Another part of the story…

In any documentary, there are lots of stories that never make it into the final cut.

In the case of Rebels on Lake Erie, there are stories of inmates and guards at the Union prison for Confederate officers on Johnson’s Island near Sandusky, Ohio, crewmen of the U.S.S. Michigan, pirates and skedaddlers. There just isn’t enough time to tell everything in a mere 56 minutes and 46 seconds, the allotted time for a one-hour public broadcasting television program.

That’s part of the reason for this blog – to tell more of the story that never made it onto the television screen.

The story of mutineer John Slick Riley is a case in point.

Riley, uncle of the famous Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, was with John Yates Beall on board the Philo Parson during the abortive attempt to liberate the Confederate officers at Johnson’s Island. He probably got on with Beall at Sandwich (Canada) for Riley would never be mistaken for a skedaddler, a draft dodger from Ohio.

In the Confederate conspiracy game, most of the players were young. In 1864, Beall was 29; the Scotsman Bennett Burley (better known as Bennet Burleigh during his second career as a  war correspondent after the Civil War) was about 20. In contrast, Riley, a physician, was 50 years old — not old by today’s standards but certainly older than most Confederate soldiers – or conspirators during the Civil War. (In 1864, the life expectancy for any American was only about 42 years.)

How Riley got involved in the plot may never be known.  Perhaps he was part of Bennett Burley’s circle of friends in Canada. In spite of the age difference, Burley and Riley had much in common.

Both were well educated and were separated from their families.

Burley was the charming, well-educated son of a master mechanic in Glasgow. Burley had been sent to America to negotiate a war contract with the Confederacy  for  torpedo boats to be made in his family’s foundry in Glasgow. Burley  apparently had no success in those negotiations but got involved in the Confederate cause as a mutineer (with Beall) in the Chesapeake Bay in 1863.

Riley was also separated from his family – in terms of geography, politics and war sentiment. Born in Bedford, Pa., Riley was educated in the North. He attended the Medical College of Ohio in Cincinnati (also known as the Cincinnati Medical College), graduating in 1836. At some point after graduation, he moved to the Southwest and served in the Mexican-American War.  After the war, he returned to Franklin, Miss., and married Martha Calcote. They didn’t have much time for a honeymoon, however. Riley and his brother in law headed for California for the gold rush.

A descendant (by marriage), James Smith of College Station, Texas, who is writing a book on John Slick Riley, has adventurer’s letters from his journey to the California gold rush. According to Smith, Riley describes the beautiful wildflower valleys around Corpus Christi and traveling through “the pit of hell” in southern and western Texas and the Arizona/New Mexico territory. Upon his return from California, where apparently hedid not strike it rich, Riley moved his wife to Texas, presumably far removed from the “pit of hell.”

The rest of the Riley family wasn’t nearly as adventurous as John and remained in the Midwest. Riley’s brother Rueben, father of poet James Whitcomb Riley, became an attorney in (and later first mayor of) Greenfield, Ind. Reuben also served as captain in the Union army – but this gets ahead of the story.

Riley and Burley might also have been drawn to each other because of similar Civil War experiences

Both had escaped from Union prisons. Burley had been captured during his time as a mutineer on the Chesapeake Bay. He was sent to the Union prison at Fort Delaware, about 40 miles from Philadelphia.  He and five others planned to escape through the sewers beneath their cells. Only Burley and another were successful; two were recaptured and two died in the attempt.  Burley made his way to Canada, a safe haven for many Confederate escapees from a Union prison. Burley had relatives in Guelph but apparently didn’t spend much time there because he was in Windsor, when he re-united with Beall and recruited the crew needed for the attempt to liberate Johnson’s Island.

Burley probably met Riley in Windsor as well.

By the time the Civil War started, Riley and his wife had settled in Caldwell, Barleson County, Texas, and had seven children.  In addition to carrying on his profession as a physician/surgeon, Riley also purchased some land and did farming. When Texas seceded, Riley volunteered – as a private – in Co. G of Waul’s (also spelled Wall’s) Texas Legion.

