs, seeing movies at the theater, supporting one of our friends when he performs (sings/plays guitar) at a local bar, and trying to branch out of the neighborhoods around our apartments and near the school.

Prague castle at sunset

With a gym membership, an apartment, and a pretty solid understanding of the basic layout of the city, I continue to feel more and more like I am a resident here in Prague. Because of that, however, I have yet to do and see most of the “touristy” things the city has to offer. I have not been to any museums, seen the John Lennon wall, gone to the zoo, or explored the interior of the castle grounds, so my friends and I have planned to spend a weekend next month doing as many tourist-targeted activities as possible. I know my friends would question my decision making abilities if I came all the way to the Czech Republic and didn’t step foot near the castle. So a few weeks from now I will post all about those adventures 🙂

Old Town, one of the more tourist-filled areas, is known for the astronomical clock tower and the gorgeous building facades.

We continue to get busier and busier here, with scripts due next week, meetings with our production manager, and shooting next month the rest of the semester is going to fly by. I just hope I can keep up!!

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Studying film in Prague

It was just about a month ago that I was pulling my overstuffed suitcases up a cobblestone sidewalk in the rain and the cold, having just completed more than 16 hours of travel from Dallas to the Czech Republic. I am here in Prague studying film production this semester, and I cannot believe it has already been a month since I arrived.

The first few weeks of my stay here consisted of intensive Czech language courses – before I left I had not even heard one Czech word – and lots of free time to get acclimated to the city. After a few runs to Tesco (think Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Macy’s, Target, and Tom Thumb combined into one, glorious mega-store) and a lot of “where are you from’s” and “what school do you go to’s” we finally began taking classes at FAMU (Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts), the film university here. With a set of core classes where we discuss camera technology, scriptwriting, the tools of directing, acting, lighting, and sound, and a handful of electives ranging from more theoretical discussion courses to history lectures, my life is now consumed with film school.

On top of attending all of these classes, next week we will break into groups of 3 or 4 students and begin pre-production for a short film. Throughout February and March, we will, in our groups, pitch ideas to professors, write a script, set up a storyboard, find actors, and prepare all of the production design for an 8(ish)-minute short film. In April we will each get a few days to shoot the films on 16mm, act as crew members on other students’ film sets, and edit our film so that in May we can screen them and see what our peers have been working on all semester.

Hopefully I can find time to breathe, or sleep, or both.

Although I am now finding myself very busy, I cannot complain about any part of this experience so far. I have walked across the Charles Bridge, wandered through Old Town, travelled to Berlin for a film festival, learned more about the food and the culture of the Czech Republic, an area of the world I knew next to nothing about before my arrival, and gotten to know some amazing film students and influential professors. Although I have only been here for a month, I can’t help but feel sad that I only have 3 months left; I finally feel as if I am a resident of Prague and I am extremely blessed to have this opportunity, even if it still is a … refreshing 30 degrees outside.

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