Friday, September 28, 2007

Music for Everyone

Working on the film score for this documentary is definitely going to be a bit of a challenge. Dan and I both have some experience putting music to video but never have we been given the opportunity to spend an entire semester producing audio and composing music for such a large project. I guess the greatest challenge will be having plenty of musical sketches and various themes which portray different emotions that can be formed into a fitting accompaniment to such a dynamic documentary. Since you can never fully expect to complete a piece of music for a film before the video is finished being edited it has become our mission to have as much material as possible.

Having a fairly clear idea of the direction of narrative will also be a key aspect in the compositional process. We do not necessarily want to compose a "Jock Jams" soundtrack but we do want to incorporate many percussive elements that will keep up with the pace of such a film. Since Dan is a percussionist and I play guitar, we both want to use an instrumentation that will be easy for us to execute during the recording process. That way we won't be frantically looking for a string quartet, for example, to play our composition.

Since this is the first VBC Seminar that has employed the use of music tech students I do feel a bit of pressure to live up to the expectations of excellence and hopefully to set a precedent that audio as well as video can be excellent on student films. I am anxious and excited to see how the rest of this semester will progress. We have very much to do and not really a whole lot of time to do it in. But I am confident in our team and I say we are fully ready to accept this challenge. And hopefully relating to my contribution to this film, there will indeed be "music for everyone!"


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New Experiences

They told me when I joined the Virginia Ball Center, that I would learn lots of new skills. Until this week, I never really thought much about that, but then I did my first interviews. Before going too far, you must realize that I haven't done any filmed interviews since I was in high school. Even then, they were just with my friends and we were just screwing around with a camera. I know, we didn't always make the best of our time in high school T-Com classes, but by God, at least we had fun!

Having finished my first VBC interviews and looked at some of the footage, I'm really surprised with how easy it actually is to complete a real interview; it's actually quite painless. I was worried for the longest time that it was going to be a long complicated process that would take all day, but it was quick and easy to do. My first interviews were with Coach Carr and Reese Peacock, and I couldn't have made a better choice for my first interviewees. They were nice, very easy-going, and gave us all some very good footage to use. Setting up for the interview was also a breeze. For the first one, we basically just went outside and pointed the camera at a shady spot under a big tree. It made for an interesting shot and an easy one to use. As for Reese's interview, it was a little bit more difficult in that we had lights to set up, but overall it was nearly as easy.

Looking ahead, I'm now very excited for more interviews and I was actually quite disappointed about today's interview being canceled. I know there will be more interviews and I'm sure I'll be sick of them by the end of the semester, but for right now I'm just excited. I only hope my excitement doesn't get the best of me or make my fellow VBCers too annoyed. ...Nah, they love me!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Grasping Immersive Learning

When I was asked to write what my experience of immersive learning was like so far, I started with a simile. Most learning I have done is like being on a cruise boat with binoculars. You can see the glaciers and whales from a distance as a person drones on from the speakers about the cold hard facts. Immersive learning is like scuba diving. I’ve never done it, but it’s a lot more dangerous than being on the deck of a boat and you have a lot more responsibility.

So I’m a little out of my comfort zone carrying ominous anxieties. The “what ifs” are a bit heavy on my mind. What if I don’t make my mark on the project? What if I can't keep a balance of my on deck activities and my scuba diving adventures?

At the beginning the VBC was more like snorkeling than scuba diving. As a class we were peering at the project we were going to submerge ourselves in and learning new skills like interviewing and different types of narratives for documentaries. We were researching the history of Burris, the history of volleyball, and Title IX. Now we are working on taking our knowledge and transforming it into a tangible object. We are beginning to scuba dive and I have a feeling it’s going to be a whale of a time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Gold Medalists in the Making

This past week was the 3rd and 4th grade Olympics at Burris. The whole reason for the VBC to attend was to get footage of Steve being the emcee for the event. However, we were very surprised by the extra footage that we shot.

