Edward Patrick Alva ’10 accepted a summer internship at Chain Camera Pictures expecting to learn a lot about filmmaking and meet talented, creative people. His work ethic and technical skills impressed director and company co-founder Kirby Dick and led to an assistant editing position on a documentary film. You could say that Alva’s internship exceeded his wildest expectations: Two years later, the project has been nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature.
“The Invisible War” looks at sexual assault in the U.S. military. According to the movie, a female soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Pentagon has estimated that about 19,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact occurred in fiscal year 2010. Critics have praised the documentary for putting a spotlight on the bureaucratic nightmare servicewomen (and men) face when reporting these crimes. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott wrote, “This film cannot be ignored,” and Roger Ebert noted its “powerful stories” of victims.
Alva is proud to be part of a project that’s raising awareness of a devastating issue. “I learned that movies can make change happen,” he said by phone from his North Hollywood home. “[Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta watched the film, and it led him to make some executive decisions regarding sexual assault in the military.”
A Bay Area native, Alva earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art, with a minor in digital arts, from UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts. The skilled filmmaker, animator and graphic designer recently answered a few questions about his time at UC Irvine and his plans for the future.
How did you land the internship at Chain Camera Pictures?
I got the internship thanks to a recommendation from [UC Irvine studio art lecturer] Bryan Jackson. I started doing administrative tasks and getting coffee, but they really liked my work ethic, and I told them I could do a lot of technical things they needed for the film: Final Cut Pro editing, shot logging and transcribing interviews. I also did some graphic design work and managed social media for the film. Bryan Jackson really did push me to pursue the opportunity and provided essential training in film production. He was really instrumental in helping me land the internship and get hired as assistant editor.
What have you learned from working on this documentary?
From an assistant editor standpoint, I’ve learned the importance of file organization and making redundant backups. I’ve had one too many failed drives. I learned myriad codecs and how to deal with each of them so they play nice in Final Cut. I also learned how to export from Final Cut in a way that makes movies compatible for streaming, DVD, etc. And this: Never be afraid to cut, even if you love a scene. If it doesn’t fit with the film, cut it and solve the single problem rather than try to squeeze it in and create five.
From a filmmaking standpoint, I’ve learned how to interview in a way that makes subjects comfortable. Allow them to talk and finish their thoughts, and try not to interrupt them. You get the best answers that way. Don’t worry about them running long; you can cut it down in the editing room.
What was your reaction when you heard the film had been nominated for an Academy Award?
I was ecstatic and in a state of disbelief for a while. It’s extremely gratifying knowing that the countless hours of work and dedication that were put into the project paid off. What I think is most important is that the nomination will give even more public exposure to the issue of sexual assault in the military and will, I hope, be a catalyst for change.
How did your classes at UC Irvine prepare you for working on this film?
Well, the multidisciplinary nature of UCI’s studio art program was definitely a plus. I’ve done graphic design, social media and tech support in addition to my duties as an assistant editor and on-set crew. I learned many of my skills by exploring the other mediums of art that the major encompasses. Another helpful aspect was the training I had in the video program itself and its emphasis on being hands-on – teaching us the basics of Final Cut Studio, how to properly handle video equipment, etc.
Do you have any advice for a current arts undergrad?
Talk to your professors. I wouldn’t have been able to get this far without the guidance of UCI teachers.
Pursue internships. There is really only so much you can learn from school, even in the arts. Working in the “real world” is a whole other challenge, and being able to see how it’s really done will prepare you for life after college.
Network. Who you know may at times be more beneficial than what you know. That said, in order to make a lasting impression, you need to show that you aren’t just all talk. Work hard, and you’ll be rewarded.
What’s next for you? What projects are you working on now?
At Chain Camera Pictures, we’re starting several new projects, including a documentary to premiere on HBO in 2014. I can’t say much beyond that. I’ve also been working closely with friends and former classmates from UCI on starting a new film production company, Classy Deer. We realized early on that we’re all extremely capable and talented artists; the natural course of action would be to come together and create art under a singular identity. We produce short films and music videos.
Your family must be very proud of your accomplishments.
They are! They can’t stop singing my praises. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines. At first, they were adamant about me getting a “real job” and wanted me to study medicine. They were very wary about me being involved with the arts. But after graduation, they realized the impact of this film and are very happy for me.
“The Invisible War” will screen on campus at 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the UC Irvine School of Law. The screening, presented by the Women’s Law Society, will be followed by a Q & A with director Kirby Dick and attorney Susan Burke.