Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora. The next project is tentatively planned for Northern Uganda in 2018.
In theory transitioning between photography and video should be a fairly smooth process. A good shot in video is composed with the same elements as a good photo, but I’ve learned it’s not that simple. A videographer must maintain rigid control of the elements around them for the length of the shot, which is not to say they don’t welcome interesting but random subject matter in their shot. A photographer, on the other hand, only has to maintain control for a moment. It’s a subtle yet critical difference between the two, one that I didn’t fully grasp until video boot camp started.Essentially video boot camp is an entire video-journalism class condensed into a week. It’s fast paced and challenging but ultimately extremely rewarding.
I think what has surprised me the most over the past week is how simple and yet complex Final Cut Pro is. I might not be technologically inept but technology has such as steep and constantly changing learning curve that I often ignore it, which is admittedly ignorant on my part. Final Cut Pro is different because although there is a learning curve, it’s not insurmountable, especially with our teachers guiding us every step of the way. In fact I’m motivated to learn more about the program with every video we make because I can see my mistakes the way other people do. While it’s mildly terrifying to think that at the end of this journey we will have a rough cut of a documentary, its also exhilarating because I know our group can pull it off.
Yesterday, we all sat crowded around the projector in the Murphy media lab to watch a rough cut of what will eventually result in our final project.
Just two weeks ago, we came to this same media lab with over 90 hours of footage, thousands of different story ideas, and with little to no video editing experience.
We have spent countless hours editing, writing, re-editing, and re-writing. Coffee, bagels, and Carol’s delicious cream cheese bars have powered us through as we attempted to develop a concrete story idea, but through it all, we have come up with a great film and learned journalism from an extraordinary perspective.
It is amazing that within the short span of two weeks, I now feel confident in trimming and marking video clips in final cut pro. I have learned how to create a storyboard as well as the importance of a concise narration. In addition, I discovered the tricks to Morgan Freeman’s narrating voice and the importance of reflection when creating a film.
I have learned more about journalism in this short 5-week period, than I have in my past two years of journalism classes and internships. I was able to witness and be a part of the entire process of making a documentary. From the interviewing, to the filming, to the editing and the writing, I have been able to see this project through and through. The intense bursts of hard work were tiring, and sometimes seemed endless, but in the end I found it is what I love about the world of journalism.
From now on, I will never again watch a documentary in the same way. I will now analyze each shot that was used, looking for hints of foreshadowing and considering each word of narration.
Though the film still remains nameless and is nowhere near finished, I am confident that it will be a great and inspiring film!
It was 4:30 p.m. this past Monday. I was running on two hours of sleep. I watched many suitcases ride the baggage claim carousel and pulled my bag off when it came around the corner. I grabbed the handle of my suitcase, more than ready to go home, call my mom, shower and sleep.
John, the head faculty advisor, shouted, “I’m going home. I’ll see you all tomorrow at 1 p.m.”
Reality hit me hard. We entered the classroom on Tuesday afternoon with two weeks of class ahead of us.
The fun goes on and on, and for good reason. Making a documentary isn’t just about filming video, conducting interviews, and gathering information, it’s about editing and cutting footage and picking interviews that communicate to our future audience what about our 10-day experience touched us most. In short, we have to sum up our Alaskan adventure in 20-30 minutes. It’s an almost insane goal if you think about it.
In order to achieve this goal, we all became friends with Final Cut Pro, if we weren’t already. We spent all day Tuesday with our new friend, re-naming and organizing hours and hours of video clips.
We then started to transcribe the dozen or so interviews we conducted while in Bethel. That is, we listened to the video of each interview and typed out word-for-word what the interviewee said. It sounds boring. Listen, pause the video, type and repeat a million times. But I had so much fun.
I think I just got lucky, because the interviews I transcribed were not interviews I had the chance to sit in on while we were in Bethel. I had the chance to transcribe Nelson’s interview, which was the most amazing interview we conducted while we were there.
I remember the team coming back from that interview. There were lots of high-fives and the room immediately filled with energy. His interview was a last-minute interview. We took a chance on him and he told us exactly what we wanted to hear and more.
He’s the most well-spoken 19 year old I have ever heard, and he has an awesome story. I wanted to be his best friend by the time I was done listening.
I also transcribed part of Anna’s interview. She was a senior in high school who is going to study at the University of Minnesota next year. You could tell right away she was really nervous, and I think I had forgotten how often teenagers use the word “like.” It made transcribing a bit trickier.
After we were done transcribing, I got to know Final Cut Pro a little better. I made multi-cam clips of the interviews and marked important quotes. It’s not much, but I’m glad Final Cut Pro and I got along well.
After that initial work was done, the class was split into essentially two groups: the video team and the writing team. I am part of the writing team, and I’ve been really excited about the work we’ve done on writing the story/script.
We arranged all of the noteworthy quotes into categories like subsistence, fishing restrictions, climate change and Yup’ik spirituality, which are all categories that will make up our story. We then cut out all of the quotes into strips of paper and arranged and re-arranged them into a basic and rough script. It’s like fitting pieces into a puzzle.
It’s hard to believe we got back from Alaska six days ago. Since then, we’ve put in four full days of work. It was a short yet entirely long week.
The amount of work we still have left is tremendous, so here’s to one week more and an endless amount of editing.