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Ferris Students Rock Documentaries

pictureBIG RAPIDS – Forty Ferris State University-Grand Rapids students and an innovative professor eager to add a little spice to the educational experience added an interesting twist to the oftentimes dry concept of creating a typical documentary.

David Baker’s Digital Animation and Game Design 180-Video Editing class managed to rock the normal brand of documentary to create a unique and practical brand of storytelling for local bands: “Rockumentaries.” The class, according to Baker, “studied a VH1 Classic Video’s Rockumentary to learn how to create this film genre.” The students’ five-week assignment had a dual mission: Promote local bands in the Grand Rapids area and learn the ins and outs of creating a documentary – including the processes involved in editing video and presenting a finished product. Baker, who was the executive producer of the project and steered the students’ efforts, wanted the students in his class to learn and enjoy the experience at the same time.

“First of all, we wanted to learn how to make documentaries. No matter what the subject, film makers of any age can use a reality TV-type of approach to a topic and create interesting stories,” said Baker, who is program coordinator and an instructor in Ferris’ Digital Animation and Game Design program. “Secondly, we wanted to give some exposure to local bands through a high-traffic Web site such as 97.9 WGRD Radio’s. Viewers could ‘vote’ on a band by clicking and viewing the documentaries.

“The band with the most votes wins a recording session for WGRD’s upcoming ‘Bootleg’ CD album project whose profits go to charity. Third, we just wanted to see what would happen. The students put together very well-produced, under-10-minute projects that entertained and educated. By using social networking skills and YouTube … the students learned how they could market a product.”

Understanding the importance of keeping the creative juices flowing inside of his young students, Baker sought an assignment that could capitalize on youthful energy and fresh ideas, but also serve an educational and practical purpose.

“As the instructor for the course, I made it one of the assignments,” Baker said. “I divided the class up into three-person teams and had the teams find musical groups of any genre to do a ‘behind the music’ film. My instruction included how to edit, light, interview and gather ‘assets’ for the video. The students, however, did most of the work. They were fantastic and threw themselves into it 150 percent.”

Perhaps nearly as gratifying was the way in which the project was received, locally.

“One Rockumentary for the band ‘Absinyth’ garnered more than 35,000 hits on WGRD Radio’s Web site,” Baker said of the Grand Rapids-based alternative rock station. “I feel we accomplished our goal and went well beyond our expectations. We have done documentaries in our DAGD 180 Video Editing class before and thought this might be a real fun spin.”

After helping the students begin their projects, Baker was pleased he had the luxury of stepping back and watching as the students enthusiastically became engaged in the process.

“It was remarkable to see how well the students took ownership with this project,” said Baker, who credited assistance from Jennifer Amlotte, the marketing director of FSU-GR as well as WGRD directors JT Tarrant and Gary Chenoweth, among others, for helping the project gain momentum. They all did remarkable work, and I am very proud of them.”