Study abroad program takes students to Middle-earth

Students will be able to explore New Zealand while visiting the filming locations of "The Lord of the Rings" and "Avatar"

A film school study abroad trip to New Zealand will offer hands-on experience in the film production process by exploring the country while visiting shooting locations for blockbuster hits such as the "Avatar," "The Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" franchises.

Film and English instructor and program director Justin Winters said he is excited for students to be able to experience both the rich culture of New Zealand and to receive practical experience of being on film sets and talking with industry professionals.  

Winters said that aside from film instruction, the summer trip, which is in its second year, immerses students in the indigenous Māori culture.

"First and foremost, we wanted to learn about the rich cinematic heritage, majestic landscape and natural history of New Zealand," Winters said. "We also really wanted to geek out on the 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Hobbit' films, which were directed by Peter Jackson and shot all over New Zealand." 

Students will be able to visit filming locations from the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" franchises including Hobbiton, Mordor, Rivendell, and Mount Doom, and will get a behind-the-scenes tour of Weta Workshop, where the films' sets, costumes and props were created. 

Winters said students may meet the the filming crew of the movie "Avatar" during the production for its sequels, courtesy of his friend, actor and director Joel David Moore, who plays Norm Spellman in "Avatar."

"I spoke to Joel and we're hoping to meet up with a bunch of the cast and crew while we're out there, and get to peek behind the curtain at some of the never-before-seen 'Avatar' creations," Winters said. "We might even get to meet James Cameron."

Winters said he highly encourages everyone to be a part of this program, not just film students. 

"Students earn six credits that carry upper division humanities, global awareness, and literacy general studies designations, and the classroom is New Zealand," Winters said.

A behind the scenes look at the filming of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" in New Zealand, where students will visit on the trip.

Ashley Sorensen, a film freshman, said the program is a great way to learn about filmmaking in an interactive and entertaining setting. 

"To be honest, I’m jealous of anyone who’s going," Sorensen said. "It sounds like an amazing opportunity because it exposes students interested in a career in film to the industry."

She also said that the opportunity to meet film professionals allows students to ask questions and to determine if they want to work with either movie or television studios. 

Keegan Luther, a film sophomore, said the study abroad program is a brilliant opportunity due to the fact that New Zealand is a major place for film. 

"Seeing other cultures and other filmmaking styles allow us to expand our horizons and see styles that we would never have thought of doing," Luther said. "We should always travel and experience new things."

Luther said this program would interest him because of the wealth of applicable information about his career that he could get from the trip. 

"With New Zealand filmmakers continuing to become bigger and bigger, we can try to understand how we can use those elements to become better filmmakers," Luther said. "Also the scenery is just breathtaking."

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