Documentary class emphasizes application

Students in the genres of media production course showed up to the first day of class not knowing which genre they were going to study that semester, since every semester a different one is explored. They soon discovered their professor, Detroit transplant Kristine Weatherston, was going to lead them through the world of documentary production.

Weatherston, a new addition to the media studies and production department, is not one to be shy around media production.

“This is my seventh year teaching media production,” said Weatherston, who earned her master’s degree in media arts from Wayne State University, and was a doctoral candidate in media art and text from Virginia Commonwealth University. “I used to have a small production company in Detroit, and I also worked for the NBC affiliate in Detroit, WDIV-TV, as a commercial producer, and I’ve been making media in terms of television and video, art, film, photography, text, writing all kinds of different media formats, probably since I was in eighth grade.”

The seasoned media arts aficionada made her base in Detroit, but transitioning from the Motor City has still taken some adjustment for Weatherston.

“I think Philadelphia is awesome,” Weatherston said. “It’s not that much like Detroit…but Philadelphia is big, so it took me a while to acclimate to its size and population, but I really love it.”

Despite the name of the course insinuating it is solely a theory class exploring different kinds of media genres, Weatherston has her students learning in a hands-on manner. The students were split into five groups and assigned to shoot, direct and produce their own long-form narrative documentaries focused on a topic of their choice.

“The first day we started talking about ideas and the power of the camera, how to capture life stories that represent the universal truth — ones that we can all connect with,” Weatherston said on the process of picking a topic and creating a base idea for a documentary. “It has this power to educate, illustrate and illuminate facets of the world that we don’t regularly see in everyday life.”

The five different documentaries cover a wide variety of topics — from light-hearted to serious ones.

“Going Steady: Dating 2.0,” for example, focuses on college dating and love life. An untitled piece aims to provide a look on the food truck culture on Main Campus. A piece with the working title “My Basement’s a S—hole” provides a look at punk and DIY shows and subcultures in Philadelphia. “Death and Dignity,” meanwhile, weighs in on the debate over the practice of physician-assisted suicide and use of euthanasia in Pennsylvania. And the last one, “Flush,” is a critique on the best and worst toilets on Main Campus.

Each group went through the process of pitching ideas, conducting intensive research, holding technical and production meetings and writing, all culminating in each group’s narrative innovation.

Olivia Katulka, a senior MSP major, took the class in order to gain more knowledge and experience for her concentration in TV production. But Katulka found the class to be so much more.

“This class has definitely shown me a desire to do freelance documentary [work], not necessarily as my career, just to do more things regarding production and being able to tell a story that’s improbable to me through documentary,” Katulka said.

Katulka, who is part of the “Going Steady” team, added, “Weatherston has shown so many different documentaries that range from comical to heart-wrenching. Documentaries are more than informative, they can tug at your heart strings, make you cry and see different aspects of different people’s lives around the world and learn about various things you’ve never known before.”

Nick Lucier, a junior MSP major who is also a part of the “Going Steady” team, has also been charmed by the allure of the documentary genre.

“[The class] opened my mind to trying other things that are more long term than television production,” Lucier said.

The five documentaries created and produced by the students will have an opportunity to be shown to Temple students and faculty on Dec. 11, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The location is still to be determined.

The genre of media production course is an introductory course for any type of student, whether they are a novice or a veteran in media production. Weatherston sums up the unique nature of documentaries in this one simple idea for anyone interested in creating documentaries: “It’s not news, it’s not propaganda, it’s not journalism — it’s sort of its own way of showing and expressing interesting facets of the world, people, places, things.”

Indira Jimenez can be reached at indira.jimenez@temple.edu.

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