In one of my last semesters as a professional writing student at Michigan State University, I had the pleasure of taking WRA 417: Multimedia Writing taught by Dr. Bump Halbritter. After several semesters of writing business memos, risk assessments, brochures, technical manuals, and professional resumes, I was hungry for a change, something that I could sink my teeth into that didn't feel so cold. I'd have plenty of time for that sort of writing in the professional world.
Dr. Halbritter's class did not disappoint. His curriculum was based on the creation of several multimedia projects throughout the semester, based on loose themes such as the concept of remix. Dr. Halbritter gave us a large amount of latitude to fit our multimedia products to his themes. What mattered most were the learning outcomes, which required us to think, write, and reflect about our projects throughout the creation process.
Armed with such freedom, I took the opportunity to explore methods of writing I hadn't worked with before. I created strange pieces such as a Flash animation of my head divided into phrenological areas representing my interests, and a remixed 80s music video which combined John Mellencamp, Suzanne Vega, Prince and Cyndi Lauper. Weird, I know, but fun. I felt like these projects spoke to the way I experienced writing, through mediums like the internet, television, radio, and film. And despite the fun and loose vibe of Dr. Halbritter's class, because of what I felt was the relevancy of the coursework, I found myself working harder and learning more in that class than any I had that semester, and most before it.
Half a semester passed before we began our capstone semester project, completion of which would determine the majority of our grade in the course. For this project, even the loose theme restrictions of the previous projects were eliminated. Instead we were allowed to create a multimedia project of any type, as long as we met certain milestones along the way where we thought, wrote, and reflected about our process. We were also allowed to work with our classmates if we desired, allowing us to pursue projects that were potentially more complex than those we would be able to create on our own. I proposed an idea to the class that had been kicking around in my head for several months: a documentary film about Robert Busby, a beloved community leader in the Lansing, Michigan area. In his curriculum, Dr. Halbritter had emphasized documentary film, and after viewing scenes from documentaries such as The Fog of War (2003), March of the Penguins (2005), Nanook of the North (1922), and even the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap (1984), I thought maybe I could give the genre a shot. I thought the film might give me the chance to create something that mattered, to me and my community.
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