In December of 2017, Covenant Productions was officially closed, and the AU faculty began to look for new ways to give students majoring in cinema and media arts a broad production experience in film and television.
They set out to answer the question, “How are we going to fill the void for student productions?”
Previously, as Covenant Productions, the lab worked as a partnership with local professionals. As these professionals were working on commercial and narrative projects, students would work alongside them to gain experience with the chance to get a look at the professional world.
Although this was a great opportunity for cinema and media arts students to learn about filmmaking, professors like Jack Lugar and David Armstrong wanted the program to be more student-focused, student-run and of a cinematic nature.
The decision was made to rebrand and create the Black Bird Media Lab.
When reflecting on the rebranding process, Professor David Armstrong says, “The name Black Bird Media Lab resonated with me because of the laboratory idea. There is a freedom with that. Freedom to experiment. We are not limiting ourselves to just short films or narrative filmmaking.”
The Black Bird Media Lab functions as a counterpart to student organizations such as the Andersonian and Fifth Street Communications.
The Andersonian is for journalism students while Fifth Street Communications is for those studying public relations. Both provide experience for specific communication majors and are largely student led. Black Bird Media Lab serves the same purpose for cinema and media arts students.
The new nature of the program allows for students to lead and produce their own ideas and projects of various sorts. These include, but are not limited to, short films, events covered around campus—such as athletic events and faculty colloquium—chapel and Ravenwatch. These give students a broad production experience.
Professor Jack Lugar said, “Covenant Productions was focused on professionals bringing students alongside to help for projects. Now it is student-focused and student-driven. Professionals come alongside them to help them complete their projects.”
Professionals are still involved in helping the students learn about film productions, however, they are now a smaller piece of the puzzle.
Not only are students leading projects and bringing their own ideas to life, but they also have many opportunities to gain real world experience and make professional connections.
During the past week, cinema and media arts majors had the opportunity to take part in the Heartland International Film Festival as part of their involvement with the Black Bird Media Lab.
Students went to the festival to shoot red carpet events, opening night events to cover and promote different celebrities, filmmakers and producers and to document the festival overall.
This rebranding of the Black Bird Media Lab unifies students with a common cause of production and gives them a sense of community within the program.
It is also established as a strong identifier of the quality of work that students create and send out to competitions and festivals, along with the work that they are putting in their portfolios for future employers.
Armstrong recalls that when creating the lab, his goal was to turn aspiring filmmakers into perspiring filmmakers. They are no longer thinking of creating films, they are doing the work to create films around their own ideas.
Current student McKylan Mullins says, “My experience with Black Bird has been great. We’ve gotten a lot of much needed upgrades for our editing suites that make it a joy to come in and edit. Our camera equipment has also gotten a much-needed upgrade and gives great insight on the professional world of film making. I love the new studio.”
The Black Bird Media Lab includes various editing suites, studio spaces production rooms and equipment used in cinematic production.
The main hub is located in the Broadcasting Center, but is, of course not limited to that space and takes place across all of campus.
The resources of the Black Bird Media Lab are available first and foremost to service cinema and media arts majors, however, there are opportunities for other students to be involved.
Events such as the Smartphone Film Competition put on by the Campus Activities Board allow for students outside of the cinema and media arts program to get involved.
Just like many other programs within AU, cinema and media arts set apart their students by giving them unique opportunities for real world experience.
The Black Bird Media Lab is a program that makes student led productions possible while also working with professionals within the field and creating a community of filmmakers.