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Georgia Southern students film TV pilot in summer course
Class enables students to gain practical career experience
Tyson Davis
Georgia Southern Film and Production lecturer Tyson Davis, left, gives director of photography Janeema Ware some pointers. - photo by Scott Bryant

A group of Georgia Southern University students has had a unique opportunity this summer to create something that will help them step out of the classroom and into their futures — and it’s all because of a television pilot course. 

Taught by Film and Production lecturer Tyson Davis, the course is only in its second year, and it’s Davis’ first time teaching it. The course allows students to get hands-on experience in all facets of the production of a television pilot. Students in the course worked with members of Stagecraft and Senior Project classes, who made their contributions during the spring semester. 

“The way the class collaborates with others, it’s really a specialty class that needs to be offered in the summer so that the other classes can do their parts before the summer class ever begins,” said Davis. “Really, a television pilot class over nine weeks is, if you don’t have help, it’s not going to work.”

The Stagecraft class, which had about 15 students in it, built the three sets that were used in the making of the pilot, which was filmed last week at the black box theater at GSU’s Center for Art and Theatre. The filming was done over a three-day period during class time, June 25-27. The contribution made by students in the Senior Project class was the script itself. There were about 20 students in that class.

“One of the other professors taught a Senior Project class, with four different writing teams, and they each came up with a script and had to pitch it. The show’s script was chosen from that. It had to be good, but also conform to the space we are using,” Davis said in an interview during the week of filming. 

The script was about something very familiar for the students.

“The old saying that goes, write about what you know about? Well, that’s what they did. They wrote about college students, of course. It’s a simple script, it’s funny. It’s about college students coming to college, and their first year, being thrown together in a dorm, and how that all rolls out,” Davis said. “It had all the elements of a good narrative.”

Davis says all the scripts were good, but the one chosen just felt more like a pilot.

“It gave a very good foundation for something in the future to be built on. So character development is the main thing we were looking for. What characters will be in this and can they develop? Can we see development happening afterward?” he said. 

Shooting the pilot was done in a multi-camera format, much like what was pioneered by “I Love Lucy.” 

“We’re very much trying to stick with that model. The only difference is that we can’t do it front to back in one day,” Davis said. “Because we’re in the setting that we’re in, and the space is actually limited, we can’t have all three sets beside each other. So we’re doing the production on Tuesday through Thursday, and each day is a new set.”

The set had to be changed out after each production day. Because of the three-day setup, audience members came and went throughout the filming.

“Our production is, in theory, live in front of a studio audience. That’s what we want the students to experience,” Davis said. 

Most of the students in Davis’ class are Film and Production majors, and the class afforded them the opportunity to be able to actually work during the production in areas that are specific to their career choices. 

“Our camera people want to be camera people when they graduate; they want to be cinematographers when they graduate. Our audio people want to do audio when they graduate. It opened up the possibilities for people to really be able to concentrate on that one thing they want to step out of school with and step into the job market with. It’s hard for that to happen in a class,” Davis said. 

What sets this particular course apart is that the students are in charge.

“They are the executive producers. They are the directors. They are lead audio. They are everything from top to bottom, from post-production to production to pre-production. They are all of it,” he said. 

Davis says that allowing the students to take the wheel during the production wasn’t easy for him, but it’s been a great experience for all involved.

“I’m not usually freaked out going into a class. But when I know there is a product coming out of that class that people not in the class will see, even if it’s not a wide audience, what freaks me out is that the expectations are totally different. Because the class is an experiment and we’re trying to build this particular class up. It’s just hard when you’re not in the class and part of the experiment. Your expectations are different,” he said. 

But at the same time, he said, he loves it.

“I love it because it raises the bar for us, for the students. It puts them in a position where the benchmark is high,” he said. 

And the students have risen to the occasion. 

“They have done such a good job. I keep having to remind myself not to be nervous about this. It’s going to be fine. They have truly proven themselves and I’m really proud of them. They have done a fantastic job,” he said.

The pilot will be shown on campus via GSU’s cable system, as well as on the final night of the class, July 18, at 4 p.m. The public is welcome to attend the showing in the large auditorium in Sanford Hall, room 1002.

Quiet on the set
Quiet on the set and cameras rolling as floor director Kayla Morgan, center left, anchors a multi-camera setup with stage/blocking manager Stephanie Kunzmann, center, director of photography Janeema Ware, bottom, and head of cameras Joshua Williams as actors work on the set. - photo by Scott Bryant
Berry Rowe Myers
Actors Skylar Berry, seated, and Petyon Rowe, right, go over the script with executive producer Ashley Myers between filming scenes. - photo by Scott Bryant
Editors Alex Garcia-Bueno, left, Jared Cobb, center, and Madison Bunker download footage from the cameras between scenes backstage. - photo by Scott Bryant
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