What happened to Riley next is a little unclear. Accounts say Riley was captured at the Battle of Vicksburg. However, his name does not appear in any of the parole cards signed by Confederate prisoners.  Smith speculates that Riley may have been captured either before the siege on Vicksburg or directly after. In either case, Riley would not have been eligible for the parole.

After his capture, Riley was sent to a Union prison up north in Alton, Ill., not far from his brother’s home in Indiana.  It’s unclear how Riley escaped, but Riley did visit his mother in Indiana and met his nephew, the young James Whitcomb Riley. After that visit, Riley made his way to Canada, eventually ending up in Windsor and meeting with Burley.

In September 1864, Burley, Beall, Riley and the other 17 to 20 armed men boarded the Philo Parsons, ready to take the U.S.S. Michigan and liberate the Confederate officers imprisoned on Johnson’s Island.

Things didn’t go too well for Beall’s men that night.

In the dark, the Philo Parsons, then under the control of Beall and his crew, sailed into the shallow waters of Sandusky Bay. The engineer warned the men of the danger of running aground in range of the U.S.S. Michigan’s guns.

In a strangely worded note that praised Beall’s gentlemanly manner, the crew mutinied. Dr. John Slick Riley was the first to sign the note. Did that mean Riley led the mutiny? We may never know. That mutiny, however, spelled the end of Beall’s grand plan to liberate Johnson’s Island.

Beall’s men returned to Sandwich and attempted to scuttle the Philo Parsons.

After the war, Riley returned to his family in Texas, where he lived a long life as a physician/surgeon, a farmer and an amateur poet.  When died in 1919, he was 102 years of age, the eldest resident in town. His obituary praised his scholarly, literary nature. He was, according to the newspaper, “a natural born poet,” like his nephew James Whitcomb Riley.

Memorial Day & Civil War

This weekend I’m going to be celebrating the Memorial Day holiday like most Americans – a picnic, a cookout, time with the family. It will be a welcome respite from the technical work associated with “Rebels on Lake Erie.”

But I can’t help but feel a little guilty about how I’ll be spending Memorial Day, especially when you think about how the holiday and the Civil War are intertwined.

No one argues that Memorial Day got started as a way to remember those who died in the Civil War. But there are lots of different versions about how, where and when the holiday — then called Decoration Day — got started.

One version points to the song “Kneel where our loves are sleeping” by Mrs. L. Nella Sweet as proof that Southern women created the holiday. The sheet music, which was published in 1867, is dedicated “To the ladies of the South who are decorating the graves of the Confederate dead.” It’s kind of a sappy song (Chorus: “Kneel where our loves are sleeping; They lost, but still were good and true; Our fathers, brothers fell still fighting; We weep ‘tis all that we can do.” If you’d like to download the original sheet music, you can find it at, but it serves as evidence to some kind of Memorial Day observation in the South shortly after the end of the war.

Yale historian David W. Blight credits the freed slaves in Charleston, S. Car., with creating the holiday. During the Civil War, the race track in Charleston had been the site of a Union prisoner-of-war camp. During the war, 257 Union soldiers died there and were buried in a mass grave near the grandstand. After the war, 28 African-American workers reburied the Union dead. On May 1, 1865, Charleston freed slaves held a parade at the race course as a way of honoring the Union dead. The New York Tribune reported the news of that commemoration. (For more details on this version of the start of Memorial Day, see

The more conventional interpretation of the start of the holiday credits Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, with creating the first Memorial Day. With General Order No. 11, Logan called for a day to remember those who died in the nation’s service. It was first observed on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetery.

Memorial Day wasn’t always a day for unity like it was in that Arlington commemoration.

The Northern states quickly embraced the holiday. By 1890, all the Northern states were celebrating the holiday.

