Friday, May 31, 2013

O Windows, Where Art Thou?

Immediately following our two week trip spent running around Germany, experiencing two big cities, I spent the past week in a dark, windowless lab here in Columbia, putting it all together. Blood, sweat and tears went into my group’s--  “The Skaters,” as is our unofficial moniker-- final project.

Four extremely good looking people, otherwise known as “The Skaters”.

Okay, maybe not blood. But that’s only because the project was finished last night. Had we run into anymore bumps in the road, I’m not sure what our fate would have been....

Our group had problems. Major problems. Primarily, with the Sony camera that we used. On the beginning of Day 1, we were grateful and excited to be using the camera. Then we ran into troubles with sound. And white balance (a term I now cringe to hear). And memory card formatting. And the mere fact that the camera weighs easily ten times more than the smaller cameras most of the other groups brought along.

Do I look like I know what I’m doing? If so, I deserve an Oscar.

I can hardly imagine the heaping pile of garbage that our fellow classmates, Professor Farrand and Dean Bierbauer anticipated our final product to be. But I doubt it looks anything like what we actually came up with.

For our print piece, Dana came up with a fantastic feature story that tells of the way that Berlin’s rocky history has effected the skateboarding scene. Will wrote an editorial about his personal experience in Berlin as an American skater. Erin used the incredible photographs she took and her experience in Adobe InDesign to create a professional quality, four page German skateboarding magazine called “Spreken sie Skate?”.

Together, for our multimedia piece, in an attempt to stay current, our group created a mock-homepage for our magazine’s website. We focused in on the Tempelhof Airport. It used to be West Berlin’s primary airport, but a few years ago, after Berlin’s reunification, it was deemed too small and closed down. The city decided to turn the runway space (which, even for a ‘small’ airport, is enormous) into a park, which includes but is not limited to a skate park. I cannot imagine what the City of Columbia would turn the space into if we were to ever outgrow our tiny airport. I imagine a few strip malls with a K Mart or two in them.  In the website feature, we included this brief history on the park, along with pictures of the skate area and a time lapse video of the skaterboarders using it.

 Erin and Dean Bierbauer check out the map at the airfield.

Then, there was our video. The one element that we had the least amount of confidence in to start out with, especially when we realized we had transferred nearly all of our video files incorrectly and were unsure if we were able to use them. After twelve hours of relentless Google searches, I managed to find a solution that did not even compromise the quality. And then there was the quality- we were certain that our sound was ruined on two of our interviews. It wasn’t. Unbeknownst to ourselves, we had actually set up the sound the right way. And Final Cut Pro X fixed the rest of our issues.

So two days were spent with Will and I slaving over the same computer monitor, sharing the same set of broken headphones. But we pulled a 4 minute video together that, considering the circumstances, I am proud of. It’s not perfect, and had we a little more time to focus on just the video and not our other pieces, it would look better. A deadline is a deadline, though, and I am happy with our final product. And I’m positive it exceeded everyone’s original expectations.

Professor Farrand and Dean Bierbauer at the Neuschwanstein Castle

I want to especially thank Professor Farrand and Dean Bierbauer for not only taking this trip with us, but particularly for their help with my group. They sat through several long meetings with us. They talked us through our most panicked states. They politely laughed at our obnoxious jokes that we ourselves thought to be hilarious, and they ignored our inexplicable use of terrible British accents. (And Will’s spot-on Robin Leach impersonation).  I do not believe they ever completely lost hope in us- and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Auf wiedersehen!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cutting Room Floor

With only a few hours standing between premiere time, the Munich Maymester class has kicked into editing aka zombie mode. Most of us have the majority of our projects done, but fine-tuning has turned into subjective, tedious, yet rewarding process.

From time spent during final cut rendering (which I am currently doing), to deciding which scenes to use, the edit process has allowed me relive some of my most pleasant memories from the trip. Looking back, it is so crazy to think how different experiences evolved. We met an author, listened to jazz at an underground Berlin Bar, and even witnessed first hand a real bread making process. I'm hoping all these life-changing experiences really come together and make the video and multimedia project all that we hoped for. Well for now, I'll continue editing. See you at 5 for premiere!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Growth Spurt

Munich Maymester 2013 is more than a chronology of 21 students' two-week sojourn onto unfamiliar terrain.  As study abroad trips go, Germany is hardly the deepest, darkest recess of the globe. 

The terra incognita explored by these USC journalism school students is one of boundaries, relationships and self-recognition.  When we boarded our first-leg flight, some were already seasoned travelers, some were on their first European trip and some were holding their first passports.

You will read in their blog about friendships formed in two weeks of togetherness--think hostels instead of comforts of home--fun and, yes, beer.  Too much beer?  We were, after all, in Bavaria, and even my German forebears were brewers.  As Bill Clinton said of his own study abroad exploration, none of our young adults broke any of the laws of the country we were in.

Did we scale any heights?  We did get to the Alpine castle of Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig's bank-breaking self-indulgence.  It's the model of Disney's fairy tale castles.  Make of that what you will.

More importantly, we explored some depths--the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau in the Munich suburbs and remnants of the odious Berlin Wall that once symbolized the Cold War.  People died by the hundreds at the Wall, by the thousands in Dachau's ovens and by the millions in Germany's troubled past.  While ours was a practical course about producing multimedia reports, we infused history for context and understanding.

On the day we departed for Germany, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote of "America the Clueless," a nation supremely misinformed. In spite of a surfeit of information--blog, anyone?--we ingest more empty calories of opinion than factual protein.

Two-wheel tour of Berlin.  Old East German TV tower in background.

In Munich, our students and German journalism students discussed the challenge of turning information into knowledge. Americans particularly, our students acknowledged, tend to be less conversant with history, geography and languages.  The Germans said they are less adept at the social media that explode from new communications technologies.  No deficit for our side on that score.  Our students were far better connected than I was on the trip.

A photo opportunity every place you look.
This is by Alpsee.

 The Munich Maymester has been on our spring calendar since 2007.  Instructor Scott Farrand has led six of the trips.  My wife, Susanne Schafer, and I met as foreign correspondents in Germany and brought along some personal and historical context.  One of my German relatives was interviewed for the students' story about German breads.

The course tests students' skills in unfamiliar settings.  They work in teams that mix journalism, public relations, advertising and visual communications majors.  They originate, research and report in projects about themes unfamiliar to Americans or in significant contrast to American practices.

They discovered that bike lanes in Germany are busy places not meant for pedestrians.  They became Bayern Muenchen fans as the local fussbal team clinched the European championship.  They were already Beyonce fans.  But who knew Beyonce would be performing in Munich while we were there?  The students did and shared the experience with tens of thousands of German fans.  They looked at BMW marketing techniques and the latest BMW models.  Ok, we all checked out the latest “bimmer” models.  South Carolina has a vested interest in BMW’s global success.

  Yes, mom, we ate our vegetables.  

You can find so much more in this blog.  As a blog, it is a collection of impressions spanning the students' experiences--some analytical, some whimsical, some impetuous, and some unedited.

                   Germany is not as formal as you might think. 

So, we have all had a growth spurt.  Try traveling with a group of college students some time.  We teach them, and they teach us.

Charles Bierbauer