A few weeks ago, I completed the field production class at AIM. I knew that I would learn how to use professional camera equipment by taking the class, but I ended up learning several other lessons along the way.
Dienna Howard: AIM Student and Volunteer
I became an AIM member in late 2012, but had known about it long before that. I attended a comedy short film fest there a few years ago, but the thought of getting involved with AIM hadn’t yet crossed my mind. One of the many dreams that I have (and man, do I have many!) is to create my own shows. I like sitcoms, sci-fi, thrillers, horror, and just plain cheese, and I’ve always wanted to create a show that showcases a black woman like me – someone who’s an oddball with nerdy interests. I have a camcorder at home and all I have to do is turn it on, aim, and shoot, but I wanted to learn how to use something that’s of a better caliber. Well Dienna, get off your butt and get involved with AIM already!
In the Introduction to Public Access class, I remember Jackie Steven saying that the camera certification test was easy and that the only way to royally screw up is if you were sleeping in class, so I knew I’d better take the Saturday morning field production class because I’d be better rested as opposed to coming in after work on a weekday.
On the first day, I had the initial case of nerves, but they were put to rest when I met my classmates and instructor, Nathan Bynum. This seemed like a great group of people and I was looking forward to working with them for those six sessions. The nerves came back when learning how to use AIM’s camera equipment. Sure, these PowerPoint presentations make it look so easy, but will I be able to learn all this in six weeks? I had to wait and see.
Lesson #1: Learning to ask for help and to not try to do everything myself. Throughout the years I’ve developed this superwoman mindset where I feel that “No one’s going to help me, so I better do it myself,” or “They’re never going to get it right when I explain it, so I might as well correct it myself.” Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. When something was too heavy for me to handle, I’d ask a classmate for help, or if something needed to be adjusted that was out of my reach, I’d ask a taller classmate to do it. This was a humbling experience for me.
Lesson #2: It’s okay to let my sense of humor show. In the different office environments where I’ve worked, people mistake me for being stiff, boring, and serious all the time. In my unrestricted life I’m far from that. I tend not to let my humorous side show when I’m on the clock because people don’t understand my sense of humor and I also fear that I won’t be taken seriously. One thing that I love to do is goofball voices, and as I saw myself on the monitor during a lighting setup, I said, “So Steve, let’s go over the financial reports,” in this mocking CEO voice. My classmates laughed, and no one mistook me for a class clown who goofs off all day. They knew that I took our class very seriously.
I have worked in busy environments, and this frequent state of being busy affects proper communication. Because of this, I don’t always feel that my ideas are heard or valued. I like to think before I speak so I can express myself clearly, but I don’t always get that luxury. People rush me along with a “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” a “Right, right, right,” or a “Got it!” before I’ve finished speaking. Man, sometimes I wonder why people bother asking me questions if they don’t want to hear the answers! I have learned recently that the brain processes thoughts faster than the mouth can move, hence the short attention spans. That’s cool, but I don’t see myself getting my mouth to move as fast as the Micro Machines man’s mouth anytime soon.
I bring this up because I got the opposite vibe from the field production class. Which brings me to Lesson #3: My ideas are important. Instead of being rushed to hurry up and speak, I felt that I was being heard and that my ideas were valuable. This was especially important to me on the day of our second class, when we had to split into teams, take cameras outside and recruit people to do man-on-the-street interviews. My teammates and I are black, and I felt that racism may have factored into why no one stopped to be interviewed by our group. Some people didn’t have the respect to say, “Sorry, no thanks,” and would just keep walking. I’ve been a resident of Arlington for almost four years, and while the area is lovely and has its charms, I don’t always feel a welcoming vibe as a woman of color in this community. I’ve gotten to the point where that prejudice no longer surprises me, but it hurt me to see my teammates in this class project face it as well.
When I brought this up in class, I wasn’t brushed off with, “Dienna, we don’t know what you’re talking about,” a response I’ve received before and find dismissive. My feelings were acknowledged, and we spent a few minutes in class discussing dealing with people who may harbor prejudices and how regardless of their mindsets, we still have to keep trying and work to get that story. Spending those few minutes talking about it meant a lot to me.
The biggest boost in the class was having my idea picked for our final project. I proposed doing a feature on the volunteers at an organization that I used to volunteer for, Doorways For Women and Families, which works to help women and their families overcome homelessness and domestic violence. I typed up a proposal outline and made copies to pass out in class. A lot of great ideas were proposed – proper pet care, a feature on a local farmer’s market, another on a local cinema, and one on Arlington’s adult education program. As I listened to the other proposals I started to doubt my own. Would we be able to get volunteers to come in for a few hours on a specific date to be interviewed? Would we be able to get everything we needed filmed on that one date? So when my idea was selected by the class, I crossed my fingers that we could pull it off!
During the weeks leading up to the filming date I acted as a liaison, communicating back and forth between Doorways and my class. Anytime I had a break I’d check my e-mails and messages on my phone, seeing what needed to be relayed to whom. Filming the final project was awesome. The talent came on time and were a pleasure to work with, two of my classmates brought delicious coffee and homemade baked goods for refreshments, and everything was a success. Getting a taste of the different processes in front of and behind the camera – interviewing, manning the camera, going outside to film B-roll – was a fun experience.
When it was time to take my certification test, I had the typical nerves, but much less than expected. The things that I struggled with in the earlier classes came to me with much more ease. Taking my time with it helped, as well as articulating my thoughts out loud (some people call it talking to oneself, but I prefer my take on it). Setting up the tripod: Extend the arm, spread the legs, loosen the spreader locks…
I could breathe a sigh of relief when I was told that I passed the test. I am now a certified AIM field producer, ready to volunteer on other people’s projects and produce my own. The ideas are brewing in my head right now – the sky’s the limit! Let’s do this!
(And by the way, if anyone needs an actress for their AIM projects, have your people call my people!)