#cinebears: The History of a Hashtag and the Future (?) of UC Berkeley Student Filmmaking

I am sitting in a Starbucks in Burbank (a city that’s part of LA county) as I write this, surrounded by ridiculous air conditioning and noisy jazz. Very recent memories of a visit at the Disney Animation Studios [thanks to my long-time-no-see friend from my computer animation times in Austria, Ralf] give the cafe experience a nice aroma. It is hot outside, and one must dress appropriately to LA weather: I am wearing neon green swimming trunks, and a T-Shirt that has made quite a few rounds in the corridors of Dwinelle Hall at the UC Berkeley campus. I am talking about the #cinebears T-Shirt. You might encounter quite a few people wearing it during your time at Berkeley, but who knows what the future will bring. All that I can see is that it’s grown beyond a fad, and could be considered a small movement of sorts. But let me backtrack and explain what #cinebears is, how it came about, and what it (hopefully) will do to our small yet feisty community of student filmmakers and student organizations at UC Berkeley.

Various film students at Cal wearing the #cinebears T-Shirt

Various film students at Cal wearing the #cinebears T-Shirt

It all began… at Cafe Strada

In Fall 2013, I gave in to some requests and my gut feeling, and founded the Cinematography DeCal. Following a successful semester, I had a meeting with Professor Skoller, who strongly advised me not to opt for a one-trick-pony but rather create something sustainable for the student body and film studies department alike. A wise recommendation, which prompted me to change plans and mold the DeCal into a “Legacy DeCal”, which would be passed on from student facilitator generation to student facilitator generation. The first heirs of this responsibility were Andrew Balcof and Adriel Olmos, two talented, skilled and ambitious filmmakers and fellow students who I got to know closer in the Fall semester (Andrew and myself went to Detroit together in the Winter as well).

Andrew and Adriel at the very first meeting of the Cinematography DeCal - already co-facilitators from Day 1.

Andrew and Adriel at the very first meeting of the Cinematography DeCal – already co-facilitators from Day 1.

Adriel, myself and Andrew at the lighting workshop of the Cinematography DeCal. One of us was originally not in the picture.

Adriel, myself and Andrew at the lighting workshop of the Cinematography DeCal. One of us was originally not in the picture.

#cinebears on instagram: At the writing of this article, there are 200 photos tagged with #cinebears - within about 4 months of introducing the hashtag.

#cinebears on instagram: At the writing of this article, there are 200 photos tagged with #cinebears – within about 4 months of introducing the hashtag.

Either way, this eclectic triumvirate was sitting at Cafe Strada; the Spring Semester was only a few days away, and we were making last modifications on the curriculum for the Spring 2014 semester. We brainstormed on how the class could be better than in its initial installment – all of us with the same share of opinion and voice; it was our common responsibility to bring an educational, entertaining and useful experience to the students of the DeCal.

I think we need a Hashtag for the DeCal.
-Adriel Olmos

That’s what started everything, and Adriel came up with the idea of promoting the Cinematography DeCal with a hashtag.
This didn’t just make sense on a marketing level, but on a historical one: Designating a previously unused hashtag for a certain activity allows people in the future to look back through time and track what happened, who did what, and where the bar was set by previous generations. We live in the age of big data, of automatic archival and information wealth – so it’s essential for us to keep with the track of time, and provide an easy archival method that creates an appropriate buzz at the same time.

We brainstormed various terms, but eventually Adriel came up with “cinebears“. That stuck – despite Andrew’s joke that it sounded too similar to “cinnamon bears”. We decided that Cinematography DeCal students would get brownie points for their work, and one of the ways of earning bonus points was to post photos of their projects, endeavours and DIY builds on instagram, with the accompanying hashtag.

 

This was Adriel’s thought process:

“I thought we needed something to keep the students continuously active in composition and lighting by looking at their everyday surrounding environment. Realizing that students may not have DSLRs or other cameras, they all must have at least a phone camera that they will carry with them everywhere. By having students post up pictures to single space “#cinebears,” then the students can gain creative inspiration from one another, as they continue to motivate each other through constant creative work.”

Here’s a few quick links to said hashtag collections:

From the Cinematography DeCal to all Student Filmmaking at UC Berkeley

After the semester started and we announced the hashtag to students of the DeCal, Andrew had his big shoot – formerly known as “Blindfold”, now named “Downstream”. Said shoot had around 30 UC Berkeley students as crew, a generator, tons of lighting gear from Cal, and an annoying Austrian Cinematographer. It so happened that some people on the crew were students in our DeCal, and the word about the hashtag spread like wildfire on the shoot. Soon enough, crew members were positing impressions from the set with #cinebears, as evidenced on instagram’s archive of the hashtag. Within a week, the hashtag had mutated from a Cinematography DeCal perk of brownie points to an indicator for UC Berkeley Student Filmmaking.

Throughout the next weeks, despite heavy activity on the side of Cinematography DeCal students and lots of nice impressions on Instagram, more and more “random” photos started appearing that had nothing to do with the DeCal and had everything to do with what we were all trying to do: Make good student film works at Berkeley.

How is that possible? Well, there is a saying: “Once you make a movie and release it, it gets a life of its own” – and this couldn’t ring more true with brands or hashtags.
The Room“, notoriously the worst film ever made, had a resurgence on its death bed and turned from terribly done romance drama to a highly entertaining shit-cultfilm with hundreds of unintended opportunities for laughter.
Burberry, the elegant British high-end fashion label, had its reputation seriously threatened through the brand appropriation by non-target-audience consumers from the world of Hip-Hop.

