As a guest writer/blogger for the ENW Dispatch I wasn’t sure where to start, but maybe an introduction is in order. I am a second-year Math honours student at the University of Alberta. These past five months I participated in a SCiP internship where I produced, cast, filmed and edited a 2-minute video explaining what ENW is, a project not as different from my degree as one may think. Before I get to my experience during the internship, I should tell the story of how I became involved with ENW.
Until 2013, after a vehicle was stolen from a house on our street, I had always thought of crime as something that could “never happen to me”. Even though it still hadn’t happened directly to me, the experience affected me deeply. My parents became involved with Neighbourhood Watch shortly after that incident and I started to volunteer a little by proof-reading documents for ENW. I became busier in 2014 when ENW began its rebuild and I edited numerous public documents; for the first time, something I did was having a public impact. I became further involved, always seeking more I could do. In 2015 I attended a Strategic Planning meeting and I met many members of the Board of Directors whom I also communicated with over the course of my internship. As an inexperienced 18-year old I wasn’t sure if I had anything to offer, but the board was incredibly kind to me and encouraged me to make suggestions from my own experience, some even having large-scale impacts such as changes to the AGM. After having attended and participated in the 2014 and 2015 Volunteer Appreciations I knew it was time for my greatest challenge yet…
Enter the position of Video Intern, a SCiP Internship posted by ENW in early 2016. Having produced videos for numerous reasons personal and professional, I was immediately interested. The project seemed like a great deal of fun, and I knew I was adept enough to do it. I applied and was asked to interview. I was thrilled when shortly thereafter I was contacted to say I had received the position. Fantastic! But what exactly was it that I was supposed to do?
I received a list of “deliverables” which is basically fancy speak for what I was required to provide as per the agreement of my internship: work with the ENW team and produce a good-quality video that the organization could use. To achieve these goals, I thought of my internship as being broken down into four parts.
The first part involved producing the raw materials (i.e. script, storyboard and shot list) necessary for the video. I spent a great deal of time longer in this stage than I anticipated because it was the best time to make changes to the project (crazy ideas, brainstorm, etc.). Although the general idea for the video was conceptualized during a break between classes one Wednesday afternoon, figuring out the finer details was far more challenging. I also thought more seriously about my audience and what was important for them to see on screen; sure I knew what I wanted to say, but I had to convey my message effectively to the audience.
Next was the casting. This was the easiest stage for me; since I had conceptualized the video, I had an idea of the type of character and demeanour I would want for each part. Still, there were challenges to keep in mind. I didn’t want the truths or the myths in the video to be exclusively characterized by one type of person. I decided on a role placement that would allow the same person to act out a myth about the organization and the “new” change.
Then came the filming, the part I think everyone at the organization was looking most forward to. It was incredible to see my vision for the video come to life through our narrator, actors and several members of the community in our Block Party scene. It gave me the opportunity to meet many new people and network within the organization. It was also the stage I most enjoyed; I was happy and enthusiastic while still being efficient and focused on our goals. After experimenting with a few different sources of footage I decided to shoot the video on my mobile phone since it gave the impromptu-vibe that was desired. Between the audio and video clips, my folder of raw data has almost 250 files …yikes. Sorting through, naming and finding clips that would work (and those that wouldn’t) was a lengthy step but necessary to transition into the last part of the internship.
The final part of the video was the editing, which also took the greatest portion of time. It involved taking all the raw footage and assembling it into the best possible video. It sounds like an easy task, but with each version of each clip, there were pros and cons. Other factors, such as the length of the clips and volume adjusting came into play. There were some clips which changed orders even at this late stage in the process. Overall, it was a complicated and overwhelming process! It was, however the biggest part of why I was hired; anyone can sketch a bunch of ideas down and shoot some video on their phone, but assembling it into something meaningful and useful is the hallmark of a moviemaker. This involved a fun side project; indeed, the most spirit-lifting part of the internship was putting together a blooper reel. It was a much-needed reminder that although we all work hard and work together, we don’t demand perfection of each other and it’s ok to mess up every once in a while. At the end of it we ended up with a video that didn’t go exactly as any of us had perfectly conceptualized, but one which became a shared vision that I am very happy to support and claim as my work.
