Park Productions Turns 35
"Many schools have campus radio stations, student newspapers,
and TV services," says former dean Thomas Bohn, "but very few,
if any [others], have professional contract production units that
give students the opportunity to work on high-level projects for
actual clients. Our program's legacy --- due, in great part, to
the efforts of Skip Landen and Mack Travis --- is an enduring one
that marks the Park School as a unique, student-centered environment."
Carol Jennings (left), manager of Park Productions, "gives
students the ball and lets them run."
Photo by Sheryl D. Sinkow
For 35 years Park Productions, the professional production unit
in the Park School, has created film, video, and multimedia productions
at a reasonable cost for clients ranging from Cornell University
to the Sciencenter --- and giving students a valuable professional
experience at the same time.
"The Park Productions experience taught me to take the initiative," says
Becky Reagan '02, now an associate producer with MTV Networks who
also does independent projects through her own company, Yellow
Bird Productions. "There were a ton of learning and doing opportunities,
from writing to directing to producing."
The "Pro Unit," as it was first known, was conceived by John Keshishoglou,
then director of the communications program. The unit began in
1968 as a "laboratory" class for students, to involve them in producing
professional educational and promotional films for a variety of
clients on the high school and college levels. Keshishoglou hired
Landen to oversee the operation and instruct students. Landen and
Travis, who came in 1971, taught students the fundamentals of filmmaking.
Eventually Landen offered workshops in 16 mm film production to
teachers and football coaches.
The Pro Unit began at a relatively early time
in the school's evolution, when television-radio was dominant
and cinema production classes were limited. The establishment
of the Pro Unit led to great expansion of the cinema department.
Multilevel classes, such as in scriptwriting, film postproduction,
and sound, were added to the curriculum. Landen began to spend
more time teaching; additional professional staff members, including
Patricia Zimmermann (now professor of cinema and photography),
were hired to run the unit. By the early 1980s the Pro Unit was
shifting from film to video as the main production format. Since
then the unit has involved hundreds of students in creating hundreds
of projects, both film and video. Says current Park Productions
manager Carol Jennings, "Students
from all disciplines --- cinema, television-radio, advertising,
public relations, business, etcetera --- are engaged in the unit."
"At Park Productions," says Alex Dragulescu '00, now an M.F.A.
candidate in visual arts at the University of California, San Diego, "I
was free to experiment with technology in a variety of media: Web,
print, and broadcast. This was an amazing advantage once I applied
for a position in the industry. My fluency in various software
and hardware was an important plus. The companies that hired me
recognized my three years with Park Productions as professional
work experience. Fresh out of school, I'd expected an entry-level
position, but I actually was hired to supervise four HTML programmers
and oversee the company's graphic identity."
Sherri Kauk '04 and Christian Clark '04 (center front) on location
this summer at a mine in Butte, Montana
Photo courtesy of Park Productions
Indeed, points out Jennings, there is hardly
a better hands-on experience during college years. "Our students direct, produce,
shoot, and edit," she says, "or they assist professional producers,
directors, cinematographers, and sound designers. So they earn
valuable experience, production credits for their résumés,
and completed programs for their demonstration reels."
Tom Torello '87, now IC's executive director
of marketing communications, worked with the unit for two years,
becoming a senior producer. "It
gave me my first exposure to working directly with clients," he
says, "giving me a real advantage when I began looking for work
Lee George '98 raves about his experiences
a decade later. "It's
rare for a student of my age and experience level to be given the
opportunity to be a producer/director on a professional project.
Yet this is just what I did at Park Productions --- worked with
a client and an executive producer, rehearsed talent, coordinated
locations, scheduled crew and equipment. It was challenging. And
it was an invaluable, unforgettable experience. Because of the
experience with Carol Jennings and
the responsibilities she threw my way, I was totally prepared to
handle professional work. Carol gave us the ball and let us run.
I like to think we ran with it and scored a touchdown." Even today
as a freelance producer for Banyan Productions (Trading Spaces, A Wedding Story), George credits his Park Productions
experience for the ease with which he recently produced a public service announcement.
In its 38 years Park Productions has produced more than 150 programs,
including documentaries, feature films, music videos, training
videos, public service announcements, commercials, educational
programming, and inter-active multimedia. Recent on-campus clients
include the admission and alumni relations offices. Off campus,
Park Productions has collaborated with WSKG-TV in Binghamton, WCNY-TV
in Syracuse, Showtime, several Cornell University schools and departments,
the Paleontological Research Institute, Seneca Falls Museum, and
many other local nonprofit organizations. Park Productions has
been honored by the U.S. Film and Video Festival, Council for International
Nontheatrical Events (CINE Gold Eagle), Communicator Awards, International
Television and Video Arts Competition, and the Chicago International
Television Awards (Hugos), among others. It recently received the
Hugos silver plaque for the documentary Breaking the Cycle:
The Willard Drug Treatment Campus, which was broadcast on central
New York PBS stations in April.
"We'd love to involve alumni in our work as production partners," says
Jennings. "They should get in touch if interested."