Same with #cinebears – originally conceived as a marker for the Cinematography DeCal, it developed a life of its own and went for Cal Filmmaking at large. It fills the void between GIANT Filmmakers, DKA (The new Cinema Fraternity), CalTV, BFF & Co.: An organization-agnostic unifying marker to represent everyone that wants to make student films at Berkeley.

Manifesting an Idea – from Online to Print

Andrew, Adriel and myself looked at what was going on on instagram and facebook, and were more than happy with the changes that happened organically. Smelling a momentum, I felt like action had to be taken. The most obvious action for me was to design a logo – transcending the text, the single letter nature of #cinebears, and creating a logo for it – an artwork which could be used for profile pictures and cover photos on Facebook.

The definitive symbol of Berkeley – apart from the beautiful “Cal” logo – is the bear paw / footprint. The usual depiction of bear paws at UC Berkeley’s iconography includes an anatomically incorrect “thumb” claw, and excludes the fleshy pads on the bottom of a bear’s paw. In following the full meaning of “cinebears”, I tried to come up with something that would unite the bear paw / footprint with classic cinema symbols. The best fit was the film roll, so I replaced the fleshy pads with a simplified arrangement signature holes on a film roll. Upon further feedback, I included a film strip coming out from the back part, symbolized by two corresponding rows of sprocket holes.

This symbol was then combined with a marker-esque typefont saying #cinebears – and the cinebears logo was born.

#cinebears Logo Iterations - based on existing Cal Imagery, the logo of #cinebears combines Berkeley iconography and filmmaking symbols.

#cinebears Logo Iterations – based on existing Cal Imagery, the logo of #cinebears combines Berkeley iconography and filmmaking symbols.

It is an eternal frustration of digital visual artists like myself that their work only exists on the computer; and at the same time, only providing social media swagger was not enough for the momentum that had built on its own – there needed to be something that people could identify with. A T-shirt was the first idea, and after some cost research and google form surveys among the fellow film students, I ordered 80 T-Shirts. I bought each shirt for $8 through EthiCal  Apparel (a great student organization that does non-profit printing), and sold them for $8 a piece, making $0 profit. 70 of them got sold over the course of the following 2 months, 10 of them were left over and eventually disappeared.

The distribution of #cinebears T-shirts happened through a custom-tagged duffle bag that I had to bring back and forth to campus about 25 times.

The distribution of  70 #cinebears T-shirts happened through a custom-tagged duffle bag that I had to bring back and forth to campus about 25 times.

On set: My latest short film, "Real Dreams" encouraged crew members to wear the #cinebears T-shirts - here you can see what a crew of Cal cinebears looks like.

On set: My latest short film, “Real Dreams” encouraged crew members to wear the #cinebears T-shirts – here you can see what a crew of Cal cinebears looks like.

Present and Future

When you now go into a large film class at Berkeley, or attend a Berkeley student film shoot, the chances are high that one of the 70 or so owners of a #cinebears shirt are in attendance, with their shirts on.

The hashtag, the symbol, stands for an identity – wearing the shirt means “I support student filmmaking at UC Berkeley” or “I identify as a student filmmaker at UC Berkeley”. This means that students from all walks of life, involved in a variety of film- and non-film student organizations or clubs or fraternities, can wear the shirt. It’s one of my daily highlights when I run into people on campus wearing the shirt, and it’s a great opportunity to meet new people in the same boat: “Oh, you’re also into filmmaking? What kind of stuff do you do?”

The film department is a small crowd compared to departments like Math or Molecular Cell Biology – the need for collaboration and helping each other is great.  In a similar sentiment, I eventually created a facebook page for #cinebears that showcases Student Filmmaking at Berkeley, and allows the public to access our process.

The #cinebears facebook page: Hosting more than 1000 behind the scenes photos, and exhibiting our filmmaking activities at Cal to our peers and the public. That way, again, we can be inspired by one another's work, and build an archive for the future.

The #cinebears facebook page: Hosting more than 1000 behind the scenes photos, and exhibiting our filmmaking activities at Cal to our peers and the public. That way, again, we can be inspired by one another’s work, and build an archive for the future.

For the future, all there is are futile projections. The film department is expected to be going through a little yet comparatively radical change in the next few semesters; there’s talk that production classes will be more integrated in the curriculum and that there a more favorable set of authority figures in the institutional food chain of Berkeley that would help students do better film productions.

In either case, I see the production future of Berkeley optimistically bright; there is tons of movement in the status quo of filmmaking and student culture since I got there – and the next generation of changemakers is shaking hands with the batch that has left this semester.

All that I know is that I will print another set of #cinebears T-shirts to feed the hungry fresh arrivals in our humble little group of film studies majors that have wishes to apply their learned theoretical and historical knowledge in the field of film production. There is so much power in a small group of dedicated individuals that stay up all night to write, preproduce and edit; who ask their peers to help them with a similar level of dedication and lead them by example; who are intellectually injected with the Berkeley superjuice and aren’t just book smart but street and filmset smart.

For we are #cinebears.

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PS: If you’re reading this far in the future and want to reawaken the movement in case it has slowed down (unlikely but there’s got to be a Plan B), email me at tobias@tobiasdeml.com or find me on Facebook – and I’ll happily give you any information, materials or meet over a nice big Frappucino when I’m in town. Go #cinebears!