Twelve OHIO students, eleven from the Scripps College of Communication, spent their winter break in Spain studying screenwriting and documentary storytelling.
For Emily Barbus, a student studying journalism, the program had a more profound effect on her than she anticipated.
“I went into the program expecting to learn a little, enjoy the culture, and come back to Athens pretty similar to how I left,” Barbus said. “But this program, without sounding too cliché, changed my life.”
The students began their course of study in the Catalonian capital of Barcelona, in northeast Spain, where they were introduced to the distinctive style of “God’s Architect,” Antoni Gaudi.
Students embraced Gaudi’s work with a visit to Parc Guell, a public park composed of gardens and architectonic elements that was originally part of Gaudi’s unsuccessful attempt to create a unique urban community.
“Our tour guide there was phenomenal. She was interactive and lively and so sweet, which made the experience extra educational,” Sarah Abrams, a student studying journalism, said. “Plus, the actual architecture itself was just stunning.”
The students also toured the eccentric architect’s magnum opus, La Familia Sagrada, a Roman Catholic basilica with breathtaking facades and spires that have been under construction since 1882.
“In just four weeks, I constantly pushed myself out of my comfort zone, made lifetime friends and learned so much,” Barbus added. “I not only learned how to make and produce a documentary, but I also learned about the incredible culture of Spain, especially the architecture.”
From Barcelona, the group flew south to Seville, the capital city of the region of Andalusia and the home base for the program. Working in teams of two, the students were required to write a documentary script about a subject they’d begun researching prior to departure.
Caelin Parsons, a student studying media arts & studies, chose Spain’s fashion industry.
“I really liked this project because it was so tailored to what my partner and I wanted to do,” Parsons said. “I loved having the opportunity to reach out to designers, meet them, and see how they worked.”
Parsons said she also thought it was interesting to see the script come together and she appreciated the creative freedom she and her partner had together.
“Making the documentary was truly my favorite part of the class aspect of this trip,” said Parsons’ project partner, Emily Barbus.
Abrams and Morris Wein, a student studying journalism, teamed up to explore their Jewish heritage, which involved a trip to nearby Cordoba to visit a 14th century synagogue, which was one of the three best preserved Medieval synagogues in all of Spain.
“From this project I learned a lot about my religious history in Spain as well as how to properly format a two-column script,” said Abrams.
“Not only did I learn about making a documentary, but the four required interviews allowed me to become more immersed in the culture, and get to meet people I never would have otherwise,” Wein added.
The ability to speak Spanish is not required to take part in the four-week program. While some interviews were recorded in English, most were conducted in Spanish with the help of student translators from the University of Seville.
For Erick Meza, a student studying business and a first-generation Mexican American, the program afforded him the opportunity to use his Spanish language speaking skills.
“Although I am fluent in Spanish, there are differences from country to country,” Meza said. “I still faced challenges with language barriers, pronunciations and different meanings, but I managed to quickly adapt to this new variation of Spanish and communicate efficiently.”
Each student was also required to adapt a short story from Washington Irving’s “Tales of the Alhambra” into a short film screenplay. Students could tour the Alhambra, a palace fortress where Irving lived and wrote during the 1820s, during their two-day trip to Granada.
“It helped me a lot in the script adaptation to actually see where it took place,” Stazy Mazo, a student studying media arts & studies, said. “The Alhambra was beautiful and it made it much easier to write the script having been there.”
Parsons said she loved the project because her story gave her more motivation to do well on it. She added that visiting the Alhambra helped her get a better image of the story in her mind.
In addition to the workshops, field assignments and field trips, the students met weekly with Spanish filmmakers who screened and discussed their work.
“The screenings may have been the coolest part,” Charlie Fessler-Krebs, a student studying communication studies, said. “Getting an inside look at producers and directors and their opinions of their own pieces really helped with the development of our own scripts.”
In addition to spending Christmas and Three Kings Day — Spain’s official end to the holiday festivities — in the ancient city of Seville, students also had the option of traveling to southern Portugal to celebrate the New Year in the Mediterranean beach town of Albufeira.
“That trip brought everyone that went super close,” Parsons said. “The New Year’s celebration was the best one I’ve ever had. The fireworks were amazing. It was the best way to ring in the new year by far.”
Parsons said the program was a great experience that gave her a new perspective and outlook on the world and different cultures.
“I not only loved experiencing new things but now I want to experience as much as I can,” she said. “The trip has made me a more adventurous person.”
Applications are now being accepted for next winter break's "Screenwriting and Storytelling in Spain" program which will be held December 15, 2019 through January 11, 2020. The program is open to all OHIO students. No screenwriting experience or Spanish language skills are necessary. Acceptances are rolling, so apply now.
For more information, contact program director Frederick Lewis.