There is cause for celebration! We have evidence of “learning behavior” — both with the graduate students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and more importantly, with the faculty (namely me!). We’re getting better at this stuff.

Last week was the 6th year in a row that we have run the intensive 3 day videomaking workshop for the students in the 12 week orientation course that all the new graduate students in the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography must take in their first summer. What started as an experiment in the summer of 2005 has become an integral part of the course, with the students putting a great deal of thought and effort into the projects.

This year, more than any previous year, we saw a lot more attention and detail paid to the actual structure of the stories told. All of the filmmakers (with the exception of the Old Spice film, which is unusual) were able to say very clearly, “My film is a story about …” and actually tell a good story with a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Part of it might be a result of the publication of my book (which they all had to read), and the fact that each year I’ve gotten clearer on what it is that we’re looking for in these videos. In the first year it was kind of just, “give us 60 seconds of stuff.” These days the students are given a lot of coaching on three act structure, arouse and fulfill, and the standard structure of television commercials. The advancement of sophistication shows in this year’s films.

So the general assignment for the students is to come up with an idea for a one minute film that conveys the research subject of a faculty member. Ideally the film stars the faculty member as well. This year three of the stories featured individual characters as the focus (Sealander, Pervert, and Sturgeon General). A fourth told an action/adventure story about corals and bacteria (Coral-Bacteria Love Story), and the fifth … well, it got the strongest audience response I’ve even seen in any of these student videomaking workshops, so I ‘ll save it for last.

“STURGEON GENERAL”      Director: Sara McPherson    Crew: Ariana Merlino, Kristian Gustavson, Zach Caldwell, Carolina Bonin

This video shows how much can be done by going with a very simple situation — just a single interrogation room and three actors. It’s fun, snappy, and if you keep in mind that the actors are students and faculty, and none of the crew even knew how to turn on the video camera at the start, it’s a pretty impressive piece of work — reasonably smooth editing and a complete story.

“SEALANDER”     Director: Jaclyn Fowler    Crew: Ali Redmnan, Jade Delevaux, Roxy Carter, Brigitte Roth-Tran

It sort of helps to be familiar with the movie “Zoolander” in order to grasp the full depth of this film. I love the low key performance turned in by the scientist who, by the time of his last line, had fully embodied the character.

“PERVERT”      Director: Karen Geisler    Crew: Alexis Rife, Katy Seto, Susana Cusatti, Jonathan Mark

This film owns the award for most amazingly rapid pitch in history. Karen had a different idea for her pitch built around the fact of how hard it is to observe leopard shark mating. We made a simple suggestion to her based on her one line, “really hard to see then having sex.” Twenty minutes later she was giving a brilliant performance in front of the class, playing out the two roles as part of her pitch, which ended up being hugely popular. Also, what’s really nice in this one is the mini-documentary about leopard shark tagging embedded in the middle.

“A CORAL-BACTERIA LOVE STORY”      Director: Levi Lewis    Crew: Dominique Cano-Stocco, Robin Yeager, Tim Ray, Daniel Gonzales-Paredes

This project began with the teaching assistant, Steve Ting, overcoming his lifelong phobia of green screen. As soon as that happened, he was able to assist this group in making a amazing film that appears to be inspired by everything from “The Wizard of Oz,” to “Jerry Maguire,” to your basic Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick. Here’s to hoping Andi Haas figures out how to save the corals.

“OLD SPICE”      Director: Tessa Pierce    Crew: Carolina Behe, Melissa Yuen, Cotton Rockwood

This is a fascinating film that is unique in the 6 year history of the course — this was the first time a crew has done a “one shot” video. There was virtually no editing involved. It’s all one shot. As a result, almost ALL of the crew’s energy went into the filming. They spent all day figuring out how to get the actor’s shirt to fly off, collecting the props, and rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing with the actor who did a brilliant job of getting his lines down. And I have to say, this one got THE BIGGEST audience response I’ve ever seen. It seemed to be a combination of everyone recognizing the commercial it was parodying, but more importantly, there seemed to be an element of performance where the longer it went, the more exciting it felt that he was hitting all his marks and nailing the lines. And of course the pay off at the end brought the house down. One final note. You can see the lighting is terrible. They were hoping to shoot at sunset and get the beautiful light of “golden hour,” but they ended up needing to quote my favorite line from “Titanic,” where the Scottish guy in the rowboat says, “We waited too long!” They did, and you can see what they ended up with — pretty dark. AND YET … the overall execution is sooo good, it’s able to overcome this.


This year there was an extra element added to the mix — brought in fresh from New Zealand. Last spring 25 yr old filmmaking sensation Steve Ting had contacted me about his excellent “Science Camp” video, plus his 25 minute thesis film, “1080” — a documentary about the consequences of government poisoning programs for introduced possums in New Zealand. We brought him over for the week to serve as the teaching assistant, but given his filmmaking background he ended up being so much more. Clearly he was another key factor leading to the excellence of this year’s films.