R-WTF? The secret language of RTVF majors

    If phrases like “strike the diva,” “kill the baby” or “use the dead cat” interest you, you might want to learn more about RTVF before considering it for your major.

    Every time RTVF students are on a film set, they might expect to hear these and many more unusual phrases. According to RTVF sophomore Rachel Fimbianti, these expressions can come to be more than just words.

    “I definitely think that [in the language we use] there is a binding force,” Fimbianti said. “It was this huge joke that we were all passed around as we were doing it, ‘Ha, you have to kill a baby,’ so it’s kind of our own little inside joke ... that you don’t know until you fully become [immersed] in the community.”

    The language that people use can become a central part of a community’s identity, according to Annette D’Onofrio, an associate professor in Northwestern’s linguistics department.

    “Language always reflects aspects of our social identities that we want to project within and in contrast with other communities,” D’Onofrio said in an email. “So any time we are trying to distinguish ourselves or mark ourselves as belonging to some group or enact some sort of social persona, we can use linguistic style in combination with other aspects of style to do that kind of work.”

    Students have to know peculiar expressions to be successful while they’re on set, which fills a significant portion of their time. Throughout the quarter, Northwestern students are writing and producing films of all kinds – efrom comedy, to drama, to horror.

    Every week, students petition to join film sets by meeting with student directors and expressing interest in a spot on set. Frick-Alofs said that although the school funds many student films, students are the “driving force” behind them, writing, producing and directing their own works with only student crews.

    Frick-Alofs said that students actually learn many technical skills necessary for working on films from upperclassmen while on set rather than in class. This includes picking up film set lingo and building community, especially among first-year students.

    There are many opportunities for freshmen students to get involved with student productions early on, like First-Year Filmmakers, which is an event for first-year students where students have 48 hours to team up with other film and theatre students to produce a film. RTVF first-year Drew Thomas participated in the event this year and said it helped him get aquainted with a lot of people early in the year.

    However, the RTVF program at Northwestern isn’t just production. There’s an analytical side to film as well. In fact, according to Frick-Alofs, that’s one of the aspects of Northwestern’s RTVF department that sets it aside from others in the area.

    “Northwestern’s interesting when it comes to classes, because we’re kind of a hybrid,” Frick-Alofs said. “There are a lot of film programs that are film studies, and they’re more theory-oriented… then there are [programs at other schools] that are very production-oriented… where all the kids there have a lot of technical knowledge and they spend a lot of hands-on time with equipment.”

    Frick-Alofs explained that while many film programs are focused on either theory or production, Northwestern’s RTVF program combines both, requiring first-year students to take four introductory classes in both of these areas before allowing them to register for higher-level courses. These four introductory classes cover film analysis, theory, production and screenwriting.

    “We pride ourselves on our programs that cross disciplines and encompass the creation of and study of various forms of media,” RTVF Faculty Chair David Tolchinsky said in an email, “and we’re pushing to have those programs interact with one another more and more.”

    Within the two main areas of study – theory and production – exist even more sub-categories of interest, including a variety of different writing classes focusing on every style of writing from romantic comedy to sitcom writing.

    Even with such a wide array of focuses within the program, the RTVF program is relatively small compared to others on campus. Thomas said that the small community, along with working on set with peers, allows for quick network-building. Frick-Alofs agreed, adding that the RTVF community is unique in the sense that everyone gets to know each other quickly.

    Fimbianti agreed that the community of the RTVF department is a natural and reassuring part of the program, on both sides of the spectrum of what students study.

    “I like the RTVF department because I like film,” Fimbianti said. “And I like hanging out with a bunch of other film nerds, and talking about ‘Have you seen this one random movie that just came out in the last year?’ and actually finding someone who has, or someone who wants to see that same movie you do.”

    Relating to each other is an important aspect of every community member’s sense of belonging, and a college major is no different. Language can be a part of this as well. Frick-Alofs said that although he doesn’t feel that language doesn’t necessarily play a large role in shaping a community, every area of study does have its “jargon.” In other words, each campus community has language that is unique and may help members relate to each other.

    What Frick-Alofs called “jargon,” D’Onofrio explained as “specific [words] that we use in particular social situations, which can sometimes mark status as ingroup or outgroup.”

    The “ingroup” in this case contains RTVF students and, from what students have described, it seems that a sense of belonging to that “ingroup” really does create a unique view of what they study. Students in the “outgroup” here don’t look at film through the same angles.

    Fimbianti described how she looks at film with a “different set of eyes,” often recognizing details that others don’t while watching movies. This unique lens gives her the ability to carefully analyze and critique film, an ability that Fimbianti feels not many people realize or want to improve.

    According to Fimbianti, this may be one of the reasons that the RTVF department is small to begin with. She said that many people probably don’t realize how complicated film actually is, and how much work goes into a movie.

    “I used to think that good movies just sort of happened,” Fimbianti said, “but they don’t. They are incredibly challenging to [make] happen and you need all these little pieces to come together perfectly in order to produce this Best Picture-winning film.”

    Similar to making a movie, many “little pieces” come together to make the RTVF department what it is. So, even if you get a little nervous when someone tells you to “kill the baby,” it’s all part of a bigger culture here at Northwestern, and the students are passionate about what they do – and say.

    “[It’s] great to see how everyone’s plunged in to make RTVF the best it can be, to help it evolve,” Tolchinsky said in an email. “[I’m] very proud of our department. It’s a fascinating community of excellent artists and scholars.”


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