- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - It’s only noon when someone cracks open an energy drink and slips into the darkness opposite a group of brightly illuminated actors.

Shooting started at 3:30 a.m., and the end is hours away.

A voice calls out from the tangle of bodies, equipment and cords.

“Quiet please. Let’s roll camera, let’s roll sound.”

Ashley Sanders, a Liberty University Zaki Gordon Center for Cinematic Arts senior, leans toward the video village in the corner and begins noting every detail in the scene.

“It’s not an exercise,” said Stephan Schultze, executive director of the center. “We are making movies.”

And when this spring’s production of “Altar Egos” - a religious film featuring Victoria Jackson and Robert Amaya - hits screens in the near future, dozens of LU students will see their names in the credits.

Film students literally can “walk on (to the set of) the Hobbit and feel comfortable working,” after this experience, Schultze said.

That’s because the school, just two years old, has eliminated the learning curve for graduates. Students spend their first two years taking all their general education courses and then are immersed in every aspect of film production for two years.

With classroom time out of the way, students work movie-crew hours in slow-going 12-hour stretches and learn by working beside industry professionals.

“It really helps build your confidence in your ability,” Sanders, 22, said.

“What we learn is directly applied to what we do, what I learn on Monday I am using on Thursday,” she said.

Every spring, a film company partners with the school - last year it was EchoLight Studios, this year it’s Spirit Fruit Productions - and provides just a few professionals to work side-by-side with LU students. Together, they create a full-length feature film using locations in and around Lynchburg, giving the students a film credit before they’ve graduated. Residents can see students filming movies everywhere from downtown Lynchburg to inside restaurants like Wasabi, where they were hunkered down last week.

Following last year’s film, “Letting Go,” six juniors landed internships on the set of the Sony film “Mom’s Night Out.” Just weeks into the filming, Sony promoted all six students to paid positions.

“They weren’t even seniors yet,” said Jill Acosta, administrative manager of the Zaki Gordon Center. “We were really proud of them.”

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