Princeton’s 3rd Convening: Adventures in Film

Yesterday Princeton’s Public Voices Fellowship Program held their 3rd convening on the gorgeously green Princeton University campus. At the helm were three incredible OpEd Project teachers: Courtney Martin, Michele Weldon, and Deborah Siegel.

From left: Princeton scholar April Alliston, Michele Weldon, Courtney Martin, Deborah Seigel, Princeton scholar Jill Dolan, and Princeton Scholar Betsy Armstrong

The focus of the day was on furthering the fellows’ ability to contribute to important national conversations not only through writing, but also on teaching them how to adapt their arguments to other media platforms. Publishing in print is still a great way to get ideas into wide circulation, but in an increasingly technological world there is a growing community of internet-savvy users who are interested in receiving information though visual and aural presentations.

Our leaders suggested diversifying the types of media platforms the scholars use to spread their thoughts by appearing on television or radio as an expert source, giving a TED Talk, or tempering pure information with personal storytelling for a spoken piece on a program like The Moth or This I Believe. Below is a clip of PVF leader Michele Weldon sharing a story at The Moth Grandslam in Chicago:

To this end, we were joined by two phenomenal filmmakers. The first, Mary Olive Smith, has spent the last fifteen years directing, producing, and writing prime-time documentaries for major television broadcasters including the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channels, History Channel and PBS. Her documentary “A Walk to Beautiful” won an EMMY in 2009. She spent the day filming interviews with the fellows about their research, writing, and their experience of claiming a voice in the public realm.

Also with us was Susan Hoostein, whose work as Creative Director on the AOL/PBS initiative Makers:Women Who Have Shaped America is bringing some of the nation’s most inspiring women to the screen.

Susan Hoostein (at center in white) addressing the Princeton Fellows

The project will serve as a living library, cataloging the stories, reflections and triumphs told by some of the most extraordinary women of today: writers, CEOs, teachers, diplomats, scientists, philanthropists, journalists, entrepreneurs, advocates, survivors and entertainers. The web platform, MAKERS.COM serves as an expansion of an AOL sponsored PBS 3-part series airing in early 2013. She shared some of the footage from this incredible endeavor to illustrate the impact of ideas shared through film.

Said Hoostein, making a verbal argument on camera involves being mindful of many factors that aren’t at play in opinion writing. She said that even as you try to verbally articulate a particular idea, you have to simultaneously be thinking about how your interview will be edited. You also have to think about how what you’re saying will be used– just as with making comments to the print media, when giving an interview on film you have to be clear about what is on and off the record.

When it came to talking about live video opportunities, the PVF team leaders made sure to mention the pressures inherent in appearing on live TV ,a format  in which interviewees must be prepared to speak only on the record and without the option of editing out blunders.

But, as both Hoostein and the team leaders emphasized, even though the immediacy and intimacy of video can be an intimidating factor, it is also what gives ideas shared through film such a punch. Your message can acquire a profound gravity when it comes directly from you without the mediator of the written word.

In addition, mixed media productions offer exciting creative opportunities that you might not find anywhere else. The Story of Stuff, below, is a great example:

Moral of the story, don’t stop at the op-ed. Getting published on a regular basis is a fantastic way to contribute your ideas for public consumption, but if you really want to reach the most people possible, consider alternate forms of media. Get creative, exercise your ability to use images in furthering your argument, hone your ability to verbally articulate your arguments on film. I, for one, literally cannot wait to see what our scholars produce in the coming months.


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