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Morgan Riles
Honors Tutorial CollegeMorgan Riles

'Storytelling has transcended time'

Hometown: Mansfield, Ohio
College: College of Fine Arts, Honors Tutorial College
Major: Film

What does it mean for you to be recognized as a graduate with promise?

It means that someone liked my work as I followed my ambitions. It feels good to be nominated. It's nice to know that somebody appreciates what you do, is paying attention to your work. But I get enough gratitude from just being able to present my thesis.

What is your thesis film?

My thesis film has been the most challenging of all of the films I've worked on as an undergraduate. I'm proud that it hasn't been easy because it means that I'm still learning.

With my first film, "The New Zealand Expedition: Discovery Knows No Boundaries," I was taking (Associate Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology) Morgan Vis and (Assistant Professor) Kim Brown's class at the same time as filming (the class, which travels to New Zealand to conduct research). I wanted to take the class, but I didn't have as much footage that I wanted to have or should have had. It was draining to do both at the same time, pretty tiring without a crew.

So I learned. I have a crew of two for my thesis film doing multi-cam shots, Bethany Williams and Majdi Armani. It is called "Biomodd [ATH1], a Living Game Computer as Social Sculpture." (Visiting artist) Angelo Vermeulen designed a living game computer and incorporated students and people outside the university to help build it. (In the film) a bunch of young guys, ages 20–26, talk about art and dialogue through the process of putting it together. It is basically about art through the eyes of my generation, the way we see art.

The sculpture encased five computers and contained an ecosystem that grows from heat generated by the processors in computers, from people playing the game. I'm proud that I have a thesis film that touches on a subject that I haven't seen very often. Not that I am an expert on contemporary art, but I think it will be helpful and will inspire people to reconsider how they think about contemporary art and how it affects people my age.

Can you talk about your internship in New York?

I was interning at Mighty Pictures as an assistant editor. I learned the professional work flow of post-production. They were great about trusting my editing skills, and they even let me cut some spots for Spike TV.

Do you feel a bent toward ecology and biology, or is it just what you were interested in at the moment you created your films?

Ecology and biology have always been subjects that I love exploring. I'm not exclusive to those topics. It's just been coincidental so far that I've had great access to some really interesting projects that have happened here. If another opportunity crosses my path in the future I'd definitely take it, but I haven't been searching for stories that "fit" an ecological narrative.

How do you come up with your ideas?

I'm not very good at coming up with ideas, honestly! I'm an editor by nature. I'm much more comfortable and assertive about helping others shape good ideas and make them better.

What other experiences have you had that helped you broaden your educational process?

Freshman year I was encouraged and required to explore and take different classes. I was not yet a full-on film student, yet I was integrated with grad students. I took environmental and plant biology with Kim Brown and went on the expedition to New Zealand with both her and Professor Morgan Vis. My sophomore year I also branched out from the School of Film at the (university's Aesthetic Technologies) lab to make new art pieces and worked on my projects there. I attended the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) my junior year.

How do you see yourself?  How do you see yourself in your future?

When I graduate, I will move to New York City to work as a film editor. Someday I hope to edit films that are noticed and expand views on traditional filmmaking. I would like to direct more documentary films in the future and explore storytelling in new and different ways.

What intrigues you?

I am intrigued by storytelling. It's not a simple process to put it together, but it's been around forever. Storytelling has transcended time -- through drawings on caves till now. Everything is communicated through storytelling, even the way we speak about our everyday experiences. Storytelling will never go away, and I will always be fascinated with it. My mom would read me stories, but she wouldn't just read the book. She'd turn the story into a theatrical, dramatic thing, and read them rhythmically, sing stories and act it out.

What sustains you to keep focused on your goal?

I get frustrated when I'm doing everything myself. I don't have anyone else as dedicated to the project as I am. Some days are just so hard. But being able to walk away from a project for a few minutes, hours or couple of weeks is refreshing and sustaining. You have to be able to take breaks and clear your mind in order to go back to your project. It's like writing an essay. You don't always have fresh material, and you can't make anything up. If you don't know what next step is, you have to be able to find a way to step back so that you can go into it fresh (even though it's never really fresh) but allow room in mind and imagination to explore things again.

I will keep refining myself. I will never be perfect at it, but that's the beauty of it. If you can put stories together like that (snaps fingers), then it becomes more of a commercial thing and formulaic. And that's not a place I want to be.

Interview by Jenaye Antonnucio, BA '95. Photo by Kainaz Amaria, MA '08.


Posted 05-16-08


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