There was a time not long ago when pursuing a career in filmmaking almost certainly meant a move to one of the coasts.
Film just didn’t happen in the heartland. The equipment was large and expensive. The film was costly to develop. Industry professionals were too distant to collaborate with.
That has changed, says Jim Bultas, founder and executive director of Plotline, a nonprofit film and media school and production company based in The Creamery Arts Center.
“Technology is on our side with filmmaking,” he says. “Things are becoming cheaper and more accessible to people. The opportunities are greater.”
Bultas, who teaches tweens, teens and adults the art of filmmaking, says local people are producing animations for major studios, and there are a handful of successful YouTubers creating original content.
“They’re doing it right here,” he says. “It’s pretty amazing and inspiring that you don’t have to leave – you can create right here.”
Class in session
This semester, Bultas is teaching two classes for Plotline at The Creamery. In them, filmmakers ages 10-12 and 13 and up get to experience every part of filmmaking. For Bultas, though, the lesson always begins with story.
“I’m really big on story,” he says. “I think now more than ever, it’s really important to foster that storytelling – passing it on and carrying it on, even as the different mediums and media evolve and change.”
A story is centered on conflict, according to Bultas.
“In the simplest way, a story is about solving a problem,” he says. “So are our everyday lives, our careers – perhaps more than anything else, that’s what I want our students to come away with. As life throws them curveballs, they know how to problem-solve so it works out the best for them.”
Students in Plotline’s courses – typically two evening classes per academic semester, plus a summer Young Filmmakers Camp – learn much more than the art of the story. They also learn about acting, running a camera, audio production, directing and editing – all in classes that are capped at 12 with two instructors present.
“They really go through all the major parts of producing a film in our semester or summer camp,” Bultas said. “We make the most of everything.”
Collaboration is also a key skill students pick up in Plotline classes.
“We really want to hear everyone’s ideas, with everyone weighing in,” Bultas says. “We’re intentional about engaging with all of them so that they all have experience with writing the story but also developing the story.”
Bultas is the lone full-time employee at Plotline, which also employs a part-time teacher for the classes.
When he is not teaching, about half of Bultas’ time is spent on Plotline’s other main activity, which involves commercial video and media production for nonprofits. He most recently provided media background materials for the Springfield Regional Arts Council’s annual gala, The Ozzie Awards, in October.
Bultas also has done a number of short films over the years for Plotline with clients Community Foundation of the Ozarks, Any Given Child and other nonprofits. Revenue for the 501(c)(3) company – $50,000 in 2021 – comes from donors, projects and tuition, which is $350 for a semester-long class, though scholarships are available.
Bultas says the documentaries and media projects occasionally offer opportunities for students to continue to hone their skills, and internships are in the works – anything to fulfill Plotline’s mission to educate and empower aspiring film and media creators, he says.
Bultas is currently at work on a documentary about the Park Day Reunion, an annual summer celebration that brings together the city’s African American community, past and present, for celebrations at Silver Springs Park and other locations throughout the city. The event began in 1952 at the park, which was the only public park designated for Black Springfieldians during the segregation period.
The documentary, which should be released by summer, is a project Bultas is undertaking in cooperation with the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, Timmons Hall, Unite Publication and A Girl Like Me Network.
“I’m telling the history of Park Day, and I’m using a lot of footage that I took last summer,” Bultas says. “It’s been really very interesting because I knew so little going into it. It’s a really special thing that’s been in our community for decades, and it’s a real honor to help tell that story.”
Bob Belote, director of Parks for Springfield-Greene County, is enthusiastic about the project.
“It’s really rewarding to see what Plotline works to do with students and aspiring young filmmakers,” he says. “A number of them end up in our parks with their productions, and we think that’s a great thing.”
According to Belote, Park Day is an event that deserves to be documented.
“We’re sure looking forward to their upcoming documentary on the annual Park Day event and the sheer joy that event brings to Silver Springs Park and the many families and friends that participate,” he says.
It’s work Bultas says he’s thrilled to take part in.
“I have to remember to stop and be really grateful and thankful for how fortunate I am that I’m able to do this and make a living at it,” he says. “It feels really great to be part of a community and be invested in that community – invested in what other people are doing to make this a better place to live.”
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