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Currents: movie reviews & more

“Reel Talk” Rolls on with New Faces, New Films

by Marc LeBourdais '07

I leafed through my notes, refreshing myself on names and titles, while fidgeting in my seat and smoothing my sweater. It wasn't fear that had me squirming, but rather the knowledge that this was the last time I'd perform this ritual before graduating. I'd become very familiar with the television studio on the third floor of Colgate Hall, and the prospect of leaving was bittersweet. I did my best to stay still as I waited to hear Professor of Humanities Pat Anderson say, “Welcome to 'Reel Talk'.”

The More Things Change …

“Reel Talk,” a film review show produced at Colby-Sawyer, has changed a bit since its television debut four years ago. Certainly the faces behind and in front of the camera are different, as the original student co-hosts and film crew have graduated since its debut. Professor Anderson, however, remains in his chair at the center of the set. On the table next to him today rests three bags of popcorn, a change that took me by surprise - the decorative prop used to be a snow globe a la “Citizen Kane” or old-time film reels. The popcorn is edible and real, though, and represents one more change in the program's evolution. At its core, though, “Reel Talk” is still a show from which students learn about good films to see, and from which Communication Studies students gain experience on and off camera.

“Reel Talk” began when Don Coonley, a now-retired professor of Humanities, and some students approached Professor Anderson with an idea for a television project that would allow students in the Video Production courses to have experience in the production end of things. “The move to television started as an interesting little experiment around 2002, and it eventually took on a life of its own,” says Professor Anderson.

This statement is not hyperbole, as the studio buzzes with activity during the filming of each episode. During the microphone check, the hosts review their notes and converse amongst themselves and with the crew. I point out the contrast between two of the films we'll be reviewing, the Disney musical “Enchanted” and the dark, violent thriller “No Country for Old Men,” and comment that one would not expect to see these movies reviewed in the same episode.

I got involved with “Reel Talk” two years ago after taking Professor Anderson's “Introduction to Film” course. He asked if I would be interested in becoming a regular contributor to the show, and I found the prospect of working with friends and classmates appealing, as was the idea of getting to watch and review movies, so I agreed. While there were times of frustration, whether having to watch a movie I did not care for or running short on time, I found I could appraise movies with a critical eye and see them for more than disposable entertainment. Hosting also allowed me to spend time with friends who were working on the show, and to become more comfortable in front of a camera.

While I wait for my last show to begin, last-minute adjustments are made to the cameras, while cues for the opening music and film titles are arranged in the control room. Student Director Madeline Lenox '08 is fretting over the absence of one of the students who normally runs the center camera, while setting up the titles and credits to appear on-screen and running through final sound checks. According to other student crew members, her job is the most stressful. There have been a few days like this, when filming was complicated by temperamental equipment or an unexpectedly absent camera operator, but these snags have rarely hindered the show's production in any significant manner.

Ready for My Close-Up

Kristen MacDonald '08 was the new face in front of the camera last semester, and she found her role as co-host very comfortable. In each episode, she occupied the seat to the left of Professor Anderson and offered up a synopsis of a film's plot or her take on a particular scene and, of course, her judgment on whether a film is worth viewing.

“I never thought I'd get to do this, but when I found out that both the previous co-hosts were graduating, I thought, Oh, here's my chance. I really like reviewing films and being in front of the camera, and getting right into what I want to do after I graduate,” says MacDonald.

While the finished product may appear deceptively easy to produce at times, the students behind the scenes work hard to ensure each episode's smooth production, and admit that some jobs are more stressful than others. Andrew Baker '08 operates one of the three cameras in the studio, and on this last day of filming for the semester, he, like many others in the studio, appears glad to have another season under wraps.

“I would say that for basic techniques in filming, my Video I class really helped me a lot with this, but in the sense that it's a completely different kind of technology than sitting down and editing a piece of work,” Baker says. “This show is more on-the-fly, live-taping, not broadcast, which adds a more interesting flair to the work.”

Looking Toward the Future

While all the students behind and in front of the cameras are gaining experience in the here and now, some are also looking toward the future. After the winter break, I will have graduated, leaving Professor Anderson to search for a new co-host to fill the third chair.

Kristen MacDonald is hoping to translate her experience on “Reel Talk” into a career after college. “One of the things I want to do after college is become a TV reporter, so being in front of a camera or being a TV anchor with a co-host is right in my realm,” she said. “I'm very happy I had the chance to do this because now I'm totally comfortable in front of the camera, which is a big change from my sophomore year.”

Andrew Baker is already thinking about filming “Reel Talk” during the spring semester, but is also considering stepping out from behind the camera as a contributing host. “Film is one of my passions, and I was really hoping to be a part of it on camera, though I know that they still need help behind the scenes, and I'll still do my part there,” he says.

Rather than feeling disappointed when my final episode as a co-host before graduation concludes, I am surprised to find myself very happy to have been given the opportunity to contribute to the show, and I look forward to seeing what changes the future brings. I wish my successors the best of luck, and extend my thanks to Professor Anderson and the entire crew for allowing me to be part of the show.

As for you, if you've never seen an episode of “Reel Talk,” keep your eyes open. You never know what familiar faces you might see.

Marc LeBourdais graduated in January with a bachelor's degree in English after interning in College Communications.