So What?

Visiting MFS Instructor Robert Corna Speaks about the Meaning of Movies

If you walk down the coffee-stained steps on the first floor of Berte Humanities Center, pass hackneyed beige sofas, and take a left by solitary vending machines, you may wind up near Humanities 127, the office of one of two visiting Media and Film Studies instructors, Robert Corna.

Corna moved to Birmingham from LA after BSC’s search for a production teacher for the 2016-17 school year. When BSC offered Corna the job, they also told him he had to be there in three weeks.

“I packed up my U-Haul, drove cross-country, and got [to Birmingam] the day before I started working,” Corna says.

He teaches Production II, Screenwriting, and a special class topic on Spielberg during the 2017 spring term.

Corna received his MFA from the School of Cinematic Arts at University of Southern California. Before USC, he received his BA from The College of Wooster in 1994--a small, private liberal arts college similar to BSC.

“After my undergraduate degree in film, I started as an intern in New York and worked my way up,” Corna says.

While his 17-year experience in the film industry includes working on feature films such as Gangs of New York as the Production Assistant and both The Avengers and Fast and Furious 8 as the Location Manager, some of Corna’s most rewarding projects have been documentaries.

A Smile for Bow, released in 2014 and directed by Corna, follows a Thai teenager with Fetal Alcoholic Syndrome (FAS) and HIV as she journeys to the United States for restorative treatment.

“Camp Dreamcatcher and I got together and found a place in America for her to have a surgery,” Corna says. “It changed her life. It meant so much to do a movie like that.”

Corna finds meaning not only edifying but also essential for making successful films. Thankfully, in a field revolving around storytelling, it is not difficult to make something, even out of nothing.

“My dad was a storyteller. He was great at exaggerating stories--that's what films are,” Corna says. “[Films can] take a true story and totally make it their own.”

One time his father took him to watch Alien, thinking it was like Star Wars. It didn’t take him long to realize his mistake.

“One of the scariest things in movies to this day is when that alien jumped out of the guy’s stomach and raced across the table,” Corna says. “We saw it just after eating pizza! I was freaking out.”

While he teaches the skills essential to filmmaking, such as communication, three-point lighting and goal setting, Corna wants his students to remember that sometimes the best films are ones like Alien that take a simple idea and convert it into a meaningful story.

In his office filled with posters from his documentaries, it is clear to see that Corna has taken his own advice.

“I’m here for a year,” says Corna. “I want my students to work hard, to be the best, [and] to change the world. That’s what movie making is all about.”

is a junior MFS major