August 29, 2022

An Idea is Formed

Last I posted, I mentioned my Documentary Practicum class would be choosing an idea for their semester documentary project. And so they have: the role of the house-party scene as a steppingstone to success for a local band.

My first thought was: typical undergraduate student idea.

My second thought was: it all depends on how good a job they do telling that story.

In other words: I will teach them how to do it well.

August 11, 2022

In Search of an Idea

I’m teaching MED512 Documentary Practicum this fall. The semester begins on 22 August.

The class will complete a short documentary film about a Springfield topic over 16 weeks. They’ll get hands-on experience doing all the things.

The goal for the class is to finish a good film in time to submit it to the Broadcast Education Association Festival of Arts — an international competition of student and faculty media. Our overall media program at Missouri State ranks 4th. Our documentary program ranks 21st.

I have high expectations. I’ll be taking my readers along for the ride.

Step one: A story idea.

Stay tuned…

June 14, 2022

Work Continues on Back-to-the-Land Documentary

Now that I’m back from my trip to Portugal (see my personal project on becoming an expat), I’m back to work on the back-to-the-land documentary being directed by Denise Vaughn. I’m the cinematographer and doing some project consulting. Many of the interviews with members of the original 1970s movement into the Missouri Ozarks will be housed in the Special Collections at Meyer Library at Missouri State University.

June 12, 2022

Playing Around With Bumpers

A bumper in the film business is a form of studio branding. You’ll generally see two or three at the start of almost every film. Here’s a list of famous ones you’ve seen dozens of times (sadly, an old list with a few gaps).

Sometimes bumpers are simply visually striking with little attempt to create meaning. The best ones, I think, try to say something about the studio. Here’s the bumper for Carbon Trace Productions, the non-profit documentary studio I co-founded in Springfield, Missouri.

Carbon Trace Bumper with Audio.mp4 from Carbon Trace Productions on Vimeo.

We thought we might be making films about broadly environmental issues of all sorts. Our first film — Downtown: A New American Dream — was a new urbanist film examining the movement back to cities by boomers and millennials. We ended up focusing more on humanitarian service. But the bumper was designed to indicate a cleansing of the earth through our documentary efforts. Hence the smoke cleared away as the moon sweeps by and the name is revealed.

Here’s a draft bumper I’ve developed for The Rhetorica Network.

Rhetorica is a character that represents the concerns of the discipline of rhetoric — the persuasive use of language. I’ve mixed the Old English font with Greco-Roman imagery to connect the past to my application of my academic field (rhetoric, not media) to the persuasive concerns of documentary filmmaking.

Anyway, bumpers are cool and fun to make. So here you go.

June 10, 2022

On Passion and Regret

I made many mistakes in my early career directly attributable to a youthful lack of wisdom. One thing in particular: I wanted to be the best photojournalist, to have my name spoken in company with the best of the 20th century. To win the major awards. To witness the great events. To have my images of those events become iconic.

Luckily, none of that occurred. And while I suffered a bit of youthful regret as soon as it became apparent that dream wasn’t going to happen, I did manage over some measure of years to settle down and be cool with the way things were working out.

Things have worked out better in many ways. But my 24-year-old self would not have recognized my understanding of “better” today.

After earning a Ph.D. and getting a proper academic job, I did the tenure grind and the promotion grind and wound up a full professor. I made a decision in 2014 that, only a few years later, I figured out was sort of wise. So, yeah, gotta be careful there. Wise is a lot like cool or woke. If you claim it, you probably aren’t it.

Some years before my wife and I made a list of things we individually hoped to achieve as we landed in middle age — that was a few years before I finished graduate school and took an academic job, while life was still in flux. At the top of my list I wrote: “Learn to make documentary films.” Not too surprising for a visually-oriented, non-fiction guy. The list was put away and forgotten until my wife found it sometime around 2016 after I’d finished my first documentary film. Oh, look! It was on the list!

In 2014, I began production of my first documentary film with a group of my students. I had not made video much over the length of a standard news report to that point. A colleague in the department asked me — I was a print journalism professor, after all — what I hoped to achieve. I answered with one word: mediocre.

And I achieved it!

Somewhere, somehow — possibly owning to my adherence to Stoic philosophy — I stopped trying to be the best. A first hint was right there on that list of goals. I wrote that I wanted to learn to make documentary films. Not a word about being good at it.

My 24-year-old self would not understand me because I do what I do for me first– and last.


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