Given Memorial Day’s connection with the GAR, Confederate states preferred to honor their dead on another date — ranging from April 25 to mid June. The largest number of Southern states (10) picked June 3, the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

At the Johnson’s Island prisoner-of-war cemetery (in Ohio), Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Saturday in April. The “Rebels on Lake Erie” crew was putting the finishing touches on the documentary that day, so we couldn’t go. Perhaps next year.

This morning, my dog Sadie and I strolled up to Standing Rock Cemetery (in Kent, Ohio) as our way to remember the Civil War dead, the first purpose of Memorial Day (Decoration Day). We searched in vain for the markers of Union soldiers – and the one Confederate soldier (John Thomas from Virginia). But we did find the 1926 memorial that listed all the Union volunteers from Franklin Township. It was the first time I noticed that the names of two women – nurses – were listed.

After we read all the names, Sadie and I stopped at each of the monuments that commemorated the involvement of Franklin Township men and women in each of the foreign wars. The number didn’t equal the number who served in the Civil War.

Our stroll around the cemetery didn’t take long but it made me feel better about the cook outs this weekend.

Kathleen Endres

A special anniversary

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the release of the first commercially successful feature-length documentary, “Nanook of the North.” It’s a silent film about Inuit hunter and his family’s struggle to survive in the Canadian Arctic.

Considered a masterpiece even today, it was Robert J. Flaherty’s first film. (It’s now available in parts on YouTube; part one can be found at

But what does this have to do with the Civil War – or making a documentary about the Civil War?


There are so many lessons to learn from Flaherty and his film.

First, in order to get a documentary done, you really need to be committed to it. Documentary filmmaking isn’t for sissies.

Chances are you’ll be spending years honing your idea, researching the topic and fundraising.

You also have to be prepared to face any weather – or any crisis – to get the footage needed to tell your story.

Flaherty faced freezing weather in the Canadian Arctic. He toted only one camera – a big, heavy Bell & Howell hand-cranked motion picture camera. After he returned from his 1913 expedition, he had 30,000 feet of film.

In 1916, while editing his film, Flaherty dropped a cigarette and most of his footage burned.

Now there are lots of lessons to be learned there – don’t smoke and always backup your files.

Second, don’t give up even when things look hopeless.

It took Flaherty about four years to find money to return to the Canadian Arctic. This time, a French fur company, Revillon Freres bankrolled his next venture.

The Nanook footage seen today was (re)shot in Flaherty’s filming August 1920 to August 1921.

Many criticize Flaherty’s ethical decisions – keep in mind in 1920 there were no rules for documentary filmmaking. Heck, the term documentary didn’t even exist then.

So Flaherty did some stuff that modern documentarians (I hope) would never even consider. Nanook (aka Allakariallak) was not married to the two women who played his wives. The children in the film – Allee and Rainbow – were not his. And some of the details in the film were added for dramatic effect.

Notwithstanding those decisions, when the Library of Congress considered preserving “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” movies in a National Film Registry, Nanook was quickly added to the list.

These days documentarians are very fussy about accuracy. At Rebels, we’ve reshot scenes and redone voiceovers because we wanted to be sure everything was right.

We faced the elements when we had to, from the sweltering heat to the bone-chilling cold. We’ve dragged cameras, lights, mikes. Everything.

But I’m real certain I wouldn’t come up with any idea that would require spending month in the Canadian Arctic. Luckily, there were no Civil War battles fought up there.

Documentary Production & Insomnia

This blog entry will – by necessity – be short.

It’s not that I don’t have a lot to share.

Production this time has been fraught with difficulties that I really want to write about.

But dealing with video format questions and issues associated with high-resolution scans of 19th century illustrations that jitter on the HD screen seem beyond my abilities to discuss right now.

You see I have insomnia.

I wake up almost every morning about 2; and, instead of going back to sleep, I start grading papers, laying out the program for the debut of the documentary (April 19, 2012 in Akron), or working on the cue sheets for every photo and/or illustration used in “Rebels on Lake Erie” that Western Reserve Public Media needs.