One of the first things that I noticed was that there were different groups of kids that were displaying flags from various countries. As they walked onto the soft grass of the BSU soccer fields, they held the flags high as some parents watched from sidelines. As we began to film the kids we shot good footage of this really cute little 4th grade boy playing the national anthem on the trumpet. Potential montage of national anthems? Maybe…

Then the races began, literally, the races. These kids ran for what seemed hours straight. Steve announced the 50 yard dash, and then the 100 yard dash, and then the quarter mile dash. I’ve never seen so many dashes in my life.

The shooters took a break from filming as we watched the kids partake in the much anticipated arm wrestling tournament. As we watched from the sidelines, Steve began announcing them with gusto and excitement. Then the boys would rise from the ground, throw their fists in the air and march to the box where they would wrestle their opponent. The crowd began to cheer for their respective classmates. And slowly, as one would fall, the winner would jump into the air like a gladiator leaving the arena with a victory. It was one of the funniest things I have ever witnessed.

The day outside with the 3rd and 4th graders of Burris will be one of my favorite memories of the VBC. The kids were so excited to be participating in a very old tradition. I’m glad I was there to be a part of it.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Burris Dominated...

Class 2A top-ranked Burris won all four matches to win the Ben Davis Invitational. The Owls defeated Zionsville 25-10, 25-14, McCutcheon 25-18, 25-13, Jennings County 25-17, 25-13, and Martinsville 18-25, 25-17, 15-12. Taylor Unroe topped Burris with 38 kills and 26 digs.

For me, these scores show that Burris is in control of the court. They play at a highly competitive level throughout nearly entire tournament and dominate other teams. The determination to win and play at such a high level of intensity is a major reason as to why Burris wins state championships.

The fact that I get to follow such a competitive and accomplished team is very rewarding because my high school volleyball played the same way. There are not many opportunities to see high school girls working so incredibly hard and putting forth so much effort. Volleyball is definitely a sport where you can see true dedication and intensity.

These girls have pressures in all areas of life (school, what to do after high school, parents, friends, social pressures, appearance, etc...). On top of everything that goes along with being a high school female, this group of girls dedicate hours upon hours to practicing and playing volleyball.

In my opinion and from my own experiences, it takes a huge amount of dedication and determination to stick with this sport at such a competitive level. If you are not playing to achieve high goals then you should probably get out. I cannot compliment the Burris girls and others teams enough for pushing themselves to the limit in volleyball.

Growing Pains

Today we begin Week Five of the seminar. For the past month the students have been sharpening their skills and gathering up tools, and now it's time for me to get out of the way while they get to work. We have studied film theory, watched a slew of documentaries together (and debated their relative merits), read widely in issues of gender, explored the basic principles of ethnographic research, and discussed how narrative is crafted. The students have participated in workshops on shooting and editing, conducting interviews, and gathering research. By the beginning of last week, it was clear to all of us that the foundation for our project was firmly in place and it was time to start building.

This seminar is both the most exciting and the most terrifying experience I have had as a teacher. Getting seventeen high-achieving, incredibly motivated young people in one place and trying to harness all that energy into a cohesive project. . . well, let's just say that there are days when I can feel the sparks exploding around us. Few of us are trained to work collaboratively, and many of us in the room (myself included) have learned to enjoy the feeling of individual achievement, not to mention the security (or is it an illusion?) of control. There are moments when what I am asking them to do seems impossible. But there are other moments when I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of what we might be able to achieve, or when I realize that they are already pushing each other to stretch and grow.

I am learning about myself, as a teacher and as a person, because the intimacy and intensity of this experiences demands it. I already knew that I am a control freak, and yet it has surprised me how difficult it is for me to step back, let go of some of the control, bite my tongue when a conflict arises, settle in and be still and trust them to do what I know they can do. I already knew that I work best when I am deeply focused, and yet I am astonished at how obsessed I am with this project; I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas and plans and worries, and I think about it every waking moment. It's exhausting, and humbling, and invigorating.

Today, looking out the window at the impossibly gorgeous September morning, I can't quite believe that I get to come to work and do this.

