FreshTV puts first-year Communications students into motion early

Fifty-two students completed the 15-week accelerated program last fall, exploring the fundamental skills of storytelling and video production just weeks after arriving on campus.

Members of the fall 2014 FreshTV program gather for a photograph following the production of the program's 36-minute television show.
Members of the fall 2014 FreshTV program gather for a photograph following the production of the program’s 36-minute television show.[/caption]​While the School of Communications’ FreshTV program was a great way to get a head start in his chosen field, it certainly wasn’t a shortcut, explained Daniel MacLaury ’18.

The Cinema & Television Arts major was one of 52 students who completed this fall’s accelerated training program, which is open to all first-year Communications majors. For 15 weeks – meeting almost every Sunday night between Labor Day and Thanksgiving – the first-years received basic training on cameras and other equipment, studio rotations, non-fiction and fiction story design, and production and planning. The objective, according to program coordinator Bryan Baker, is to get equipment into the hands of new students as soon as possible.

The time commitment is substantial for a program that doesn’t offer course credit, explained MacLaury, but he reasoned the benefits far exceeded the sacrifice of a few weekend hours and extra homework. “In my opinion, it was well worth the time and effort,” he said. “I would suggest the program to any future students who have an interest in video production  – and communications in general.”

Like her fellow Cinema & Television Arts major, Azzurra Catucci ’18 first learned of FreshTV and its benefits while touring Elon as a prospective student. The opportunity to edit, use equipment, and create content right away appealed to her. “It gives you an opportunity to learn skills that you may otherwise have to wait at least a semester to tackle, thus enabling you to refine those skills and put them to use more quickly,” she said.

Similar to its previous editions, this year’s FreshTV program consisted of a series of workshops and projects designed to instill the base knowledge of video production and storytelling. “It is designed for students who want to get ahead,” said Baker, who just completed his third year leading FreshTV. While the program’s roots date back to the mid-1990s, FreshTV didn’t take its current form – and name – until the early 2000s under the direction of J McMerty, now the director of Elon in Los Angeles.

After a few weeks of discussing the creative process for narrative and broadcast news pieces, supplemented with workshops on camera equipment and Adobe Premiere editing software, students got right to work. One of their first assignments was to create a 60-second promotional video for the university with stock footage.

Chase Blackburn '18 (left) and William Cohn '18 introduce a video package during the FreshTV television show Dec. 3.
Chase Blackburn ’18 (left) and William Cohn ’18 introduce a video package during the FreshTV television show Dec. 3.[/caption]​Students then tackled their three main projects, creating a three-picture story using still photography; a 1- to 3-minute video piece about themselves; and a group video project in the style of their choice. During each project, Baker, faculty advisers and fellow classmates critiqued the students’ work. “It is really an atmosphere where you need to speak up, make your opinion known, and be a part of the group,” Baker said.

The semester-long program concluded with a student-produced version of the FreshTV television show, incorporating the students’ final group project packages. This fall’s show ran 36 minutes, featuring nine packages of videos complete with introductions.

“Through these workshops and projects, we want to examine the fundamental skills that can cross over to cinema, entertainment television and broadcast journalism – anything that involves video production,” Baker said. “We want them to get more repetitions and work on the technical aspects of production, editing and working with cameras.”

FreshTV students hail from all Communications majors with a variety of career aspirations. The common link between the participants, Baker reasoned, is they are an ambitious sort. “These are students who come for no credit and no money on a Sunday night from 7 to 9 p.m., every week. They are driven students to be able to do that,” he said. “But time after time, I swear some of our best students come from this program.” FreshTV participants routinely graduate into leadership roles in on-campus organizations later in their Elon careers.

The one catch is FreshTV has a no-absence attendance policy. Miss an evening without a viable excuse and you’re out, said Baker. The program moves too fast to skip a week of instruction. Approximately 60 students joined in September 2014, making it Baker’s largest FreshTV class yet. Fifty-two made it to the end of the semester.

Catucci called the instruction she received from Baker, as well as guest speakers like Paul Castro, associate professor of communications, and McMerty, invaluable to starting her college career.

Just as important, MacLaury credited FreshTV for introducing him not only to new technology but like-minded students. “I think arguably the best benefit is that FreshTV introduces you to a group of students who have similar interests,” he said. “Going forward we have a group of people with experience who we can rely on for future projects.” 

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