College Documentary!
September 5, 2007 10:42 PM   Subscribe

What would be a good, compelling subject for a short (7-15 minute) documentary film on an (for all intents and purposes) average college campus that hasn't been done a million times before?
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was part of a weekly unicycle club (seriously) and we always has a great time, I can imagine a pretty good short documentary about some kind of quirky after class club like that. Good Luck
posted by nintendo at 11:02 PM on September 5, 2007

How about some documentary about the infrastructure that runs your college?

Steam tunnels, hidden, out of sight areas way down in the basement. Boiler rooms... those are all places which are fascinating, used every day, but never really explored. Plus it should be easy enough to get permission to film there and find people willing to talk about the inner workings of the campus.
posted by wfrgms at 11:05 PM on September 5, 2007

The cleaners on the campus?

I knew a cleaner on a campus, and the speed with which he had to get through a building was amazing. His hours were midnight to 6am. He told me about the dirty mags in one department's toilet. One of his colleagues worked it because her husband had alziemers, and it was the only time she could leave him alone safely. And to top it all off, the supervisor would lay down on the floor to see if they had washed behind the u-bend in the bathrooms.
posted by b33j at 11:46 PM on September 5, 2007

Public records offices keep some very cool historical photos that show you what a place looked like before it became whatever it is now. Some environmental History classes have you do research projects on histories of a particular physical space, but I've never seen s college-specific a documentary on what used to stand where a college now is. That would be very interesting, especially if you could incorporate old photos, film, newspapers, or land survey illustrations.
posted by conch soup at 11:48 PM on September 5, 2007

What may make for an interesting topic is the subject of those students who are enrolled and actively attending classes but don't have much desire to. I'm thinking of those students who are only at college at all at the behest of their parents, because society expects them to, or for some other unknown reason. May be a bit more difficult but could be rather interesting if you manage to come up with a logical theory linking all these individuals together with a common reasoning, series of common experiences, or other unifying factor. In whatever topic you choose, best of luck to you.
posted by andythebean at 12:20 AM on September 6, 2007

This sounds like an excellent excuse to get into the steam tunnels.
posted by idiotfactory at 12:26 AM on September 6, 2007

The hidden bits of your campus, a la Infiltration. It's impossible for any institution such as a college to not have any, no matter how small the college.
posted by Xere at 12:27 AM on September 6, 2007

Two documentaries that my Comm major friend did that I found interesting:

1) Campus urban legends: She interviewed students about urban legends they hear about the school and also tried to get to the bottom of some of the more interesting ones. My campus had lots of random artsy things as well as a steam tunnel that was rich for wild stories. The steam tunnel one was rumored to be a way for police to quickly traverse the campus in case of a riot. (The idea of San Diego students have enough energy to cause a riot is amusing in retrospect)

2) Returning students: She interviewed people who were older than the average student, all were pursuing Bachelor's degrees, not masters or PhD. She got their perspective about blending in, picking up studies, social aspects, etc... as well as some interviews with professors and other students.
posted by like_neon at 1:39 AM on September 6, 2007

Is the doc for a class that regularly does this exercise? If so, you could make the doc about the history of the documentary exercise - interview previous years students and try to contact past students: y'know, changing ideas about docs, the impact of technology, how people's docs relate to their later life/success/failure.
Totally arty-farty meta-nonsense, of course, but that's what college is for.
posted by MetaMonkey at 3:15 AM on September 6, 2007

I think you have to find a person with a compelling story so that the college becomes a supporting character.
posted by plinth at 3:47 AM on September 6, 2007

The evolution of email addresses. I was talking to one of my student workers the other day about how all the freshmen applying for work have emails like NikkiXBaybeeLOL or MightyBigRod23 and why do they think that's a good idea. She then started to wax nostalgic about when she finally changed her email from something "fun" to something that "wouldn't embarrass her".

There's a little coming of age story (and PSA) in that, I think. You could have people, both new students and upperclassmen, talk about their email choices and why they've changed over the years.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:15 AM on September 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, social networking, that's pretty new and exciting, you could document how its changing campus life. You'd need a good angle though, like follow friend chains or whathaveyou.
posted by MetaMonkey at 6:53 AM on September 6, 2007

Go through the garbage from the dorms, compare different fraternity's garbage, etc - compare both to interviews of what people say ("we eat healthily" vs. their garbage full of pizza boxes). Compare garbage from engineering to garbage from philosophy, riff on all that.

Midnight library worker culture.

Books with pages missing or marginalia.

Bathroom graffiti.

The university at 3.00 a.m who is there and why (mainly physics grad students running their supervisors experiments?!)
posted by Rumple at 7:37 AM on September 6, 2007

When I was at uni, we tried to make a doco based on the graffiti in the toilets and on the desks in the library. Calling up the "If you want a good time call XXX XXXX" numbers and trying to find the people whose names had been written - that sort of thing. We had a fair bit of success but ran out of crew members as people began to drop out of the course. I still think it might have been very funny (and therefore compelling in a humorous way) if we'd finished it.
posted by bunglin jones at 8:06 AM on September 6, 2007

I don't know if either of these have been done a million times before, but:
- last year someone at my school did a documentary about the (lack of) handicap accessibility where they basically stuck someone on a wheelchair and tried to get around for a day or two. I think they interviewed students with physical disabilities as well.

- Maybe ask international students about how they got to your school? You might get some fairly compelling or interesting stories.
posted by dismas at 8:32 AM on September 6, 2007

If "your average college campus" has been around for a while, a historical documentary might be worthwhile; a lot of students don't really know anything about what happened at their college before they got there, and might be interested in it. For example, I lived for four years at my undergraduate college without knowing that there had been a murder in one of the dorms in the mid-'50s.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2007

Besides seconding the need to find a good character, I would look into histories of rebellion at the school and the people who work around and for the school and what they're relationship is with it. I'd speak to old professors and staffers about notable stuff that's happened there, if one seems like a good interview, get them at the place something happened, and then do additional interviews with students who're gone (check student paper archives and the alumni office to see if you can track people down).
posted by history is a weapon at 9:56 AM on September 6, 2007

If yours is an average campus, then you probably have that one eccentric guy that has been hanging around campus long enough to be a university staple. The guy who everybody sees and gets creeped out by, but nobody really knows. Even your parents remember him from years back.

You could have some really interesting conversations with him about where he came from, where he lives, how he got where he is now. Depending on how strong his grip with reality is, your documentary could be either hilarious or enlightening--maybe both.

Either way, it never hurts to see people in diffrent ways.
posted by sambosambo at 1:39 AM on September 7, 2007

Ask professors about the worst political infighting story they ever heard or saw.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:58 AM on September 7, 2007

architecture students on deadline are like drunks with a mission. trips to the emergency room after slicing your thumb, or falling asleep and dropping the x-acto into your thigh... climbing onto the roof to watch the sunrise and catch a few last-minute photos of your model... oh good times. we spent lots of unproductive late-night hours goofing off when we should have been working, too. I collected so many chairs from the hallways of various buildings on campus that there was nowhere to stand in my dorm room, only places to sit :)

and the tunnels are way cool too, but they're alarmed on our campus so it's a bad idea to sneak in, even late at night.
posted by Chris4d at 10:21 AM on September 7, 2007

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