Through the Student Lens – Wheaton: This is Home & experiential learning opportunities

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Ben Danielson ’22
Major: Film and New Media Studies
Hometown: Readfield, ME

Can you talk about how producing Wheaton: This is Home was a learning experience?

When I first began developing a plan for Wheaton: This is Home back in June, I had no idea how involved the whole Wheaton community would become in its production. This project truly was done by the Wheaton community, for the Wheaton community. There was no aspect of this video that didn’t involve input from a wide variety of people. The friends I made and the incredible experiences I had, have already made a lasting impact on who I am today. I’m incredibly proud and appreciative of everyone involved and I look forward to seeing what we accomplish next.

Because of the opportunities afforded to me by this project, I was able to experience Wheaton from a completely new perspective. When else would I get to run along the field during a soccer games, audit an advanced Astronomy class on black holes, sit in on a pep talk before the opening women’s basketball home game, get exclusive backstage access to events, or have in-depth, personalized interviews with over thirty members of the Wheaton community? It was incredibly humbling to have such a broad exposure to so many aspects of Wheaton.

It was also a phenomenal learning experience to work with other students just as passionate for filmmaking as I am. Tyler Phinney, who is also a sophomore at Wheaton, provided an enormous amount of support throughout the entire production process. He brought a smile to every challenge we faced and maintained an unbelievably consistent work ethic without faltering. It was common for us to have 4-5 interviews some Friday mornings, on top of all the classes we were taking! But together we were able to persevere and share a common love for filmmaking, all while still challenging each other to learn and grow. Of the seemingly boundless lessons we learned during production of Wheaton: This is Home, here are some of the most important ones that have left a lasting impression on me, that I am now passing on to you.

Initially, you must develop an unbreakable vision for your dream and put a lot of thought behind “why” you are doing, “what” you are doing. Any success is going to be found in your attention to details; “good enough,” is simply never good enough. Pay attention to the details—all of them.

From there, just believe in yourself. If you can’t believe in your own capability to accomplish your goals, why should other people believe in you, let alone your ideas?

Then, don’t be afraid to spend hours setting up for an interview or ask someone to redo a shot again just because the camera’s focus was slightly off. Don’t be afraid to cancel a shoot just because the weather wasn’t nice enough or redo a lengthy interview because the audio is too distorted. Shoot and work relentlessly, but only use the very best of what you have in the final edit. As early viewers can likely attest to, the first rough cut for Wheaton: This is Home was just over 15 minutes of the best interview soundbites and b-roll I had recorded, which made it easier to find what lines would fit together in a fluid, natural way. Trust me, the first rough cut was, well, ‘rough’ in nearly every way, but you just got to keep at it and be open to suggestions.

In what ways were you able to apply what you learned in your Wheaton coursework to making the film? And how might you apply what you learned from your experiences to your classes?

Even though it’s just my sophomore year, all of the film classes I’ve taken at Wheaton have played a pivotal role in my development as a filmmaker. From my first hands-on Production I class where we used a wide array of cameras to create short videos, to my Creative Industries in the Digital Age course with Professor Josh Stenger where we studied the digital media in the modern age, to the more traditional Intro to Film Studies course with Professor Sarah Leventer, there is a wealth of knowledge to be found here at Wheaton. They provided me with a strong foundation of experience and personalized support which I continually leveraged throughout this past fall. All the professors in the Film and New Media Studies Department are incredibly accessible and a tremendous asset to anyone interested in film production.

But a special acknowledgment must go to Professor Patrick Johnson in the Film and New Media Studies department. He was an integral supporter of the project from start to finish. Professor Johnson was actually the first person I proposed my idea for Wheaton: This is Home to, over the phone back in July of 2019. He was very enthusiastic about the idea, but also very constructive and offered points of advice before I officially met with the marketing department to get their perspectives. Then, when I was actually shooting parts of Wheaton: This is Home, he’d frequently watch the numerous video drafts all while still providing valuable feedback. The video simply wouldn’t be where it is if it weren’t for his continual support and mentorship.

