Lessons in Production

by Teresa Lynch

Oftentimes graduate students in our department find themselves sharing Associate Instructor (AI) responsibilities.  T101, T205, T206 are just some of the courses where multiple AIs have to work together, but mostly independently.  T283 is a bit different.  It’s a production course where Telecom undergrads have the first opportunity to get hands on experience with equipment.  Correspondingly, it also offers the assigned AIs the opportunity to work with undergrads – who have just acquired the basic skill set – in flexing their creative and technical muscles.

The course is divided into two portions – studio and field production.   Half of the students (and their corresponding AIs) begin work in Studio 5 where they hone their skills in performing live shots and learn to work with an intimidating array of expensive equipment.  The other half begin fieldwork, where AI Steve Burns says “there is personal responsibility to take care of your business outside of class and really want to do it in your free time almost because you really love doing it.”  After about halfway through the semester, the groups switch.

T283 is instructed by John Walsh and the AIs this semester are Garrett Poortinga, Brian Steward, Ted Jamison-Koenig, and Steve Burns, who all have a range of different work experiences to draw on.  They focus on teaching a specific skill set in each lab session.  For instance, you might remember last week’s post about Ted’s audio specialty.  John says that outside of their formal weekly meetings, there is a good bit of interaction between the AIs in terms of collaboration.  “The AIs from one lab will help another, we’ve gotten to know each other and know everyone’s skill set and strengths …  Even when we just are switching between the five week segments of field production and those in the studio, there’s a natural interplay.  It sort of happens organically.”

One of the most rewarding (or perhaps frustrating, humorous, and surprising) things about T283 AI work is helping students create pieces, which they could add to their portfolios.  Garrett says that guiding his students through the process of “developing a concept, producing it and delivering it” is something he really enjoys about teaching in a creative lab, as it gives him the opportunity to share his creative experience, but also see how “they’re going to branch out in terms of their creative passions.”

Students working in Studio 5 for T283. Photo by Garrett J. Poortinga

In his last studio project, many of his students pitched similar ideas that were narrowed down to three different projects: an original music video, a mock-umentary featuring the “foreign director” of the music video the first group created, and an improv game show.  Garrett feels particularly suited for helping his students because he did his undergraduate work here and is well-versed in the intricacies of the studios, the equipment, and the logistics of being a student.

Bryan discussed the difficulties of having individuals come in with unworkable ideas.  His favorite?  “Body part scavenger hunt – which involved a headless, armless, legless torso who went around campus finding his different body parts.  So then you ask the question, ‘well, how are you going to do that?’ and they draw a blank because they haven’t thought out that far, they just think it’s a cool idea.”  Within the scope of the class, certain projects aren’t workable, but as Bryan explains, that’s just part of the process of learning how to produce.  One of the workable ideas that his group had was a remake of the viral Internet music video, “Gangnam Style.”  Bryan credits a remake video of “Call Me Maybe” done by a section of students led by previous T283 AI Matt Falk as his students’ inspiration for their project.  He says in the end, the students did a great job coming together and he was happy to see one semester’s students building off what a previous semester had accomplished.

Ted’s challenge this semester was to sort out which of the twelve pitched projects to undertake because each of his students’ ideas was workable and creative.  The first screening of the studio projects was a remake of “My Strange Addiction” where the students featured a man married to a blowup doll – a doll whose ultimate fate would be to get rolled over on and popped.  Ted’s primary interest and area of expertise is in audio production, but he has sincerely enjoyed the opportunity to work with students in their areas of interest.  Often, fostering those interests works to help him hone his teaching skills and help the students discover their strengths.  One of his students in particular wowed the rest of the class with his acting abilities.

Students on set in Studio 5. Photo by Garrett J. Poortinga

Over a number of semesters, Steve Burns has seen undergraduates come and go through T283 where they’re given the opportunity to build the foundations for their portfolios.  Overall, he says that the students usually come in very much the same.  “You get a lot of the same pitches year after year … There’s a lot of recycled ideas, but it’s part of the process.”  Still, Steve says it’s an excellent opportunity for students because “you have to go put a lot of time and effort into something for it not to turn out looking like your favorite movie.  And realize how do I get there and see who’s doing well and how do I line up with [them].”  That experience for Steve has been the most rewarding – helping him to strengthen teaching skills and work with students through difficulties he himself has experienced.

On his part, John sees his talented and hard working AIs building a legacy for the course.  He notes that “not only are there different production backgrounds, but everybody has a range of production experience.  Some of it real world experience, some of it extended experience within an educational venue.  I believe that as we go forward to establish a framework for T283, which these guys have contributed a lot to, as the folks did last semester, it will be easier for graduate students of varying backgrounds to come and participate because we’ll have a framework in place to guide them.  So even graduate students who have a very limited amount of experience in production will be able to participate based on the contributions of these guys.”

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