If I walked around the neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning, I bet I’d see lots of houses with solitary lights burning. It’s not because my neighbors are wasting electricity; it’s because someone in the house probably cannot sleep.

According to a survey of the National Sleep Foundation, 58 percent of American adults report having insomnia a few nights a week. Consumer Reports found that 44 percent of those responding to a survey couldn’t fall asleep right away. The National Institutes of Health estimated that up to 70 million Americans are dealing with sleep problems.

And they can’t be all producing documentaries.

Consumer Reports, National Sleep Foundation and the National Institutes of Health all agree that high stress is the number one cause of insomnia.

No wonder I’m not sleeping at night.

Producing documentaries is a high stress sidelight to my regular high stress job, college professor.

And the stress of the documentarian only increases the closer it gets to the special event public premiere or the broadcast. Unfortunately, both of these events are taking place at the end of the semester, the highest stress time for professor and student alike.

No wonder I’m not sleeping!

So let me tell you what the next three weeks will hold: a public premiere of the documentary (complete with Civil War re-enactors, music and a panel – April 19); a broadcast (April 23 on WNEO/WEAO); a last flurry of papers and final exams (the week of April 30).

Ever the optimist, however, tomorrow I’m going to start following advice that Women’s Health offers insomniacs – no coffee after 2 p.m. and a half hour brisk walk. (My dog Sadie has volunteered to accompany me – what a pal!)

I’ll let you know how that works out….

Kathleen Endres

Music & Rebels

In 1862, a reporter for the New York Herald (a great newspaper during this era) observed, “All history proves that music is as indispensable to warfare as money….” That was a popular sentiment. Confederate General Robert E. Lee once said that without music, there would be no army.

Both were clearly overstatements; but, as Irwin Silber in Songs of the Civil War (1960) observed, the Civil War was the “catalyst of the development of our music.” No war before – or after – has produced such a variety or quantity of songs

Timing may have been a part of this.

During the antebellum period, Americans had a seemingly insatiable appetite for music. There were singing schools and musical societies, brass band concerts and music in the home. The sheet music industry was blossoming, so middle-class Americans could purchase popular parlor music.

Given this enthusiasm for music, it was little wonder that songs could be heard throughout the Civil War – around the campfire, while soldiers marched into battle, or in the home as families attempted to keep up spirits.

Music was also vital to the documentary, “Rebels on Lake Erie.”

Over the past six months, we’ve been working on locating sheet music that would capture the many moods of our story. As much as possible, we wanted to use the musical scores of the Civil War period.

Luckily in this time of the internet, this proved to be relatively easy.

So for those of you musical purists, who want REAL Civil War music, here’s some sources that we found especially helpful during the preparation of “Rebels on Lake Erie.”

By far the most helpful of all the websites was Duke University’s Historical American Sheet Music Collection. I’m really partial to this collection because I first found the song “The Prisoner’s Lament” there. That song had been written and composed by two Confederate officers imprisoned on Johnson’s Island. Although I’d seen the lyrics in a private collection, I had never seen the score before. Popular Ohio folksinger Chuck Keiper — accompanied by Vicenzo Volpe on the Irish tin whistle – used the original score when they recorded the song for the documentary. I cannot say with absolute certainty – but I think this may be the first time this song has ever been broadcast — and it’s probably been decades since it’s been performed.

The 3,042 pieces on the Duke University website are fully searchable. According to the website, “The collection is particularly strong in antebellum Southern music, Confederate imprints, and Civil War songs.” And, having browsed the collection, we can attest to the strength of the holdings.

One of the benefits of just “browsing” is seeing the extraordinary illustrations used in the sheet music of the day. There’s humor; there’s patriotism; there’s racism; there’s sexism.
The illustrations alone reflect American culture during the Civil War.

Of course, there are other websites that offer sheet music from the Civil War. The Library of Congress offers more than 2500 pieces (again all searchable) in its Civil War Sheet Music Collection – and many of them cite Duke’s collection.

