Local film professor stars in his own classroom

by Betty Varela 0

It’s a quarter to five; the door opens and they go straight to their side table. Not one, not two, not even three — but four teacher’s assistants.

How did one professor, Ron Mita, get so lucky to have all that help?

“I think that the reason his former students come back is because he is not the standard, by-the-book teacher,” says COC professor Ron Entrekin. “He allows exploration and encourages creative thinking. During one of his recent classes he was showing how to do a forced perspective. He had the most attention of such a large group that I’ve ever seen in a classroom.”

Professors generally only get one assistant, but in this case these students are returning because they cannot get enough of Mita’s innovative ways. They love to be in his classroom unofficially just soaking up all his knowledge and continuing to learn.

“They want to see a little different perspective. Anybody can pick up a history book and read it; he brings it alive,” Entrekin says.

Mita is a professor at College of the Canyons, and probably the only teacher on campus who is a Hollywood screenwriter with a few movies under his belt. Thus, he teaches screenwriting and filmmaking from a been-there, done-that perspective.

According to the Los Angeles Times, on May 6, 1993, he and his writing partner had already made a $1 million deal one week before getting his master’s degree in screenwriting .

Although they sold their script to Columbia Pictures, the movie, “Track Down,” which was to star Jodie Foster, was never made. “It happens all the time. I’ve gotten paid a lot of money for movies that never got made,” says Mita. “The percentage of stuff that actually gets made in Hollywood is very small.”

“Ron is very fun … he knows what he is talking about, and that’s very refreshing,” says Marcus Langston, a CSUN student and former COC student.

Langston does not technically work for Mita, but he loves helping out with different film productions because he enjoys the people and trusts Mita’s opinion about his own work. “As long as he wants me here, I’m more than happy to keep coming.”

With his latest film, “24 Hours to Live,” starring Ethan Hawke on Netflix now, Mita has a reputation among his students as a real professional. He made $200,000 for that script and it could be doubled with residuals. But the money he makes on screenplays doesn’t deter him from teaching, because he loves it.

“Yours was $175,000 for your lead actor; $150,000 for your supporting actor; and camera equipment was $100,000. Video Killed The Radio Star; where was your location?” he says during one session.

You would think you were in a Hollywood studio instead of a COC classroom, because Mita wants his students to experience what it is really like to make a film.

Before he started teaching, he would sit around the house alone writing, or go to meetings, watch movies, etc. It was boring, he recalls, and at the time there were talks of a writers’ strike. He thought it would be smart to have a back-up plan, so he decided on teaching.

“Being a writer is a lonely job,” says Mita, explaining why he has enjoyed his 14 years at COC.

His first decade at COC he only taught screenwriting, then he decided to “step-up” his game by adding filmmaking.

Mita and his wife decided a long time ago to leave the Hollywood scene behind and move to Valencia to raise their family. With three children of his own, he is very devoted to helping the local high school kids that are already interested in film.

“They have very good film and video production programs, but the kids are coming here with clichés in their films.” He thought it would be cool to teach them the do’s and don’ts of filmmaking, and help them learn some story writing skills.

Besides the movie, “24 Hours to Live,” the previous popular movies he wrote were” S.W.A.T.” which starred Samuel Jackson, and, for the kids, the movie “Robots.”

Currently, he is working on an animated version of “The Wizard of Oz,” and this summer he will be teaching a three-day a week filmmaking class open to high school students.

“Teaching is an opportunity for me to interact with human beings and hang out with intelligent people who want to learn film,” says Mita.

At the end of the semester he is like a proud father, and you can see a twinkle in his eye as he says his goodbyes to students. He is sad it’s over, but he delivers an open invitation for them to come back and hang out with him.

As he has learned, many will take him up on his offer.

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