The lights flickered and the feed went live. A raucous crowd cheered on the players of a high school football matchup as it unfolded on a multitude of monitors in the control room of a makeshift studio-trailer, while simultaneously the game was broadcast on television sets across the Inland Northwest. Meanwhile, producers at the stadium barked commands into their headsets – “pan left,” “camera two, go,” and “find something colorful” – as the handful of off-screen workers darted around the field interpreting the production lingo into on-air TV transitions.
So it was without much preparation that the workers, a collection of learning-as-they-go North Idaho College students, gained real-world experience on their first day on the job – and just after their first day in the classroom of a new digital video course offered through the school’s graphic design program. Following an introductory class session in August at NIC’s campus-based production studio, the students immediately began working in the field by filming high school football games in partnership with KHQ-TV sports and weather channel SWX.
Putting the bookwork aside for some hands-on lessons, the students began a crash course in video production. Live, on-air. And with little room for fault.
The off-screen workers, who are paid for their work in helping produce SWX’s live feeds of local high school athletics, assist in a variety of roles, from setting up camera shots to running miles of cable and working with the producers during the live filming of the games. Through the partnership with the sports and weather channel, which began to take shape more than a year ago, the seven students in the class work with cameras and equipment valued at more than $500,000.
“It was intense,” said BJ Fowler, a graphic design major at NIC and a Coeur d’Alene native. “There’s nothing like being thrown into it full-immersion right off the bat.”
For the student’s graphic design instructor Philippe Valle, it’s all a part of learning practical and invaluable applications for their degree.
“This isn’t a subject matter that sinks in from a book,” Valle said. “This is something that you learn by doing.” And learn they did.
“There was constant chatter in the headphones that we were learning to decipher and the producers were giving us directions on what to do next. And there was no editing or second tries – it was live,” Fowler recalled.
“It is a bit of a high-stress situation because if we make mistakes, we share them with the audience,” said SWX executive producer Tom Holmberg, adding that by the end of March 2010, the channel will have produced more than 100 area productions. “The mechanics students go through are the exact same mechanics as professionals … And the more reps they get in, the more proficient they become at it. They are doing a good job.”
Real-world lessons are nothing new for the students in NIC’s graphic design program, where the experience is as important a lesson as anything they’ll glean from a book, according to Valle. Even with a sputtering economy and high unemployment rate, some students already have landed jobs in the industry while they finish getting their degree, such as sophomore Mario Barrientos who works for the salad dressing maker Litehouse Foods out of Sandpoint.
“It’s good to know a lot of different things,” Barrientos said about the scope of the NIC program. “In graphic design you have a lot of impact because it’s everywhere, in magazines, at work, at the store; everywhere you go you can see their work.”
As for the video class, students will help produce regional high school basketball games throughout the winter season and will participate in observations of pre-planning for NBC’s broadcasting of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C. In addition, the class is piecing together a commercial with Idaho first lady Lori Otter for the Idaho Meth Project, the prevention project aimed at reducing first-time methamphetamine use through public policy, community outreach and hard-hitting and graphic public service messages.
A well-versed background is important with the rapidly changing technology pushing the industry forward, said Valle. So someone who’s prepared with the tools necessary for a range of workplace tasks, whether designing cologne packages as a print graphic designer, slicing video together for a commercial in an editor position, or adding effects to some images in Photoshop, is going to be better off than those without some hands-on know-how.
“This partnership with SWX is invaluable, because it got our students working with and learning on actual equipment that they will be using in the industry,” Valle said. “We do stuff outside; we go beyond the classroom … We want to make sure to prepare the kids for tomorrow because we don’t know what the next move will be.”