Lights, camera, grad walk
Less than 48 hours before Southern Oregon University was scheduled to begin a day of commencement day festivities which will likely go down as one of the last COVID-19-altered celebrations in the Rogue Valley, Brandon Givens was quick to point out that, at least concerning SOU’s role, the production side of the ceremony doesn’t represent a significant departure from years past.
That’s because while the university’s digital media center has pre-recorded elements of Saturday’s celebration, most of its responsibility this year falls firmly into the been there, done that category. Givens, the manager and instructor for the DMC, and a small crew will shoot the grad walk from 9 a.m. to noon, while the virtual commencement ceremony is being produced by a Van Wagner, a sports and entertainment marketing firm based in New York City.
Under normal circumstances, Givens said he and his crew would roll out four or five cameras, run cable all over the field along with some wireless units and broadcast the whole program live in HD. The school has broadcast the event since before Givens came on board in 2007, and it’s become a little more sophisticated every year. But this year, the DMS will use but two cameras.
“Because,” he said, “there’s nothing else to look at. So it’ll be a wide shot of the stage and a medium-close of the student and the president (Linda Schott) as they gather there on the stage for that moment.”
Since Van Wagner is handling the actual commencement production, for which Givens and his crew shot some of the pre-recorded elements, the video production that’s SOU’s responsibility is a scaled down version of what he’s become accustomed to.
“There’s always a bit of a scramble for us to get it in our schedule,” he said, “but it’s not terribly complex, and it’s certainly not as complex as a normal commencement telecast for us. Again, we’re now allowing spectators, it doesn’t have the full complement of speakers, there will not be a faculty tent and band tent, and while there will be security and of course the field is kept secure and fenced and all that, it’s not the same scale that’s normally required when you have 1,000-plus graduates and all their family and friends trying to attend in-person.”
About 400 students from the 2020 and 2021 graduating class have signed up to walk across the stage and pose for a photo with Schott. Guests are not allowed, and there will be no additional video elements spliced in. Basically, it’ll be a point-and-shoot live broadcast.
“So they’ll get that moment to walk across the stage and be there with the president,” Givens said, “and that was important to so many graduates and the president.”
When asked by the university decided to contract out the commencement rather than let the DMS produce it, Joe Mosley, SOU’s director of community and media relations, said in an email that, “We want the best possible commencement experience for our graduates.
“We are tapping the expertise of a vendor that has made a specialty of this, and the result will be a well-rounded schedule of events that range from the commencement ceremony itself to Zoom parties and more.”
The DMS did contribute some of what viewers will see during the commencement, which is slated to start at 2 p.m. and last approximately one hour – links to the grad walk and the commencement are available at sou.edu/student-services/enrollment/commencement. Givens and his staff recorded videos of speeches by Schott, provost Susan Walsh and associate provost Jody Waters, as well as the flag ceremony. For the latter, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps performed the ceremony before a green screen in the DMS studio. When viewers watch it Saturday, the officers will appear as though they are in front of Churchill Hall. The footage was sent to Van Wagner earlier in the week.
“What we recorded, we’re confident in its quality,” Givens said.
Like everybody else, Givens can’t wait until SOU can host an event that isn’t necessarily redesigned to fit COVID-19, but in the meantime he says he’ll do his best to help the university put on a good show.
“I know everybody is trying their best to offer some sort of experience that recognizes these students for their great work,” he said. “What an achievement. Four years of college for the average student. And the parents want to see that. So whatever we can do while still staying safe and staying legal, that’s what we’re doing.”
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.