Oregon

An Unconventional Summer Camp

I almost mistook a side alley for my home for the next six weeks. I was on the way to the Media Institute for Social Change meet-up and had just bumbled through my first use of Uber. I attempted to be dropped of at 3636 N Mississippi Ave, the program’s headquarters, but instead somehow managed to set the Uber to the Mississippi Ave a street over that was just a dilapidated alley. I trekked my bags a street over to the headquarters: Citizen. There I met with the ten people who I would soon travel what was supposed to be two hours to a cabin in Gearhart. After introducing ourselves several times as other program members arrived, I had my first foray into the Portland food scene.

I ordered a burrito bowl and awkwardly sat at a picnic table as everyone else sat and watched me eat while drinking fancy ginger lime Agua Fresca. Soon after my culinary extravaganza we all piled into a black rental van that somehow fit twelve people and twice as many bags.

We passed the car ride playing Heads Up and jamming out to our roadtrip playlists. I got to know a few people along the way. I learned that there were two of us (Lucy and Theo) who went to Carleton College and studied media studies. I also learned that three people all went to Western Washington University (Isa, Kienna, and Madi).

We hit traffic on a windy mountain road surrounded by droves of trees. Being trapped in a van with near-strangers while playing Heads Up, doing horrendous accents, and attempting to mime making a bed was interesting, but altogether enjoyable.

Once we got to the cabin we were assigned rooms and Atlas and I were relegated to the basement to share a bunk bed as the girls shared rooms full of double beds and Theo got his own queen size. We were all assigned meal crews and Atlas and I got the only two-person group. Later that night had a dinner of impromptu pizza made by the first meal crew. Afterward, we did personal interviews of other program members.

The next day we shared our media self-portraits we made with the group. People made everything from a compilation of snapchat videos to a layering of sound bytes from the past year. Then, we had lectures from Phil on interview questions as we listened to This American Life and Fresh Air.

In our free time we explored the beach. The beach was like a dessert with fragments of desiccated branches curling out of the sand. It was like a graveyard for trees and sea creatures. We even found the skeleton of some sort of animal and an intact crab exoskeleton. Moira brought the crab back to the cabin Lord of the Flies style, speared on a stick. The night concluded with us all covering our eyes during a screening of The Babadook. I could have sworn I heard the Babadook’s knocking that night.

On the third day of camp we got through Phil’s lectures on storytelling. It wasn’t so bad because we got to listen to clips from Radiolab on Orson Welles’s "War of the Worlds." We ended the day by watching My Own Private Idaho at Phil’s behest. It wasn’t what we expected, but it was a good movie nonetheless directed by prolific and also extremely strange director Gus Van Sant.

On Monday we had to go to Astoria and interview a stranger. I interviewed a mother who was sitting alone in the ARC Arcade close to the river. She told me about growing up in a poor family, being separated from her husband while he toured in Iraq, and having her newborn baby. It was nerve-wracking finding someone who looked interesting enough to interview and who was approachable. Mostly it was just scary to approach a stranger.

Yesterday we had the pleasure of meeting with local Portland media-maker Peter Frick-Wright. He taught us about storytelling from a radio perspective and the tricks of the trade to recording good audio. We messed around with Hindenburg and listened to This American Life. He taught us how to duck audio under an interview, layer audio, and use reverb. Probably the most important lesson I learned from Pete though was to always unplug people’s fridges before starting an interview. He said to leave keys in the fridge to remember to plug it back in after an interview. Note to self: popsicle keys are better than bad audio.

–Jordan Joseph

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