Comm Fellows Begin Work on ELON Academy Documentary

Communications Fellows Randy Gyllenhaal and Meredith Gulley have begun work this summer on a documentary that will chronicle the daily lives of underprivileged high school students from the Alamance-Burlington school system who are participating in the ELON Academy. Gyllenhaal and Gulley, both rising sophomores and broadcast majors, are in the first year of their three-year Elon Docs project. The purpose of their film isn’t to promote the ELON Academy, but rather, to present the stories of students who, while academically gifted, may not be considering college as a future option because of dire financial circumstances.

“Hopefully, people will get something from this story,” Gyllenhaal said. “They may be able to see what some kids in this country are going through and also see that there are special people out there giving these kinds of opportunities.”

The ELON Academy is a year-round enrichment program for talented high school students. The initiative involves three intensive four-week summer residential experiences at Elon, where rising 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders receive instruction in math, English, social studies, science and technology. It also requires a three-year commitment from students who join initially as high school sophomores.

Gyllenhaal and Gulley, who have received help from School of Communications faculty and staff members Brooke Barnett, J. McMerty and Katrina Taylor, aren’t simply confining their documentary to the four-week summer window, though. They will be shadowing the group of students throughout the normal school year, as well.

“We will follow these kids for the next three years,” Gyllenhaal said, “watching them grow and learn and grab hold of their opportunity. We’ll also look at their histories, their family lives and backgrounds to see where they are coming from, and the conditions that they face daily outside of ELON Academy.”

“The kids,” Gulley said, “have been wonderful. “They're interesting, funny, smart, and they surprise me every day.”

Gyllenhaal and Gulley have accumulated more than 40 hours of tape in just two weeks, making the documentary a daunting undertaking. Gyllenhaal says he hopes to enter the final product in film festivals and air it on television.

“It has been a fun experience—long at times, of course—but very fun,” said Gyllenhaal, who will be the lead anchor on Phoenix14News this year. “It does get difficult when looking at our hours of footage because it’s like a looming mountain growing every day. But for now, we’re very much enjoying ourselves as a fly on the wall in these kids’ lives.”

Personally, both Gulley and Gyllenhaal said they hope to gain a firmer grasp on documentary work once the project is completed. They said they both feel as though they’ve grown as filmmakers already in the two short weeks since the project began.

“Through this experience, I've been sharpening my skills as a storyteller as well as gaining journalistic experience for my field,” said Gulley, a Phoenix14News associate producer last year. “I can feel myself thinking differently behind the camera, viewing how to film currently unfolding events as scenes, and trying to predict the future so that my camera is in the right place at the right time.”


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