I am going to try to hang onto the peace of this moment, because I have a feeling I will need it as we start picking up speed towards our goals.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Gone Fishing"

This evening I feel like I got a glimpse of just how good this project is going to be. Blake, Kecia and I went to Steve's condo to get some footage and an interview. I was super excited to see Steve in an environment other than the gym and I definitely was not disappointed.

The first exciting point of the night was that when we arrived, Steve told us he was watching game footage from the Ben Davis tournament. Kecia immediately seized the opportunity and asked if he would continue to do so while we filmed him. This provided some great insight into Steve's volleyball knowledge and his thoughts on some of the players. Also, we got to see the inside of his condo which is bare except for one wall that is covered in plaques, awards, and pictures from his career at Burris. All in all I felt like it was a rare moment to be able to get inside the head of a genius and hear what he thinks when he watches a match.

Then he took us out to the pond and we watched him catch a few fish. We were able to do an interview with him as well while he fished and I was really happy with how easy he was to talk to. My favorite part of the interview was when he talked about growing up with his dad and always being around volleyball. We got some great stories about him getting stuffed into lockers by the BSU team when he was a kid and about how he and his friends were beating the college club teams when they were in junior high. To top it off, all through the interview we had a perfect shot of the sun setting right behind Steve as he fished. We couldn't have asked for anything better.

Hearing the kind of stories and experiences Steve has had made me really excited about the project. I hope everyone else's interviews are going as well.


The Stories of Don Shondell

My interview with Don Shondell on Thursday the 13th was quite an eye-opener. For nearly four weeks we have been researching, discussing, and filming from a distance. However, we knew we were missing the key human aspect of our story (in the making). Interviews were to be the next step. Don Shondell was a perfect choice for the first of the interviews. He took me through fifty years of his volleyball experience. His stories ranged from coaching in the army to watching his three sons play announcer at pretend volleyball games to his seven granddaughters volleyball successes. (The eighth granddaughter is too young to play yet, but given the Shondell history, one can assume volleyball is in her future!)

I found Don’s take on gender in sports one of the most intriguing parts of the interview. Men’s volleyball has had a rocky history that continues still into the present. Issues range from a reputation as a “hit and giggle sport”, as labeled by Don’s first athletic director, to facing serious threat of being cut in very recent years despite the program’s overwhelming history of success.

However, the biggest stressor for the Men’s Volleyball program seems to have stemmed from Title IX, the piece of legislation passed in 1972, providing that no state-funded program can discriminate on the basis of gender. In trying to accommodate that, many less acclaimed sports got pushed aside in the effort to equally fund women’s sports. Don talked of scholarships being cut from the men’s teams as well as reoccurring threat of cutting the sport altogether. Obviously as a long time coach and lover of the game, this has been extremely difficult to swallow for Don and so many others. Yet, he spoke of it with no bitterness in his tone. He also mentioned more than once how great it has been for females to finally get their chance, including his granddaughters. In summation, he noted realistically and calmly that he could only do his best and work with what he had, no matter the situation.

My own conclusion was that only a true lover of the game could not only handle turbulent times but prevail during them. Interviewing Don was a joy. I only hope we manage to capture his enthusiasm in our film.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The First Interviews

Sept. 12th- Dr. McGee & Mr. Dawson

After spending my entire summer interviewing members of my hometown community, I can honestly say I was itching to get back into interviewing. My interview with Dr. McGee actually followed Aaron L.'s time with Mr. Dawson, and I feel they both went really well. My nerves had settled after learning my way around lighting setup and sound checks.

Both interviewees were really positive about the community of Burris as a whole and that kind of optimism is contagious. Seeing a group of people rallying around something so rarely seen in "society at large," in this case a girls' volleyball team, is invigorating and motivating. You want to do all you can for them and it's difficult to maintain the balance between objective documentarian and wanna-be member of this mass of positive energy.

