Alongside its extensive stock of funny cat videos and crazy stunts, the video-sharing site YouTube has served as a launch platform for bona-fide stars, exposing talent that might have otherwise gone unnoticed by wide audiences.
Students at the University of Virginia are hoping to achieve a similar effect with “HooTube,” a student-led video project highlighting the arts at UVA.
The idea began with third-year student Dante Venafro, who is pursuing an interdisciplinary major in commerce, media studies and cinematography.
“I wanted a platform where students could upload any creative content, whether it was music, media or interviews with different figures around the University,” Venafro said.
In his vision, students could upload videos of their own or others’ work; interview professors, athletes or political figures and share those findings; or create profile videos of different groups and events around Grounds.
To begin making that vision a reality, Venafro turned to the Cavalier Education Program, which allows undergraduates to create and teach their own credit or non-credit courses to their peers. His fall 2015 course, called “HooTube,” attracted budding filmmakers from across the University, eager to build their skills and share projects that they and their friends were working on.
One of them, third-year student Peter Hazel, led a team in documenting the sights and sounds of the UVA Jazz Ensemble, a group of about 25 students and community members under the direction of John D’earth, who leads the jazz performance program in the McIntire Department of Music.
“They are such a talented group, and we wanted to showcase the sense of community that they have,” Hazel said.
Six student camera operators, including Venafaro and third-year students Mier Chen, Boning Luo, Kingston Liu, Biying Qu and Corey Chen, assisted Hazel in filming. The group spent four evenings in the fall interviewing the musicians and filming rehearsals and concerts.
“I was so impressed by the talent, I almost wished that I had not been shooting footage at the concert because I had to focus on getting the right shot when part of me just wanted to sit back and listen,” Hazel said. “Jazz is a form of music that I was not very familiar with and their performance was so great.”
After filming completed, Hazel led the editing process, with Liu and third-year students Christine Douglas and Brandon Sangston pitching in for color and sound editing.
It was not Hazel’s first time editing film. He is pursuing an interdisciplinary major in film theory and practice alongside a major in philosophy and has already gained production experience through independent filmmaking projects for clients and student organizations. HooTube gave him an opportunity to promote other students’ creative work while honing his own skills, which he hopes to use to build a career in filmmaking.
The class also gave Hazel an opportunity to teach his fellow students. As one of the more experienced filmmakers working on HooTube, Hazel helped others in the class learn more about filming, shot selection and editing.
“The video is a testament to Peter’s skill and his ability to help others learn,” said Braelyn Schenk, a second-year student who works as the jazz intern in the music department and co-produced the video with Hazel. “His teaching made the end product even better.”
In addition to working with students on video projects, Venafro spent much of last semester working out the logistics of developing HooTube, from finding ways to fund equipment to exploring liability issues that could arise.
Now, with the Jazz Ensemble video available as a pilot, Venafro hopes to turn the HooTube concept into a more permanent student organization. He is working with two of his media studies professors – Bruce Williams, Taylor Professor in Media Studies, and Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor of Modern Media Studies – to explore partnerships with the new Center for Media and Citizenship, which studies civic engagement in a changing media environment.
“Teaching the course in the fall, I noticed how much value something like this could add for the school, especially with proper resources to build and popularize the platform,” Venafro said. “I hope that the idea of this course and the value it can bring can become a more permanent part of the media studies program.”