One of the popular musical genres of the Civil War, of course, was band music. And the Library of Congress offers an online collection drawn from its own Music Division and from the Walter Dignam Collection of the Manchester Historic Association in New Hampshire. What’s interesting about this collection is that it provides – in addition to the 700-plus musical compositions – photos of brass bands and recordings.

The Library of Congress also offers access to more than 1,300 pieces of African-American music from antebellum days, the Civil War, the Gilded Age and early 20th century. There are 1,305 (fully searchable) pieces in the collection, which is from Brown University. As is the case with the band music, the Library of Congress includes photographs as part of the website.

The Library of Congress has also started its National Jukebox initiative. You can browse through some nice historical recordings – and photographs. For our project, however, we preferred the (searchable) Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project from the University of California, Santa Barbara. It specializes in cylinder recordings, obviously, from the late 19th and early 20th century, which is a slightly earlier period than what the Jukebox initiative covers. The version of “Battle Cry of Freedom” is from the Santa Barbara cylinder collection.

If you don’t care to use the original sheet music, there are a number of songbooks that cover the time period. The ones we’re citing are all available – full text – from the National Archives website: S. Brainards’ Sons, Our War Songs North and South (1887); Wilson Smith, Grand Army War Songs (1886); George F. Root, Charles Carroll Sawyer and Henry C. Work,
Our National War Songs (1892).

If you are interested in Civil War music, check back to the blog this week because you’ll learn more about the special issues associated with Civil War music and integrating music into a documentary.

If you’d like to hear a fuller array of the Civil War music we used in Rebels on Lake Erie, you may want to swing by the public premiere of the documentary, 6:30 p.m. April 19 at the historic Quaker Square Inn, 135 S. Broadway, Akron. If you want more details, email

The Ohio Humanities Council

Documentary filmmaking is expensive. There’s research, equipment, personnel, travel, usage fees; and the list goes on and on.

Unless you are independently wealthy – and I’m not, you need some one to help out financially.

There aren’t many patrons for documentary filmmaking in general or historical documentary filmmaking, in particular.

That brings me to the Ohio Humanities Council.

Anyone, who works in the humanities in Ohio, knows about this organization.

The Ohio Humanities Council helped underwrite this documentary. Without OHC’s assistance, “Rebels on Lake Erie” could not have been made.

The Ohio Humanities Council hasn’t been around long – only since 1972, which means it’s celebrating its 40th birthday this year. That means OHC is younger than I am.

In a sense, OHC is a product of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “Great Society” initiative of the 1960s. In 1965, bending to the will of the White House, Congress passed the act that made the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts possible. The Washington Post called the creation of the endowments “a momentous step.” President Richard Nixon must have agreed because he greatly expanded the funding for both NEH and NEA.

The state humanities and arts councils followed. The state agencies – including the Ohio Humanities Council – were set up to bring the humanities down to the state and local levels — to the neighborhood, if you will. According to its website, the OHC’s mission is “to increase Ohioans’ appreciation and understanding of the humanities….”

Former OHC director Gail Peterson once observed that the council brought the humanities to a wider audience and bridged the gap between scholars and the general public. If you look at the work of the OHC recently, you see that the organization has been true to that mission. OHC sponsors summer institutes for K-12 teachers. It sponsors the annual Ohio Chautauqua. It arranges the Museum on Main Street.

It also supports media projects.

“Rebels on Lake Erie” isn’t the typical story of the Civil War. It doesn’t deal with generals and battles directly. It deals with what remains one of the most controversial elements of the Civil War – prisoner of war camps. It deals with a college-educated Virginia pirate who tried to liberate Confederate officers imprisoned at Johnson’s Island. It’s also a story about the subterfuge that came to be known as the Northwestern Conspiracy.

The OHC always endorses presenting both sides of a story. We think we’ve done that. This documentary doesn’t provide simple questions or simple answers. But war is like that.

So thank you, OHC, for giving us an opportunity to tell this story and we hope that the thousands of Ohioans who watch this on April 23 at 10 p.m. on WNEO/WEAO and later on other stations in the state will enjoy the program.

