My Private Oregon

For the next six weeks, our Summer Documentary Program students will be taking the wheel at the blog. In our first student post, Lucy Stevens (Carleton College 2018) reflects on her time at our "summer camp" orientation in Gearhart.

At MISC’s coastal summer camp, one might describe the learning curve as ‘experimental.' Sunday afternoon, as one giant mass, we put on our headphones and found our training wheels together. It was simultaneously hilarious and enlightening; here we were, tottering around on sleepy beach-town back roads, extending out our new microphones towards the environment the way eccentrics comb the local beach with metal detectors.

Unlike most of the students on this program, as a native Portlandian, I grew up going to the Oregon coast and have actually spent a lot of time in and around Gearhart. However, I was surprised as the familiar roar of the ocean and titter of birdsong, fed to me through my earbuds, took on a different quality, becoming more crisp and intimate. Suddenly, each crunching gravel footstep, each peal of laugher, became potential material for my audio postcard, one of our current assignments.

Though the tiny device in my hand, the native soundscape was becoming creative material. I began to interview the others intensely, almost tongue-in-cheek, half searching for sound bites and half wondering at the power of my Zoom H1—and entirely certain that most of my recordings were going to be drowned out by audible distortion of the coastal breeze. But that was a minor concern; after nights of enjoying creatively scrapped-together meals, watching scary movies, and sharing anecdotes about our different lives across the country, it was exciting to be making our own content together.

By Monday morning, after a somewhat bewildering (but entertaining) screening of My Own Private Idaho the night before, the time for tinkering was over: our MISC group was taking Astoria to test our interviewing skills! It was really interesting to go back to a town I’ve hung around in the past to interview a complete stranger. I ended up having two conversations with people from two entirely different walks of life, but I think that I ended up with a much more fully fleshed-out impression of Astoria as a permanent residence and as a brief stopping place.

Afterwards, everyone seemed to have peeled back some interesting corner of Astoria through each of their interviews. I’m so excited to read more about the stories they uncovered! 

–Lucy Stevens