I think it's definitely important for all interviewers/interviewees to give themselves time to collect their thoughts and settle their nerves. We've discussed the value of silence and good listening skills in class multiple times. It's amazing what you can learn from each other just from the moments you choose not to say anything . . . The hardest part for me in that situation is not shuffling in my chair. My biggest fear is to be the person that ruins footage with noises from the sidelines.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Adventures in filming

Kecia and I braved the halls of Burris on Friday when we filmed the photo shoot for fall sports teams. Before that began, we actually wandered the halls for a little while with the camera. That was an interesting experience. Put a camera on a bunch of 10-14 yr. olds, and they will have one of two reactions: Frantically wave their arms and stick their faces in front of the camera, or cower in a corner, hoping the camera won't catch them. And theorize this - it was mostly boys who hammed it up, and girls who hid. Whoever is logging this footage should be alternately entertained and annoyed as shots are spoiled. Or, we might find that people's behavior in front of the camera tells a story worth pursing in itself. This is, after all, why we filmed the photo shoot.

It's hard to say how much of the footage we'll actually use for our documentary, but we captured the team lining up and looking serious for the team photo, then figuring out how best to pose for individual shots. It's fascinating to film people being filmed - you notice all of the things that people do to make themselves look their best (or however they want to come across). We're dealing with that same issue in our documentary - trying for authenticity, when the very act of filming can change people. But at the same time, the story about how people want to be perceived says something interesting about them as well. I imagine much of filming and editing will be about trying to capture, well, "the true meaning of pictures." And much of the struggle will be to figure out what that is.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I'm so glad I don't have to do interviewing.

Thank god there are more jobs to be done than interviewing. It is simply not my thing. I found the exercise to be enlightening, for sure, but I wouldn't want to do it again. It was difficult and uncomfortable from the very beginning.

First, we were assigned to write a list of events that we perceived as being pivotal in our lives and to give this list to the person assigned to conduct our interview. I found this hard because I don't consider many events in my life to be very interesting. Also, it is hard to really open up for an assignment. I would be putting myself out there. I surprised myself by actually disclosing quite a bit of personal information during the interview. It was not the easiest topic, but I did it with a smile and a laugh (gotta love defense mechanisms). I suppose that speaks to Megan's skill as an interviewer. She certainly made me feel comfortable enough to share the information. I guess I didn't realize exactly what I said or how it came off until we watched the interviews in class. It sort of hit me hard when I realized that now everyone in class knew that personal information. Of course, it was my choice to say what I did, but I guess I didn't really think through everything.

I also found being on the other side of the camera difficult. I'm not the best person at coming up with and asking questions. I felt like I should have been "probing" deeper into some topics, but I just couldn't think of the right questions to get there.

All in all, I think the experience was a positive one, even if it made me uncomfortable. I have so much respect for those who can conduct great interviews. It is definitely a gift to be able to make people comfortable enough to disclose personal information for something public like a documentary, and also to know the right questions to ask.

I also have gained empathy for our interviewees. The interviews may not be that difficult for them, but to sit through a screening with people from their community while they watch themselves speak about personal and possibly difficult situations will be trying. I think it is very important that we remember that and show our subjects respect. I have no doubt that we will show them anything but the utmost respect, but it is certainly something to keep in mind.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Inside and Out of Interviewing

For week 3 at the VBC we focused on Interviewing, with a workshop from Professor Laura O'Hara. I enjoyed her lectures for she is a very dynamic individual with a lot of experience on the art and science of communication.

Our assignment was to interview a peer on camera and be interviewed in return. This was beneficial in three ways: 1) We got to practice the art of writing questions, and believe me it is an art. 2) We got to see what it's like to be in "the seat," and what sort of uncomfortableness can occur. 3) While watching we realized some technical aspects to be aware of (auto focus is bad, outside in front of a street is bad, air conditioning is bad).

Other than the pain to watch your face for eight minutes on a screen (why hasn't anyone ever told me to get Botox to my eyebrows so they'll stay still?) I enjoyed it. I can't wait to start getting interviews from the community and then finding a story for our documentary.