Midnight on Lake Erie

Documentary production can take you to some strange places at odd times. In this case, midnight on Lake Erie on a sailboat.

Here’s the inside story….
In September 1864, John Yates Beall, our Virginia pirate, and his band of compatriots sailed out onto Lake Erie, intent on liberating the Confederate officers imprisoned on Johnson’s Island.
On board the ferryboat they commandeered, Beall and his band reached Marblehead Lighthouse, which marks the rocky shores along the narrow entrance into Sandusky Bay, where Johnson’s Island is located.
In the documentary our expert observes, “it was dark; it was very dark.”

So how could you show this dramatic moment without going out on Lake Erie in the dead of night?
Even I wasn’t willing to take the chance in the fall, when the treacherous narrow entrance into Sandusky Bay is especially shallow.
But nothing could stop us from doing it at midnight one night in July 2011.
The problem was finding someone willing to take us out in a sailboat.
I made lots of calls. Some politely declined; a couple laughed, and one just grumbled and hung up.
Finally Capt. Jim of Erie Spirit Sailing agreed.

There were five of us that night – experienced videographer Chris Collins and his wife, University of Akron Communication major Ryan Keeper, UA Communication graduate student Gabor Smith and me.
We were all eager for this new adventure – although a few of us (the passengers over the age of 30) were a little apprehensive.
Capt. Jim seemed like a nice enough guy and a competent, experience seaman — and his 33-foot sailboat gave us all a lot of confidence.
After Capt. Jim went over all the safety instructions, we were ready to sail.

It was a warm, beautiful night. Quiet. Dark.
It took about an hour to reach the lighthouse. (That’s just a guess. It was so dark that you couldn’t really see anything, except the lights along the shoreline and the stars in the sky. No one wanted to pull out a cell phone to check the time, lest it ruin the mood – or fall overboard.)
Chris started shooting; then Ryan, more sure footed on the boat, tried his hand.
Shooting at night takes a special skill and good equipment. The University of Akron’s School of Communication has three JVC 700 HD cameras, which are used by the advanced undergraduate and graduate students. As one of the top shooters in the school, Ryan was used to “Alfred,” the camera we took out that evening. Ryan opened “Alfred’s” aperture to its widest and cranked up the shutter speed. Then Ryan climbed over everyone, stabilized the camera and went to work.
When you watch the documentary, you’ll see the dark waters of Lake Erie at midnight, the strange glow from the Marblehead Lighthouse and the twinkling stars in the heavens above. Those set the mood for a mutiny on Lake Erie.
Not to be outdone, Gabor, our audio specialist, recorded all the sounds that night. The ambient sounds that accompany the video are not effects purchased on the internet; they are Gabor’s work.

We spent so much time along the Marblehead Peninsula shoreline, our sailboat must have looked like it was in distress. Another boater pulled alongside and asked if we were all right. Capt. Jim assured him of our safety and we continued with the shoot.

That dark, quiet night on Lake Erie, I wondered about Beall’s trip on Lake Erie. He and his men had been sailing all day. They must have been exhausted by the time they saw the light of the Marblehead Lighthouse.

If you want to know what happened next, you’ll just need to tune in to the “Rebels on Lake Erie” broadcast on Western Reserve Public Media on April 23 — or come to the free public preview on April 19 at the old Quaker Inn in Akron
Kathleen Endres

