Russell McGee and Doctor Who

By Tamera Theodore

The best part of my job is working with graduate students. Since I’m often the first point of contact in the department and the go-to person for things grad-related, I am a front line witness to a graduate student’s journey.  From the moment they arrive wide-eyed and enthusiastic through graduation when they head out to fulfill their dreams as researchers, creators, and educators – I am here to encourage, support and help pick up the pieces as needed.

Luckily for the department, Russell McGee didn’t head out right away when he was handed his Master of Science diploma in December 2013. He stayed right here in the department. I say “luckily” because I’m quite happy having Russell around. I’ll stop myself just short of suggesting he was one of my favorite grad students (even though he was – and I can say that now that he’s graduated!).  But, I will say he is an awesome person. He’s warm, humble, and genuine and he has an impressive wealth of knowledge about media production and theater. When he graduated, he was looking for work in Bloomington, the department was looking for an adjunct instructor and everyone benefited.

His work in the department has extended well beyond teaching T206 Introduction to Design & Production the last two semesters. He also simultaneously served as an associate instructor for several of our advanced production courses and he assisted in the production lab. Spring 2015 will likely be a repeat act of juggling multiple roles with the addition of another component – he landed a new job at Big Finish Productions, a company that produces CDs, downloads and books.  While you may not have heard of Big Finish Productions, you have probably heard of one of their biggest projects:  they are best known for their Doctor Who audio dramas.

Russell had the opportunity to meet one of the executive producers at Big Finish Productions when he attended the annual Doctor Who Convention in Chicago last year. That chance meeting led to an audition process that lasted over six months and ended up with Russell being hired as a freelance audio editor. He’s working on his first assignment now – very possibly something related to Doctor Who although he couldn’t divulge the specifics.  Typical stories are four episodes, each two hours long, and the average turnaround for audio editors is one to two months.  Since one of the biggest stumbling blocks for editors is getting the work done on time, and since he’ll be a story-to-story freelancer as long as they’re happy with the work, Russell says you can bet his top priority is meeting the deadline.

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Russell came to our graduate program with a goal to better himself as a director, producer and playwright. As an M.S. student, he had the opportunity to take a variety of production courses and in the process learned a lot about audio in a rather unplanned way.   “Not very many people think about the audio until the very last moment with production. As a result of that, the productions that I’ve done here [as a graduate student], trial by fire, I’ve learned audio” and that’s how he ended up with Big Finish. But the reality is, Russell points out, this very well could be a foot in the door to bigger things. It’s possible, for example, to be hired onto the Doctor Who production team for the BBC and that would be like a dream come true.

For now though, Russell is happy combining his teaching and freelance work and hopes to find a more permanent home in The Media School if an opportunity presents itself.  And in typical generous Russell McGee fashion, he asked if thank you’s could be included in this post to some of the people who have been instrumental to his success in graduate school and beyond: Harmeet Sawhney, Rob Potter, Susan Kelly, Robby Benson and even (especially!?) me.

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