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 in advertising."

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."



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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 29 October, 2003