In addition to my classes, my experiences abroad with President Hanno were critical in my growth as a filmmaker. Wheaton has a world-class fellowship program for students in which we can apply to receive opportunities to travel all over the world (and in my case, make films), even if it’s just their freshman year! For me, this journey started back in January of 2019, when I received my first Wheaton Filmmaker in Residence Fellowship to Ghana, a small country on the western coast of Africa. My assignment was simple: make a mini-documentary about President Hanno’s annual entrepreneurship challenge for high school students in Ghana. While I had traveled before, I’d never been across the Atlantic Ocean , let alone Africa. Although I was excited, I was also quite nervous as to just what to expect in Ghana. I had never done a class assignment like this before, much less try and make a mini-doc from the experience!

After my trip to Ghana, I then had the opportunity to create a brief promo video for Wheaton’s new Jio Vichaar Entrepreneurship Challenge (JVEC), a nationwide competition for high school students throughout India. Along with several other Wheaton students, we traveled this past summer to the preliminary JVEC bootcamp in Mumbai, of which I made a promo video to raise awareness for the actual nation-wide competition launching a few months later.

Both the Ghana and JVEC videos allowed me to build upon the skills I learned in the classroom—all while putting them to test in real-world scenarios. From all of these experiences I had to learn how to fly drones, balance camera stabilizers while holding them outside of a car window, balance audio levels during interviews, create time lapses of busy city streets, and ultimately create engaging storytelling techniques through complex editing techniques. If it were not for my experiences abroad, Wheaton: This is Home would have never been a reality.

While beneficial for film, I’m also able to utilize my world-wide perspectives from Ghana and India in all of my classes, too. One of the courses I’m taking this spring is International Trade with Professor Freeman, in which I can connect the economic opportunities we discuss in class to what I personally observed while in India. Then, in my Comparative Social Policy course with Professor Flynn, I’m able to do the same but with Ghana and social welfare issues. All told, these experiential learning opportunities have benefited my growth as an individual in more ways than one.

And while having all these opportunities was certainly very exciting, they were also incredibly humbling. I was a first-hand witness to excruciating economic poverty both in the rural areas of Ghana and the economic disparity strikingly apparent in Mumbai, where impoverished slums existed underneath the towering skyscraper adjacent to them. As I’ve reflected on these experiences, it just puts all of my ‘problems’ into raw perspective; they’re all insignificant. I think it’s just a good reminder to never take these opportunities for granted, especially while in the classroom.

What recommendations would you give to other students who want to put what they learned in the classroom into a real-world experience in their chosen field?

I created Wheaton: This is Home as an homage to why I call Wheaton home and why this school is so special to me. I also created it for everyone to be able to look back and say, “Yes, I was a part of that community.” When you are approaching a project like this, you must think about the value you are giving back to other people. What will they get out of watching this? Why should they care? Always keep revising your vision until you are enriching other people’s lives for the better.

From there, I’d just say dream big and believe in yourself, otherwise nobody else will. Don’t settle for less, don’t compromise your integrity, and truly believe not in what you do, but why you do it. But most importantly, don’t worry about comparing yourself to the people around you; just treat every day like it’s your first. I mean seriously, failure is just part of the process! Keep looking forward to those opportunities of growth and learn from others. Life is better that way.

As Wheaton students, we are all in a truly transformative moment in our lives. It would be a shame not to try new experiential learning opportunities that you’ve always been interested in. So, I’d encourage students to try that new club, join that class they’ve always been scared of, or pick up that sport which they’ve always doubted they could compete in. The biggest risk for all of these opportunities, would be not trying to challenge oneself in the first place.

In my view, Wheaton: This is Home is just the beginning of what we can accomplish together. So many individuals contributed one way or another to this project that it’s just like I said initially, this project truly was done by the Wheaton community, for the Wheaton community. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who did interviews, who allowed me to come to their classes, and who welcomed me into their club activities all so I could get content for this project. Thank you! I also need to thank everyone who helped and supported me. I learned so much from this project, not only as a filmmaker but what it means to be a member of this community.

It is at home where we are challenged, where we grow, and where we are loved; for me, that’s Wheaton.

Through the Student Lens

Ben is one of the many engaging and amazing students here at Wheaton. As parents, you are an integral part of our community. Through the Student Lens brings the campus to you, as seen through the eyes of our students, the many roles they play, and experiences they gain during the time here at Wheaton.