The city of Dayton was the topic of the award-winning student documentary, “Shattered: A City Under Pressure.” Photo from Flickr.
Ellie Moores | Contributing Writer
A documentary made last school year by University of Dayton students about the history of the Gem City was awarded a student Emmy on September 18.
Seniors in the Communication department’s media production concentration are afforded a unique opportunity to take a two-semester course in which they create a documentary with their fellow classmates.
Last year, UD students filmed a documentary highlighting the rich history of Dayton, but initially some students were disappointed in their subject. The students were allowed to pitch their ideas for the topic, but ultimately Professor Greg Kennedy, UD’s Media Specialist-in-Residence, and Professor Roy Flynn made the decision.
“I had the great idea of doing it about Wright-Patt Air Force Base and their connection to aliens,” said Alex McClary, a cinematographer and editor of the documentary. “There is a lot of information that backs it up, and no one wants to talk about it. It would have been a fun story. It would have been interesting. We would have still won the Emmy for it. And we could have made a lot of money because we could have sold it to Netflix.”
But as time went on and the students dived into the complex and dynamic history of the city, their passion for the topic grew.
“We were not very excited to do the history of Dayton at the beginning, but once we started doing research on the city and the journey that this community has gone through, we wanted to tell the story of the hidden gem of the Midwest,” said Andrew Lewis, a writer on the film.
As the group became more inspired about the story they were telling, they came to the decision to call their film “Shattered: A City Under Pressure.” The title refers to the struggles the Dayton community has faced over the years and the resiliency the city has shown in the face of adversity.
Documenting Dayton’s entire history and the many challenges the city has faced is an endeavor only the most ambitious of people would take on. To tackle this arduous feat, the young filmmakers were guided by Kennedy who has taught the class for several years.
“In the fall semester, I’m there to help teach them more about the overall process to producing a documentary. As we move into the spring semester, I consider myself more of a guide,” Kennedy said. “I’m there if they have a major question or need help, but I really want them to learn by doing, by working through the various components as a team to produce the documentary.”
But some challenges of the filmmaking process the students must overcome themselves. Working as closely as these students did with each other, internal disputes and tension were bound to occur.
“A challenge for me individually was being able to collaborate with others who disagreed on creative ideas,” said Maddie Moores, who worked on the film’s cinematography, marketing, visual effects, and graphics.
With so many different perspectives, executing a project of this magnitude can be difficult.
“As a group, a challenge for all of us was trying to narrow down the story and figure out what we wanted to say because there was so much to pick from and there were so many ways we could go with the story,” Moores said. “It was hard to narrow down what we wanted to talk about, who we wanted to reach and where we wanted to go with our story.”
Additionally, mixing work with friends presents its own difficulties, forcing these students to substitute their friendships for professional relationships throughout the process.
“It was incredibly hard because you love these people dearly, but then you kind of see some flaws in their work ethic and it’s hard to bring it up because you’re friends,” McClary said. “The way we dealt with it was kind of just telling them straight up like ‘Hey, you got to get your work done. You’re affecting the group.’”
But there were certainly positive aspects of working on such a meaningful project with friends. Throughout the year, the students shared numerous unforgettable experiences that will surely be remembered with fondness for years to come.
“I have a lot of memories from the year we made the documentary. A lot of good memories and a lot of bad memories, but they all contributed to the final product that we are very proud of,” Lewis said.
Lewis recalled a couple of stand-out memories from his time working on the project.
“I remember going out to get b-roll footage at Carillon Historical Park with Daniel Peters, Madeline Moores and Alex McClary and we just went around joking, laughing with each other while getting the footage that we needed,” Lewis said. “I also remember when we were all packed up to go to an interview and then Colin Birbal’s car wouldn’t start. We were out front of KU for like 45 minutes trying to jump his car, just laughing at how many media production students were needed to jump start a car.”
Though working with friends can be difficult, in the end, the students were grateful for the opportunity.
“I got to work with my best friends,” Moores said. “These are the people I spend most of my time with [and] hang out with.”
McClary echoed this sentiment.
“It made winning the Emmy all the better because we won it with our friends,” he said.
The process of making a film in just a few months is no easy task, but the experience is one the students will remember forever, taking these lessons into their future careers.
“Learning how to communicate and collaborate as a team is so valuable,” Kennedy said. “Also, taking these skills that they have learned in undergraduate classes and applying those skills to actual practical reasons for production and doing that over and over again helps them become even better at those skills.”
Moores, who now works in the media production field, felt this experience taught her a lot about working in the industry.
“I learned a great deal about the production process,” Moores said. “Going through that process taught me so much about patience, respect, teamwork and grit.”
The documentary being nominated for an Emmy is a testament to the hard work these students put into this project, but winning the award shows a level of artistic vision and skill that far exceeds most people their age. The documentary is available for viewing on the Flyer TV YouTube channel, for anyone interested in seeing the award-winning work of these students or who simply want to learn more about the city UD students and faculty call home.