Even though I had shot videos before and gone through this process, I learned tons over the course of the internship about skills I can apply elsewhere. Nowhere, however did I improve (and was tested!) more than communication. As a side note, communication is paramount in the field of mathematics — from lecturing to writing research papers — it’s a cornerstone of the field as much as the perceived bizarre and perplexing language associated with it. Communication was a cornerstone of this project as well, in many ways. First, having to produce a short video re-introducing the organization, I had to communicate a message succinctly and accurately requiring a great deal of planning. Word choice was essential for maximum impact. The first three meetings had a bit of conceptual discussion as far as what type of video to produce, but the majority of the discussion concerned the script. Secondly, I had to communicate with other members of the organization, whether it be in-person to clarify points or through e-mails to schedule times for shooting. One thing I observed is that if I was not organized it was very easy to ask the same question or raise the same point several times – which I dubbed in math-speak “circular communication”. It was also common for me to question myself over menial things; in some of my first e-mails, I could deliberate for up to 15 minutes over word choices. I had to remind myself what the purpose of the internships was; sure, to produce a video, but from my end, it was also to learn. Lastly, I had to communicate through the videography and shooting techniques, such as angle, distance and length of shots. The smallest things carry great impact when trying to establish a consistent message. All these things were crucial for me to keep in mind, consider and eventually make decisions about over the course of the past five months.
Confidence is another key skill I developed over the course of the project. I came in very confidently; within the first week, in the first 2 hours of work, I presented a bold vision of a 60-second video dispelling some common myths about the organization. Everything from the transitions to possible audio was mapped out in my mind and shortly after on paper. When I started shooting, however, I questioned myself. I thought, was I really producing the best possible video? I even thought, am I really the right person for the job? It’s not comfortable to say but I’d sooner be candid than pretentious. Although I was well prepared, I had no reference point to determine when I had achieved what I wanted; or was it fully developed? All I had was an abstract vision. My solution to this, much like my math solutions, was simple and elegant but most importantly effective. I produced two questions to keep in mind as I watched back my work in its final days; “Does it answer the question ‘What is Neighbourhood Watch?’ and ‘Does it meet the objectives for the organization?’” I was satisfied if the work I had produced answered those two questions.
Now that my internship is behind me, there are several people without whom this project would not have happened. First off, I’d like to thank everyone who acted (volunteered!) in the video; the project would literally not be possible without you. Thank you for all your hard work, all the lines you memorized and all your patience with me. I also want to thank ENW as a whole for putting their trust in me to work for them these past five months. Lastly, there’s no one who deserves more thanks than our Executive Director, who has supported me tremendously throughout the project both professionally and personally. It may not be “cool” for a university student like me to suggest I need support, but I’m not embarrassed to admit it, and I’m thankful for every time I’ve received it.
In conclusion, ENW isn’t a team of followers. Everyone pulls their weight and has to pull their weight. Everyone here is committed to our mission and our values, from the newest volunteer to the 30+ year veteran. We demand of ourselves a high standard of work and efficiency. To some, this credo could sound harsh, but not to me; I’ve always believed that hard work and a disregard for the easily obtainable are the keys to social change. That’s what makes ENW so great; we don’t settle for the status quo and every day we push ourselves to be a better organization that serves the community in the most effective way. As someone entering the working world soon, for me, that isn’t the “good enough” in a workplace, that’s the ideal. So to everyone who’s been involved in this journey over the past five months, and everyone who supports our organization, thank you all so much; you truly are an amazing team and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to do my SCiP internship with. Thank you so much.
Marc Sellers, ENW Video Intern