What’s slightly different from a professional show is that the set is in the living room of a student’s apartment, and the videographer is actually the scriptwriter who is filling in for someone who couldn’t make it, learning how to handle the camera on the fly.
Grace Sword, a sophomore, is the writer-turned-impromptu camera operator who is developing a show for UNC Student Television (STV), the student-run television station on campus.
The show, which is called “Black and Blue,” was developed from an idea Sword came up with in 2017, when she was a junior in high school. It originated from dialogue she saw on Pinterest, and she kept it in the back of her mind without actually developing it into a script.
“I grew up around the film industry, so writing was something I always had a passion for, but was just something I'd never been given the opportunity to delve into,” Sword said. “Then eventually I heard STV was looking for proposals, and I was like wait I have this story from the 11th grade.”
Sword, who grew up in California, said she was hesitant about attending UNC when considering her future. While she really wanted to pursue a performing arts school, she also wanted what she described as the “whole college experience.” Sword said that ultimately UNC has allowed her to chase her artistic goals, while in a diverse educational community that values a variety of artistic endeavors.
Ava Pukatch, a sophomore who is the assistant station manager at STV, said that it is this diversity of interests that makes filmmaking at UNC so unique. From experienced scriptwriters and actors, to people in the communications department who want experience in the field, all the way to people who just want to learn how to operate a boom microphone. Pukatch said she believes student film provides collaborative opportunities for all of these distinct interests.
“It unites a large group of people who wouldn't necessarily work together to create one product, which I think is really cool, to have a bunch of people from different walks of life working on one thing together,” Pukatch said.
Similarly to Sword, Pukatch first heard about STV while she was still undecided about whether or not she was going to attend UNC. It was during her senior year of high school, while visiting a friend attending the university, that she ran into a group of students filming the first episode of “For Skits and Giggles," a comedy show produced by STV.
The following year, after deciding to attend UNC, she got involved with STV and became friends with many of the student filmmakers she encountered on her visit, even collaborating on one of their episodes.
Pukatch, who never knew how to operate a camera before working for STV, said understanding the process behind filmmaking is crucial in an era of constant media. She said her experience with student film has enhanced her knowledge of our current technology-powered world.
“How we portray different things through media and through film is this large part of all of our lives,” Pukatch said. “It helps you understand the world better and communicate your thoughts and your art and your ideas into an actual product.”
For UNC sophomore Claire Mink, who is involved with Carolina Film Association, a student film organization on campus, filmmaking is the most accessible artistic medium, especially for students. She compared watching a movie to attending a ballet or visiting an art museum. She said that while these experiences are valuable, it can be difficult for students to identify with the often ambiguous messages portrayed through them.
“Most people leave ballets kind of nonplussed,” Mink said. “They don't really understand what they just saw. With film, of course, I would still argue that a lot of people watch film and don't really know what they just saw, but I think that film has the power to influence more than anything else, it's a little bit more relatable to people, because film oftentimes portrays real life.”
Mink said although she thinks film is perhaps the most approachable medium, she has found that it can be difficult to get involved. She said that while UNC has many student film organizations, they often don’t get as much recognition as they deserve.
“It feels almost kind of underground, like we kind of have to pull things together and make it happen,” Mink said.
However, she said she is still grateful for the film opportunities, and the communities that they foster, available at UNC, especially when many colleges have yet to provide support for student film organizations.
“My best friend goes to Duke and comparably there's just nothing, there's just no film there compared to what we have, so I don't wanna complain at all,” Mink said. “I think it's really amazing that we have a thriving film community at UNC.”
While student film isn’t necessarily the most recognizable niche of student groups on campus, these groups continue to grow and produce new content year after year, as is evident with “Black and Blue."
For Sword, her involvement goes beyond learning how to use a camera on the fly. It’s more about the unique stories she is able to tell with her friends and the experience they gain in the process.
“Stories do so much for the world, especially, it gives us a way to express things that are happening,” Sword said. “It gives us a voice.”