I also want to comment on the film we watched in class, The True Meaning of Pictures. The whole class had an amazing discussion, and these events are what makes me greatful to be apart of this seminar with these people. It was a provoking film, and to watch it as current documentarians, it opened our eyes to certain topics such as honesty, exploitation, having choices that might loose some of the audience, and the relationship between your "subject" and you. I'm glad we watched it; an intense film that showed us some of the challenges of documenting and being an artist.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Burris Invitational

The Burris Volleyball Invitational gave me an opportunity not only to experience another High School volleyball game, adding up to two total games in my life, but also to see tournament style competition.

I have been so impressed by the level of play and athleticism that has been displayed in the few examples I've witnessed. Volleyball had been a leisure sport/activity, up until the first time I saw Burris play. You could set up a net in the backyard and just have fun - in no way is volleyball the same as that when you enter a gym. I especially felt that way at Ball Gym with a home crowd backing the Owls.

The final games against Assumption (the # 1 ranked team in the nation!) were so close. Burris looked very strong going against such a formidable opponent. You can read about it in an article that ran in the Star Press here:

Though it is unfortunate they lost, as it always is, I don't think Burris has much to feel bad about.

When I don't have my hands on the camera, I'm having a hard time keeping my eye off the game. I should be looking for shots, but often am too excited about what is going on on the court. I find myself clapping and getting nervous about crucial points and think, "What am I doing?" But I really can't help it. Though I probably won't be cheering in an Owl suit with the students , I don't think my excitement will stop even as I get more attuned to the world of High School volleyball.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Burris Booster's Club

Going to the Booster's Club meeting was interesting. I never went to a meeting of my high school's club, but it was very prominent in our community. I enjoyed meeting some of the parents in the Burris community and allowing us all to get further acquainted with each other and the project itself.

While the club has a long way to go, since this is the first time in about five years since a Booster's Club has met, they seem to be right on track to creating a successful program. The members (or soon to be members) had some great ideas and input. There will be plenty for us at the VBC to help out with if and when they need us, and I think that's great.

One thing that was really solidified at the meeting was how close of a community Burris is. When one woman was mentioned as someone's mom, every Burris parent and coach in that room knew who she was. I went to a high school of about 1300 and it would take me forever to try and describe someone who wasn't in my close group of friends to my parents. This strong community is what will drive this club and make it work. I look forward to watching the Booster's Club get on their feet and help out their kids and the rest of the kids in the community.

Burris Picnic

The Burris picnic was an interesting experience. It was neat to see the Burris community away from the volleyball setting and to get a better feel for the unique dynamics of the Burris community.

The dunking booth was an experience in itself. It was cool to see how the students interacted with each of the coaches individually. The kids loved the dunking booth (who wouldn't?!) and they especially loved Steve Shondell. They certainly seemed to enjoy all the coaches, but the line grew pretty quickly once he appeared. I think that says a lot about the kind of person he is. He was a good sport about the whole thing, even though it appeared he had hurt his back. It's neat to see how he has not only made an impact on his volleyball players, but numerous other students as well through his teaching. It makes me wonder if there is a correlation between his coaching methods and teaching techniques, both of which seem to earn the respect of his students and players.

From what I saw, the Burris community, in general, is a very child-focused community. A lot of parents would not be willing to be out in the 90 degree heat in order to support their children's school, but the field was packed with children and parents which I thought was commendable.

The evening of the picnic, I also spent some time with the camera which I had not done up to that point. To my surprise, it was not quite as difficult as I had anticipated. It was fun to play with the camera and see what types of things you can do. I, personally, have never spent that much time with a camera so it's a new experience for me, but I enjoy the learning part and I think the rest of the humanities majors will as well.

All in all, the picnic was an enjoyable experience. It was good to get out of the classroom for awhile and mingle with the community that we have been talking about so much for the last few weeks!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Summer News Story

Over the summer I shot and edited a story about Steve Shondell (Burris Volleyball coach) winning the National Volleyball Coach of the Year Award. The story aired June 28, 2007 on Newslink Indiana (WIPB-TV). My reporter, Brad Underwood, and I attended two summer practice sessions in June and interviewed Steve and some of his players. Just watching the interview with Steve should give you a decent grasp on his personality.

Here is the link to watch it (Quicktime required):

Let me know your thoughts.

-Blake Brenneman