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Student Blog: Doc WAY Off-Campus

October 31, 2016

Hi all,

Sam Grant, '18Let me take you back to the warm and fuzzy, light and breezy chunk of time that’s known as “the hunt for summer jobs.” It’s that magical time of year we all know and love, the one that makes you feel more and more like hot liquid garbage with every resume you type after three a.m. The idea of using your summer for good is exciting, don’t get me wrong. The opportunities that have become available for college students are unbelievably diverse, no matter what your particular niche may be. That being said, a girl can only stretch the truth to potential employers about her proficiency in Photoshop so many times before she nails down solid options. I had part of my time off figured out beforehand—I would spend a bit of time on campus and a bit of time working back at home, but as for the time in-between, I wanted to do something I couldn’t otherwise do at Skidmore.

The London Eye
The London Eye (Photo by Sam Grant '18)

What originally drew me to an academic path involving film, media, theater and documentary was the reminder that Skidmore is a fantastic microcosm for a much broader level of storytelling. The MDOCS program really goes out of its way to ensure that students are exposed to an international perspective in every aspect of their lives and studies. Wanting to make sure I had explored every possible avenue of opportunity, even if they seemed out of reach, I applied to study filmmaking at the University of Arts London upon the request of a professor of mine. Even though I’m still not sure how all of my ducks ended up in a row, my application was ultimately accepted, and thanks to some quick scheduling, much-appreciated scholarship funds and encouragement from friends and teachers, I was suddenly registered for summer classes on a different continent.

Double-Decker Bus
Double-decker bus - Photo by Sam Grant, '18

The monthlong program met every weekday, 9–5, at the London College of Communication off of the Elephant and Castle tube stop. That was the gist of my logistical knowledge heading into the course. So I did some excessive Googling of UK do’s and don’ts beforehand. I drilled my friends who had been London Freshmen about where I should visit and how I should go about finding a place to live. I read everything I could about filmmaking and traveling by yourself in Europe and tried to brace myself so as not to be “that American.” Though I’ve gotten some really wonderful chances to study and make films here on campus; what I lacked were the strong technical skills to back those interests up. I’d never collaborated with a large group of people on a movie before, especially with a group of people from another school, much less another country. I wanted to try my hand at narrative storytelling after spending so much time in the documentary realm, too. It was a combination of all these factors that left me feeling equipped for whatever it was I was walking into.

Of the eight people in my class, I was one of two Americans. The other, my friend Jenna (who turned out to be one of my closest friends), was from Tennessee. I got to know the lives and talents of people from France, Portugal, China, Germany and England. Everyone was coming to the table with something different to offer, whether a supreme knowledge of the city’s public transportation or an awesome affinity for sound engineering. Our teacher, a professor at the college and a practicing filmmaker himself, led us in conversations about location permits, representation in the casting market and character-building. As informative and comprehensive as his lectures were, the bulk of the class was spent with a camera in hand, and a general attitude of “OK, go!”

In our time outside the classroom, we produced two short films as a group—one documentary, one drama (the process of coming up with titles was probably the greatest point of contention. We landed on The Homeless Bard and Turning Point, respectively). Although I usually filled the roles of director and editor, I learned how to white-balance a camera, I learned how to set up a boom, I learned how to hire and work with professional actors, and I learned how to navigate the choppy waters of on-set egos. Each lesson proved to be as valuable as the next. We saw the pre-production stage through to the very end of post, color correction and all ("colour correction," as I was quickly scolded into writing).

Walk along the Thames
Walk Along the Thames - Photo by Sam Grant, '18

It didn’t take all that long for the city to start to feel like home to me. Returning across the river to my student dorm every night felt routine, and taking the tube three or four times a day became second-nature. Sometimes with new friends and sometimes flying solo, I made an effort to explore a new part of the city every chance I got. Some of my exploring could be passed off as location scouting for our next project, but most of the time, it was just me wanting to soak in as much as I could while I had the chance.

There are outdoor markets everywhere you look in London. Checking those out was definitely a tourist highlight, as was the hike along the Thames (on which you’d pass by the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe within five minutes of each other). We hopped on trains to Cambridge, Bath and Edinburgh, because apparently European people always have all of Europe at their immediate disposal, who knew?

The lessons I took away from inside the classroom were just as valuable as those I gained outside of it. Being a student of not just an institution but of a whole country is indescribably energizing and inspiring. It makes you want to write everything down, and learn something from every sight you see and every person you talk to. I was asked for my insight on Donald Trump more often than I was asked for my name. It was thrilling.

I carried what I had learned in my classes at Skidmore over to London with me, and I now retain the lessons I learned in London as I sink deeper and deeper into this new semester. We worked our butts off while we were over there. We were a bunch of kids (some of them strangely worldly and confident), trying to look like full-blown grown-ups with our gadgets and serious “cinema faces.” Our final projects may not have turned out to be professional works of art, but as I can now say in any court of law, I’ve produced something of my very own on international soil.

MDOCS has allowed me to put my ambitions into practice, to reflect on those practices and to expand on them as I pursue my studies here in Saratoga. I’m very, very lucky that my summer ended up this way. And it all happened so quickly, too. As a resolution for this coming year, I’m aiming to think more broadly, and to use my stint as an international student to inspire the rest of my time as a domestic one.

—Sam Grant '18