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Lights, Camera, Phone-a-thon!

New online video series is an interdisciplinary production
Nov 30, 2009
By Colleen Kiphart

The National Phonathon Call Center in the HDL Center has been transformed into a film set, making a class of students into a working crew.

The Ohio University Alumni Association is raising awareness about the Ohio University Phonathon through an online video series, or webisodes. The series, called "The Phone-a-thon," draws inspiration from the popular television sitcom "The Office." Like its network counterpart, the series is a fake documentary that follows the personal and professional interactions of coworkers in an office.

Jennifer Bowie, director of development of annual giving, has found a unique workforce for this ambitious project, pulling together an interdisciplinary group from the School of Media Arts and Studies, the School of Theater and faculty from English and engineering.

All 10 episodes that are being produced are written by series creator, Conor Hogan, a senior Media Arts and Studies major. His most recent work includes producing the student film "Trailerpark," which introduced Bowie to his abilities.

"I contacted him to come up with three ideas for a Web series, and this was the third one he offered," she said. "It was just such a funny concept. We didn?t want to take ourselves too seriously, so it was an easy decision to choose this pitch."

Bowie is working closely with Casey Hayward, an assistant professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies. Hayward is using this as a chance for students in his Advanced Single-Camera Producing and Directing class to gain hands-on experience.

"When Jenn approached me with the idea for webisodes she knew she wanted students involved," Hayward said. "I thought that this would be a perfect learning opportunity. A lot of the skills students learn in this class cannot just be taught in a classroom -- students need to do and learn and know why they do things."

Every aspect of the shoot is handled by students with Hayward and Bowie supervising. Students rotate crew duties, with four different students taking the leadership roles of director, producer, assistant director and post coordinator, on each episode.

"The Phone-a-thon" series offers students an opportunity to replicate the documentary style camera work that is used on its television inspiration.

"This style is different and less structured. The format actually gives you room for a lot of creativity as a cameraman," said senior video production major Alex Elkins.

The constantly shifting crew positions mimic potential real-world experiences. Senior video production major Chris Kramer directed the fifth episode and explained that "in a television show you would constantly be cycling through directors. This gives us the challenge of keeping continuity in a style that we could get in our careers."

The productions call for individual effort as well as collaboration. Hayward is excited by the teamwork between his students that the series requires.

"Normally, I would come up with assignments and they would go and do them on their own. Here, they are getting the experience of working in a team," he said.

It is professional experience that they are sharing with four students from the School of Theater. Senior theater major Victoria Little, who plays the socially awkward Liz in "The Phone-a-thon," is getting her first on-camera acting experience. She said, "I haven't really worked on film before, so this is a new thing for me."

This fall the actors have only been able to schedule shooting two days a week for one hour each. To encourage speedy production and a professional attitude, lines have to be learned and everyone on set needs to come prepared.

"The time constraints are probably the biggest challenge," said Kramer. "It?s a crunch to get everything in, but we?ve done it."

Despite early delays in production due to illnesses and the newness of the process, the project is on schedule. Five episodes have been filmed and edited in the fall quarter, and the final five will be filmed and edited in Hayward?s winter quarter class.

The series is set in the actual phonathon call center, and members of the crew can vouch for its accuracy.

"The boss in the series is over the top, but the script comes pretty close to the real experience," said senior video production major Vince Tropea, who worked with the phonathon last summer.

Hayward is proud of his class? effort, and he is looking forward to winter quarter?s filming.

"I like having the ability to see students coming together and collaborate," he said. "That doesn?t usually get to happen at this level."

Two episodes are already available to view online, and new episodes will continue to be released at the end of every month. Videos are posted on the Alumni Association?s Web site and links to them are distributed through their e-newsletter, "OHIO Alumni."


Published: Nov 30, 2009 10:12 AM

Phone-a-thon screen shot

(from left to right) Theater majors Lisa Marie Summerscales, a senior, Denver Cole Woodruff, a junior, and Carmen Carfagna, a senior, are working the phones in a scene from the series' second episode.

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