Road trip to Providence for documentary class - The Behrend Beacon

Road trip to Providence for documentary class

Posted on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Author: Krissy Cole (H&SS Editor)

A select few students who are enrolled in Professor Steensland’s documentary class were given the opportunity to travel on a road trip for one of their class assignments. 

Christian Davis, Kayla Miller, Todd Bailey, and Joanna Hatch volunteered to take on this project and were given the opportunity to get some great hands-on experience in the art of filmmaking the weekend of the Sept. 30.

The road trip took the group to Providence, R.I. to film a documentary on Kelly Murphy, a children’s book illustrator. As Steensland is publishing his first book for children, called Behind the Bookcase, he needed an illustrator and Murphy took on the role. 

The students have worked with Steensland in class for several weeks now setting a focus for the film, interviewing Murphy through Skype, discussing the set-up and feel of the film and creating the detailed shot list for the documentary. In order to get the final product they had to go through all the steps. 

“I get asked so many times in class ‘Why don’t our films look like your films?’,” Steensland said. By having the professor on site to be a mentor during filming, students are able to see the type of work and time that goes into putting together a real documentary.  

The first night consisted of meeting with Murphy and her husband for dinner. This helped create a level of comfort which made it easier for the students to be able to begin filming the next day. The shoot began on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and was finished up five hours later.

With a project like this, it could take more time than expected to set up for one scene. It takes great care to get the right shot. “It took an hour and a half to get the lighting just right. It was worth it though because our footage looks amazing,” said Miller. 

Most of the footage at the beginning of the shoot consisted of the interview, while the second part of the shoot after lunch focused on the B-roll shots, which will play in the documentary over Murphy’s interview.  

   Hatch said the best part was “Just the opportunity to get out of the classroom and into the field.” Hatch said, in reference to what she loved the most about the trip. In this class it’s more than just working in class; students are able to explore all the possibilities. 

  Other students in the class are also working with Steensland on other documentaries. There is another group working on a similar project that relates to Steensland’s book. Every film has a different style and allows students to get great experience working on these projects. All of these projects allow students to try something new that they may never have the chance otherwise to experience.  

“When you’re dealing with something hands-on, there’s no substitute for that out of class experience,” Steensland said. That’s what makes the class so different and appealing.    

So after all that work, the students begin the editing process on all the footage to create the final product. By using Adobe Final Cut Pro and several other programs in the communication labs in Kochel, the students can put the pieces together and add the background music and other sound effects. 

The students are no strangers to using these editing programs. “Editing has been surprisingly easy. Kelly Murphy was a dream to work with,” said Miller. 

“All of the film projects I’ve worked on in previous classes translated well into editing our film,” said Bailey. As this class is a 400 level, there were some prerequsites of course. Practice can make perfect, and the more film editing classes students take the more experience they can get.

“Class work is a real opportunity to experiment,” Steensland said. It’s not every day students get to create a professional documentary.