Ryan Shackleford
ECU graduate Ryan Shackleford films the Elizabeth II, a replica of a 1500’s sailing vessel, near Manteo in fall 2014 as part of his class film, “A Colony Lost.”

ECU class production to air on UNC-TV

Jan. 4, 2016

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

An East Carolina University student-made film about the mysterious Lost Colony is the first of several ECU productions expected to debut on UNC-TV.

“A Colony Lost” – a documentary about North Carolina’s first English settlers and their disappearance from Roanoke Island – will air at 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7 on UNC-EX.

“Folks are intrigued by the story of the Lost Colony. We thought it was a film that would be interesting to our viewers,” said Shannon Vickery, director of production at UNC-TV. “It was a really well told story and the production values were excellent.”

While the ECU students who made the film have graduated, “A Colony Lost” became the model for subsequent projects in associate professor Michael Dermody’s film production course in the School of Art and Design.

This fall, Dermody’s class shot “Love in War: The Blalock Story,” a true story about a North Carolina woman, Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock, who joined the Confederate Army disguised as a man to be close to her husband during the Civil War.

DermodyAssociate Professor Michael Dermody teaches a film production course in the ECU School of Art and Design whose students have produced documentaries expected to air on UNC-TV.
Dermody picked a story with a strong female protagonist because the class was comprised of all women. 

Most of the film was shot on location about 40 miles from Greenville during the annual Fort Branch Battle Re-enactment held on the banks of the Roanoke River near the town of Hamilton. The actors who portray the Blalocks are students in the ECU School of Theatre and Dance.

Shooting during an actual Civil War re-enactment was a challenge. “They (the students) had to think on their feet and move with the re-enactors,” Dermody said.

In December, the class invited Vickery to watch a rough cut of “Love in War” and provide feedback before final edits were made.

“You can do a lot of pre-production planning, but once it’s happening, you just have to capture it,” Vickery said. “It’s rare that you will have a production shoot that goes like you think it will.”

McKenzie Shelton, a junior and EC Scholar, was the producer for the film. Her duties involved research, picking locations for filming, setting the production schedule and communicating with the crew. “One of the biggest challenges was how little time we had,” Shelton said. “This is what we’ve been working on the past three months. It’s been arduous and wonderful.”

Editor Delaney Searles said she learned from the previous class. Viewing “A Colony Lost” was required at the beginning of the semester. “I found myself going back to it a bunch,” Searles said. “I’ve been using ‘A Colony Lost’ to see how they (the students) structure things to get a sense of how to build ‘Love in War.’ ”

The students who made “A Colony Lost” have been able to include the 30-minute television documentary in their portfolios and resumes, noting they helped produce a program that was broadcast statewide. They also learned what it’s like to tell a story with limited resources, a miniscule budget and semester-long timeline, Dermody said.

“Having to meet aggressive timelines, synch schedules around other classes and manage the program from start to finish while still performing well in their other classes was a huge challenge, one they overcame by putting in late nights and long weekends filming and editing,” Dermody said. 

All nine students who made “A Colony Lost” are working in some aspect of production, either freelance, for a production house or agency or enrolled in graduate school, Dermody said.

Mackenzie Smith was student producer for “A Colony Lost.” She graduated in May with a bachelor’s of fine arts in cinematic arts and media production and now is in a yearlong paid internship in broadcast production for the Orlando Magic professional basketball team.

Smith assists the broadcast department with video features and marketing promotions, manages the highlight and footage library and helps the Magic’s staff videographer with all studio and field production assignments.

While at ECU, in class and as student videographer at Campus 31 Productions, Smith said she worked on different genres of film from public service announcements to commercials to music videos.

“My experience at ECU helped because as I was learning, I was also making mistakes. I had those four years to learn and make mistakes so that when it came time to get a job, I wouldn’t be making them,” Smith said. “Every project was a new challenge and there was always something to take from that and apply to the next project.” 

Before “A Colony Lost,” students were paired or assigned in small groups for projects. The production was the first to involve an entire class, Smith said.

“Everyone had a job with assigned responsibilities and we all knew what we had to get done. Each of our jobs corresponded to positions on a real production crew,” Smith said. “Seeing the final product and knowing all the hard work that was put into it throughout the semester and how we all came together as a team was an amazing feeling.”

Another unique aspect about “A Colony Lost” is that it wasn’t specifically made for UNC-TV. “I happened to send the finished program to them and it was reviewed by their board and selected to be broadcast,” Dermody said. “Now that we have this relationship established we hope to work more closely with them during the production process and generate more shows for them.”

It’s a “win-win” for both the university and the state’s public television station, Vickery said.

“It’s a great model to utilize students, faculty and the research that is happening at ECU. That has really appealed to us with this project,” she said. “We’d like to do more and strengthen the projects between UNC-TV and ECU. We’re always looking at ways to partner with our universities.” 

Students interviewed four ECU faculty experts who are featured in “A Colony Lost:” Dr. Thomson Shields, associate professor of English; Dr. Charles Ewen, professor of anthropology; Dr. Christopher Oakley, associate professor and chair of history; and Dr. Larry Tise, professor of history. 

“By bringing together the academic expertise on our campus and the production capabilities of our college, professor Dermody has put together an exceptional, real world experience for our students,” said Dr. Chris Buddo, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication. “Even more exciting is the fact that this appears to be just the first in what we hope will be a series of collaborations with UNC-TV. I think this is good for our students and good for our university.”

In December, ECU students met with Shannon Vickery, director of production at UNC-TV, to view a rough cut of “Love in War: The Blalock Story,” a true story about a North Carolina woman who, disguised as a man, joined the Confederate Army to be close to her husband during the Civil War. Pictured left to right are ECU students Maia Swan, McKenzie Shelton, Audra Entzi, Delaney Searles, Chanel Wang, Kiwii McLaurin and Kayah Oluronbi with Vickery (in the green jacket in foreground).