BEA’s On-Location Creative Awards again produced a range of innovative and thought-provoking entries in various media production categories. We are highlighting two of the award winners – they both exhibited professional quality but the fact that one took nearly six years prior to release, while the other was produced from a variety of cities nightly, brought an unusual twist to this year’s creative competition.
On the faculty side, Training for Freedom: How Ordinary People in an Unusual Time & Unlikely Place Made Extraordinary History, began production in 2014 and after two years of research, shooting, and editing, wrapped up in 2016. It then took years to get various legal clearances before releasing the documentary that captured the transformational story of how idealistic college students and their black activist teachers came together in a small Mid-western town to find humanity and common ground, thus altering the course of history.
Weaving intimate personal stories from local residents with critical historical analysis from noted historians and scholars, the documentary explores how people from dramatically different worlds broke down barriers of race, class, and gender to organize the most comprehensive campaign of the civil rights movement.
According to faculty producer Ringo Jones, “We started production in 2014 (the 50-year anniversary of Freedom Summer) with interviews from volunteers and organizers involved with the voter registration trainings at Western College (now, Miami University). Oxford, Ohio’s involvement with the training was the catalyst for the documentary.” Jones went on to say “Part of what makes this story so exciting to tell is hearing directly from the people involved as volunteers and scholars associated with the trainings. [They] were flown back to Oxford to tell their tale on the grounds where they started their journey fifty years earlier”.
Buying, borrowing, and clearing the legal obstacles for the visuals were the most difficult and time-intense piece of the entire production. Students and scholars poured through hundreds of photos and archival reels trying to find the right images to match the evocative and emotional narrative of the volunteers. Ringo points out that much of the research is available on line at the project’s website. (The site is worth a look!)
This was a faculty production with student involvement. “We invited students to work alongside faculty and professionals with the expectation that their input would be crucial to the production. Our approach to media pedagogy is to give students opportunities for hands-on experience on projects that will make an impact beyond the university community”, added Professor Jones.
The mission of the activists and leaders of Freedom Summer are as important today as they were in 1964 and it was truly an honor to hear and share their experiences, said Professor Jones. While produced as a professor at Saint Louis University, Ringo is now at the University of Arkansas and can be reached at .
On the student side, “OU Nightly” followed up on their “Best of” Festival award in the spring and returned to win Best of Show Student Newscast at On-Location this year with their nightly news produced from different cities. When the University of Oklahoma closed and sent students home in March, the news team was scattered to various cities and states but continued producing a nightly newscast through April 2020.
Professor Ken Fischer, one of the Faculty Advisors for OU Nightly, said this year’s entry was from an April 2020 nightly newscast as an online edition done after the campus went remote. The newscast was produced from late March to late April remotely. Some days there would be on air talent from multiple states. The producers were in either Oklahoma or Texas and the Director/Editor was in Texas. The newscast continued airing five days a week through April 2020.
Bob Dickey, the News Director at Gaylord College was supportive and added, “I decided early on that this was a small and difficult “kitchen” to work in and that it did not need another cook getting in the way. I kept out of the way, letting EP Barbara Merckx run the operation. Hats off to Barbara. She did the organizational supervision work all the while holding down a full-time job in the non-academic work world. My role was occasionally making post-newscast comments and that was mostly praising the work that everyone did under stress-filled circumstances.”
Fischer said “Working on this project was an absolute privilege, and I appreciate you being eager to highlight the work that went on behind the scenes to make it happen. Thank you for reaching out!”
Curt Watson was completely unaware that OU Nightly was continuing with online newscasts after the university decided to go online in Spring 2020. As the student Director/Editor Curt said, “I became involved after viewing the first episode that was posted and realizing that I would enjoy dealing with the production quality so I jumped in to help”.
Watson would work well into the night in Adobe After Effects recreating the graphics package typically used for the on-campus newscast and adding a little ‘flare’ to it. Adobe functions in a way that allows motion graphics templates to be built in After Effects and sent into Adobe Premiere to actually insert the text into the timeline.
As Watson added, “By creating templates, anyone with the project file could edit the newscast and we’d have a consistent look throughout the week regardless of who was editing the news and weather!”
As the director/editor, Curt would begin work around 3pm. This included checking in with the producer to see what custom graphics needed to be built for the day. Then I would begin receiving footage from our anchors and producers. Watson added, “At this point, I would create a new project in premiere and import the files I received via WeTransfer.”
Then Watson would drop in the open video and the anchor read, consult the day’s Google doc rundown and begin adding in videos and lower thirds. At the end of the editing process, Curt would remotely drop the finished newscast file into the college’s video server, upload the video to You Tube as an unlisted file sending the link to our producer and executive producer for final approval. Once they signed off, I would switch it to public on YouTube and post it to Facebook to be captioned and published.
Morgan Owens, a junior, was the Producer this past spring. Morgan says the biggest challenge in her opinion “was creating a newscast that reached all of our audience”. Morgan went on to say, “We as producers had to choose stories that related to people all over the country rather than stories for those living in Norman.” As COVID-19 started to spike in cases at the time, Morgan added they were able to cover the numbers across the country.
When creating a newscast, Owens said the software used primarily was Google docs to create scripts, FaceTime to communicate, and Adobe premiere to edit and cut videos.
Morgan said the staff would meet during their normal 2-4:30 pm newscast time but typically, on the days she produced, she would start building a show at 1:00 pm so that the staff did not rely on her to choose the stories which resulted in a better newscast. Morgan added “Being able to say we produced newscasts in the middle of a pandemic is a really cool thing in my opinion. Gaylord College has given us many opportunities to succeed and it is very evident in the time we live in”.