Students use HD movie-making skills to take gritty look at friendship, graffiti

Topics: College of Communication Information and Media, Immersive Learning, College of Fine Arts, Emerging Media

March 5, 2009

When it came to creating a fifth high definition (HD) movie, Ball State students not only decided to tell the story of a relationship as part of the often misunderstood world of graffiti art, but they also acquired highly valued emerging media skills. 

"Free Wall," slang for graffiti spray painted on walls in urban areas, focuses on a friendship between two young men — one a well-to-do Caucasian and the other an African-American from a poor inner city neighborhood. Despite clashes between their cultures, the pair develops a friendship based on a shared love of graffiti.
The immersive learning project was eye-opening for Heather Trojack, a senior from Medina, Ohio, who served as the movie's producer. She was in charge of high-tech production sites in Muncie and Indianapolis for weeks at a time.
"There were some long days when we were filming, and I had to be highly organized," Trojack said. "I don't think many college students get a chance to produce a major movie project using state-of-the-art equipment. I can go on the job market with this on my resume and show them that I've done the job."
 
Allowing students to produce HD movies is part of Ball State's Emerging Media Initiative (EMI), a $17.7 million investment focusing the university's historic strengths in this area to accelerate benefits to the state of Indiana and give students innovative and entrepreneurial opportunities.
 
A recent university study found that human resource managers are willing to pay more for new employees with emerging media skills, a fact not lost of the majority of the crew for the movie, Trojack said.
 
"Ball State is full of opportunities to learn new skills," she said. "If you want to do something, all you have to do is ask."
A year in the making

"Free Wall" is collaboration between the College of Communication, Information, and Media and the College of Fine Arts. About 180 people, including actors and production staff, got real-world experience making a film. Writing took place in the spring, with filming in the summer and postproduction work in the fall.

"We spent a great deal more time on the script than in the past, and then we left campus to shoot in Indianapolis, giving the movie a grittier, urban feel," said Tim Pollard, a telecommunications associate professor. "That allowed us to create more roles for minorities, pushing the boundaries of relationships and storytelling beyond what college students are used to doing."

Telecommunications students completed the majority of the video and audio postproduction work as part of their courses in the new state-of-the-art David Letterman Communication and Media Building. Ball State plans to have two movies in production during a typical school year.

Students are putting the final touches on the 60-minute HD movie as well as promotional videos, sound track and music videos with plans to enter the movie in a variety of contests in the coming months.
 
Movie trailers and music videos for "Free Wall" may be found at ilocker.bsu.edu/users/tpollard/world_shared/Free_Wall.
 
 
More than the big screen
 
The number of Student Academy Awards, regional Emmys and wins at various film festivals showcases Ball State's strength in developing theatrical productions for a number of platforms and builds upon the university's reputation for creating content for emerging media, Pollard said.
 
He is a member of a faculty team mentoring the university's summer high definition (HD) movie immersion project. Team members include Rich Swingley, telecommunications digital audio instructor; Betsy Pike, telecommunications instructor; and Jonathon Huer, director of the Digital Corps.
 
"We've established ourselves as being on the cutting edge when it comes to developing content for a variety of platforms," Pollard said. "The days of simply producing films are over. Students today want to learn how to produce movies, videos and other items for their iPhones and other mobile devices. That is where we are headed today."
 
Just as good as NYC, LA

Pollard said Ball State's telecommunications department is working with the Indiana Film Commission to enhance the state's reputation as a destination of choice for movie and video production.
 
"You don't have to go to Los Angeles to do this work because we have facilities in the Letterman building that rival the top studios on the East and West Coasts," he said.

Pollard points out Ball State's reputation for movie development was recently elevated when the university's fourth HD movie, "Grove Lake," was recently added to IMDB.com, the Internet Movie Data Base that is one of the world's largest sites for movies. The movie, trailer, a music video featuring the pop music band Arrah and the Ferns, which consists of several current and former Ball State students, poster and credits may be found at www.imdb.com/title/tt1338605.

A teen-oriented horror flick is next HD project on tap for summer with assistance of the university's Digital Corps, a group of professional and student media software experts who provided the graphics for "Free Wall."

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