Spring Cleaning — & Documentary Production

Yesterday the local newspaper carried a special section on spring cleaning.
This distressed me because I’m in no mood for cleaning anything.
I’m in the last throes of the production of “Rebels on Lake Erie” – and my husband is trying to finish his documentary, “Soljer Boy,” about Portage County in the Civil War.
Two documentaries being produced at the same time in the same household.
No wonder our Christmas tree is still up, and presents are still piled in the living room.
Time stands still and domestic chores are ignored when a producer is working on a documentary.
There are just too many things to do — the last minute corrections that Western Reserve Public Media wants before the Rebels documentary is broadcast on April 23 at 10 p.m., organizing a public preview (Thursday, April 19, at the Quaker in Akron), getting up a Facebook page, and working on this blog…. You get the idea.
The work of a producer never seems to be done.
It’s not that I don’t have help.
My cats – all five of them (Si, Mongo, Joe, Bailey, Karen) – are trying. Everyday I come home to a freshly smashed glass Christmas tree bulb. It’s only a matter of time before the whole Christmas tree is bare.
My dog – a German Shepherd named Sadie – is always at my feet, encouraging me to fix that moire pattern or work on my music cue sheet. She’s also pro-active, pulling down the last of the Christmas lights that still cling to bushes outside.
My daughter suggests that I might need to hire someone to help me clean – or, at least, take down that embarrassing Christmas tree. Impossible, I respond. I’d have too much cleaning to get the house ready to be cleaned.
Everything is just going to have to wait until after April 23. Wish me luck.
–Kathleen Endres

“Rebels” Team

One of the reasons I like working on documentaries is the collaboration – the sense of team.
Of course, there are times when documentary preparation can be a solitary activity.
In the beginning stages, when you’re wrestling with the idea, you usually work by yourself – and are grumpy to your family.
In the research stage, most of the work is done alone at archives, at libraries, in homes where letters are still held.
If you’re lucky, you meet some nice people along the way – a helpful archivist, a friendly librarian, or a person with a good sense of humor.
Eventually, the solitude is over and you start to put a team together.
Working on a documentary in a university environment is very different from working on one in a professional production house.
Ken Burns at Florentine Films works with most of the same individuals in each of his documentaries. He even has a reasonable budget.
It’s different working on a documentary at a university.
First, there’s that pesky issue of budget, or lack thereof. Unless you have a grant (and even if you do), you’re borrowing equipment, pleading for a lower shooting fee, or searching for copyright-free images.
Second, you are working with students, who are still honing their craft. That means they make mistakes – and every mistake has to become an “educational moment.”
Third, students graduate. An undergraduate or graduate student starts the project, understands where the film is going – and then they’re gone.
But enough whining.
Let me introduce you to some of the behind-the-scenes team that is “Rebels on Lake Erie.”
Phase 1 – Fall 2010: Graduate student Keith Aukeman and UA Communication alum Mike Wendt shot all the interviews – up at Johnson’s Island and the audio studio. In September 2010, we got to Johnson’s Island before dawn so they could shoot in the “sweet spot” of the day. The beautiful fall shots are all their’s!
Phase 2 – Winter 2010/2011: If you’ve been following the blog, you already know graduate student Keith Aukeman and UA Communication alum Georges Yazbek were weaving their magic with the camera — Keith after a blizzard on Johnson’s Island and Georges on St. Patrick’s Day on Governors Island.
Phase 3 – Spring 2011: Graduate student Gabor Smith joins the fun – he’s the behind-the-scenes guy working with the narrator in the audio studio and doing the “lion’s share” of the scheduling.
Phase 4 – Summer 2011: We’re back at Johnson’s Island with a new team. Gabor is back and he’s brought Communication major/videographer Ryan Keeper, who is fearless on land and sea (you’ll read about that later). Chris Collins, an experienced Akron videographer, joins in the adventure.
Phase 4 – Fall 2011 and Winter 2011/2012: Our editor, the Emmy-award-winning Matt Rafferty, joins the party. We – Matt, Gabor and me – spend every Saturday in the Avid-editing lab in Kolbe Hall. Two things about working on Saturdays at the University of Akron – the parking lots near Kolbe Hall are almost always closed for some game (that means we need to drag our equipment and supplies across campus) and, in the winter, it always seems to snow. Gabor really is the assistant editor – and quite the audio expert. No more clunks in our documentary! Gabor also brings another Communication undergraduate into our mix – Katrina DeFord, a former music major. You’ll be reading a lot more about her later.