(Photo credit to Alex Kohn)
Coming to you from beautiful Gearhart, Oregon, here are the highlights of what’s been happening with the students of the Media Institute for Social Change’s 2016 Summer Documentary Program. Although we have only been together for three days, every hour has been jam-packed with activity as we learn about how to be better journalists and media-makers.
1PM, Pioneer Square. We finally arrived, after all of the applications, interviews, plane, bus, and car rides.
“This program is something you have to prep for the whole summer so it felt like a weight lifting to know that I was tangibly here,” explained Alex Kohn, a rising sophomore from Beloit College. However she didn’t get very much time to enjoy that relief. Almost as soon as we all met next to the Umbrella Man, we packed ourselves into a van and headed for a cabin on the coast otherwise known as Camp SDP.
Here we’ve spent the last three days getting our feet wet in both media-making and the Pacific ocean. Camp kicked off on Friday night with a walk on the beach followed by an announcement from Phil that we already had our first assignment: an interview with another person on the program that we would present around the campfire. So maybe diving into media-making is a more accurate description of what we’re doing.
But the group was more than up to the task.
“I was impressed with everyone’s ability to get a story from the people they interviewed and everyone got something interesting and a little different. That was really cool because I know that some of us have more or less experience, and people with less experience were still able to pull something together and create a compelling story,” says Frankie Breedlove, a rising senior at Reed College.
From those interviews and presentations we all got to know each other in a deeper way. For example, we learned that: Pilar’s ideal day ends with a banana split, Dylan’s perfect sandwich includes only meat and bread, and Zach would describe himself “a large child.”
We also learned some important tools behind interviewing. “Boring questions make for boring answers,” Phil advised as we thought about what makes a good interview. Together, he and Rose challenged us to think about the types of questions we asked and the kinds we wished we would have.
Then, of course, we ate s’mores. And as the embers in the fire pit began to die, we headed for bed, knowing that we would be up again at the early hour of 7:30 AM for breakfast before our first lecture.
On our second day, thanks some early-rising cooks, we woke up to a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs and cereal before we presented our self-portrait media pieces to the group.
In contrast to the on-the-fly interview presentations from the night before, our self-portraits were completed before we arrived to camp. They could have been audio or video pieces, as edited or unedited as we wanted, and the only requirement was that they be 1-2 minutes long. With such loose guidelines, the group created wide variety.
“It kind of shows everyone’s personalities because when they saw the assignment they thought of how to they could make it unique. It seems like everyone here is super artistic and you can tell that from their self-portraits,” observed Pilar Curtis, a rising senior at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Squeezed into the living room, we then moved into the lecture of the day on interviews. The question of the day: What makes a good question? And to answer it, we started with the Great Radio Interviewers (Ira Glass and Terry Gross of course), discussing their styles and methods. Then we moved on to a mini history of radio with an episode of Radiolab about the War of the Worlds broadcasts. By the afternoon we shifted toward video interviews, feverishly taking notes on documentary interviews with the Talking Heads, the Clash, and Patti Smith.
After all of that, we took some much needed free time. Almost everyone took a walk on the beach, a nap, and an hour to catch up on reading.
And then came my highlight of the day: a screening of Beyoncé’s Lemonade and followed by a walk to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
But as if to confirm that we are all really here to learn, Zach Leonard, a rising senior at Carleton College reminded me: “The sunset was very nice, but I would really say that the War of the Worlds [Radiolab episode] was crazy.”
So we’ll keep the blog updated as we learn more crazy things.