Karen Ducey photo
A time-lapse photo shows the audience watching a laser show at the Seattle Laser Dome, Feb. 6, 2011. The show and projectionist, John "Ivan" Borcherding, was the subject of a documentary titled "When the Lights Go Out," which has been accepted to show at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival.
The Seattle International Film Festival includes the work of filmmakers from around the world.
In 2012, it will also include the work from a little closer to home, Shoreline Community College.
“When the Lights Go Out,” is a six-minute documentary video that was conceived, shot and edited over the course of just five days during winter quarter by the students in instructor Ruth Gregory’s Film/Video 287 class.
On the set
“We offer the class during winter because it is designed to coincide with the International Documentary Challenge as the final project of the class,” Gregory said.
The “Doc Challenge” is a timed filmmaking competition where participants have five days to make a short non-fiction film of between four and seven minutes. Filmmakers must choose between two assigned documentary genres and are assigned a specific theme that dictates the content and direction of the films. The Challenge is sponsored by KDHX.org, a St. Louis, Mo.-based independent radio station and Web site.
“I’ve done the challenge before and I know that when you have to do something in a short time, you really grow by leaps and bounds,” Gregory said. “Our hopes were that it would be that way for the students and it totally worked.”
Gregory said the class is a combination of film study and filmmaking.
“The idea for the class is that half is about the history of film and documentaries and the other half is actual filmmaking,” she said. “The first year, we had film history as a prerequisite, but then we realized we’re teaching that as part of the class so now it is just open to anyone.”
Gregory said the time constraints makes for a grueling five days.
“The challenge starts Thursday morning and you must have the project postmarked by Monday midnight,” she said, adding that finding a postal drop that late added some pressure this year. “I was sure the airport had midnight drop, but at 3 p.m. Monday, and with no DVD yet, we found out they stopped doing that. We found a drop in Ballard that closed at 8 p.m. We got there by 7:30.”
While the film did make the deadline, it didn’t make the finals of the challenge.
It did, however, snag perhaps an even bigger prize: A spot in the Seattle International Film Festival.
“We just burned another DVD and the very next morning, I ran it down to SIFF,” Gregory said. “I heard from a friend there that they had over 2,500 entries for shorts and we got in. This is big. This is something every one of the students can put on their resume.”
Getting the film shot was no easy task.
Early Thursday morning, over a breakfast of doughnuts and Gregory’s homemade quiche, the class got their assignment and began discussions. “We knew the general areas, just not which one we’d get, so the students had already brainstormed ideas,” Gregory said. “When we got art or sport and movement, we knew we’d go with Karen’s idea.”
That idea, from student Karen Ducey, was a story about the projectionist at the Seattle Center laser dome, a man named John “Ivan” Borcherding.
With time already tight for the challenge, the students found out later that day that Borcherding would be available for only that night, Thursday. “So, we get ready, go down and shoot until about 3 a.m.,” Gregory said. “I was totally pumpkin’d.”
Ducey, a laid-off photojournalist, is in Shoreline’s Visual Communications Technology program. She signed up for the documentary class because it resonated with her storytelling experiences with newspapers. “I was a staff photographer at the (Seattle Post-Intelligencer),” said Ducey, who also worked for the Indianapolis Star and whose work appeared in the New York Times and National Geographic. “I saw the documentary class and said ‘I absolutely must take that.’”
The connection to Borcherding came through her photo work. “I had a freelance job shooting a CEO and wanted some dramatic lighting,” she said. As it turned out, the CEO nixed the light-show idea, but Ducey came away with a new friend in Borcherding, one that paid off for this class project.
“I was the director, but I use that term very loosely,” Ducey said. “I had the contact with John, set it up and we set up the computers at my house, but this was a very collaborative effort.”
Ducey said her prior professional experience with deadlines wasn’t much of an advantage for the documentary challenge. “I am used to it, but I’m also used to being very confident about my craft,” she said. “This was different. We’re students here to learn. One thing I learned was that when you see all those names on a film, it really takes all those people working together.”
Another thing Ducey learned came from standing behind Amanda Harryman, a program alum who helped edit the film. “Just watching the way she worked and being able to see what she was doing was invaluable,” Ducey said.
Ducey said she’s aiming at a two-year degree in VCT, but that dwindling funding support may impact that goal. A Worker Retraining assistance recipient, Ducey said her unemployment benefits will run out after summer quarter, so she’ll have to scale back the number of classes she can take. “I want the degree,” she said. “This program is so great, the instructors are so great. They are very good and very practical about what it takes to get a job. I want the degree to feel I’m ready for the job market.”
While Ducey was organizing, doing much of the camera work was Sean McDougall, a 23-year-old holder of a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Montana. The project was shot primarily with a Canon digital SLR camera with video capabilities, although a more traditional video camera was also used.
“I came here to get a certificate in digital film, but then in the fall, I learned they were going to have an AA degree so I decided to stay and get the degree. I think I’m the first one to get it,” McDougall said. “I’m all graduated. This project was the cherry on top.”
McDougall was behind the camera for some of the first night’s work, then again the next night for interviews with people in line for the show as well as additional footage of the Seattle Center. McDougall said he’s always been interested in film and Shoreline’s program offered the opportunity to try it out. “I’d always talked about,” he said.
Going into the challenge, McDougall said he wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. “I really was unfazed by the challenge,” he said. “Yes, it was exhausting, but everything I’ve learned here prepared me. I was surprised how calm the experience was.”
McDougall his next step will be to make his own film. “I’m hoping to make a doc’ about war veterans,” he said. “Ruth gave me some advice: Get the idea down on paper, then, go shoot some and make a short, then go show it around (to raise money to shoot the rest).”
McDougall said the Shoreline experience has been good, but now comes the next step: “The biggest challenge in life is what to do after school.”