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Boise State departments come together to create The Narrative TV Initiative

Students are currently in the second semester of a four-semester-long collaboration between the Communication Department, the fiction MFA program and the Theatre Arts Department,  together creating an original series, titled “TV Narrative.” “TV Narrative” tells the fictional behind-the-scene story of a ghost-hunters show in Boise, Idaho. The series is written, directed and filmed by students collaborating on the project. The series is a part of The Narrative “TV Initiative” project recently started at Boise State.

The process began in the Writer’s Room, a class which was held in Fall 2016, and moved on to the Pre-Production Lab in Spring 2017. In the Summer 2017, the project will move on to the Production Lab and is slated to finish in Post Production Lab in Fall 2017.

“I am always looking for ways to get students out of the classroom,” said Ryan Cannon, a professor in the Department of Communication. “The academic term for it is an experiential learning environment.”

According to Cannon, he got the idea from his graduate school—University of Texas, at Austin’s film institute program. There, he participated in making feature films—which, according to him—is essentially what the Narrative “TV Initiative” project is.

Writing began in the Writer’s Room, which was taught by Brady Udall, an English professor in the fiction MFA program. All the students enrolled in the class were either fiction MFA students, communication students or theatre arts students.

Three groups of students were tasked with collaborating to come up with ideas and write pilots for “TV Narrative.” Once a pilot was chosen, the writing process continued until all three episodes were scripted out.

“If you are a fiction writer and you’re involved in this kind of thing, you’re learning how to tell a really strong, gripping story,” said Mitch Wieland, MFA program director. “If you are writing a pilot, it has to be good enough to get people to come back for episode two.”

Fiction students Ben Wieland and Nolan Turner were both involved in the Writers’ Room. Ben described his experience as “remarkably positive,” as he was able to see first-hand how a writer’s room operates.

Nolan wrote the pilot which was chosen to be used for the initiative. Once the script had been written, students in the Pre-Production class began holding auditions for students, faculty and community members to fill the roles.

According to Cannon, the students are in charge of the entire process, including choosing who they want for each acting role. Anyone who is studying any form of storytelling can benefit from understanding theatre, Cannon said.

According to Cannon, this process allows the students involved to learn about what makes good dialogue, character motivation and the importance of relationships.

Once the students pick a cast, and final preparations are put into place, there will be a team of local filmmakers assisting with the production filling key crew positions during filming over the summer. Cannon said this gives the students involved an opportunity to work alongside professionals and see how a film crew functions.

“The professionals seem really excited to get involved—a lot of them are Boise State alumni, so it is cool that they can come back and work on a project with students again,” Cannon said.

Each department is working to make the Narrative TV Initiative”  project seem as much like the industry as possible. Cannon said the project correlates with Boise State’s advanced film, theatre arts and creative writing courses while giving students experience in the professional narrative TV process.

According to Cannon, in the world of film, all of these departments become one, and Boise State has recognized this. This combination of departments will be a huge aspect of the new School of Arts, which is planned to open within a year,. The University hopes students in the School of Arts will collaborate to create interdisciplinary projects.

“It dawned on us how obvious it is that we all talk the same language and do the same thing. We talk about scenes—the arc of the scene—it’s all the same lingo, yet we are in different parts of the campus,” Mitch Wieland said. “So why wouldn’t we be all together?”

Mitch Wieland continued on to describe the project as “beautiful” and wished he had this kind of project when he was a student.

When filming is completed, students in the fall will begin editing, music composition students will score the episodes, artists will work on titles and public relations and marketing students will work on promoting the series.

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