institute for documentary studies

{Week 1: Multimedia}

Week 1: Multimedia


The first week of Salt was an extended exercise in introducing myself to strangers. This was neither entirely unexpected (how else would I get to know my classmates and instructors?) nor should it have been difficult, what with my familiarity on the topic of myself. However, when it came time to synthesize my geographical and academic histories into a cohesive explanation of why I was attending Salt, I found myself struggling for clarity. Too much information was confusing—how does three years of seasonal employment punctuated with extended bouts of travel relate to writing? Too little information—name, track, and most recent mailing address—seemed uncooperative. Less than ten minutes into my career at Salt and I was paralyzed by the task of telling the simplest story of all: my own.

But I got through it and it got easier. By the third time we introduced ourselves, I rattled off the requisite information as if answering the most mundane request. And that was the end of that…until the second multimedia class.

The first day of classes was a barrage of logistical information, syllabi, and (of course) introductions, all of which blurred together. The second day was closer to the average schedule: track classes in the morning and multimedia class in the afternoon. So, by the time we settled into multimedia that afternoon, my newfound confidence in self-introduction was almost thirty hours old and the nervousness from the day before had completely disappeared. And then we were instructed to go out into Portland and talk with three strangers. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than initiating conversation with people I do not know. Nothing. But, aside from freezing with panic, there didn’t appear to be any other options than to complete the assignment.

I started at a nearby clothing store where I made lots of good eye contact and had several successful imaginary conversations. This was a waste of ten minutes, a third of our allotted time. Back on the street I wandered the block, scoping out potential subjects and smiling at everyone who walked by. Finally, I found both a smoker and some nerve. Trapped by state bans on indoor smoking, the unsuspecting art student had nowhere to flee and I startled her into a sporadic discussion about sculpture. Bolstered by this success, I traveled the block looking for more smokers. This is how I secured the second conversation. I expected the third to be simple, even easy. It wasn’t. The man I approached declined comment as soon as I mumbled the word “journalism.”

The rejection was devastating. It was exactly what I feared and the problem seemed rooted in an inability to properly convey my motives in the initial introduction. How could I ever find a story if people refused to speak with me? It wasn’t even the end of the second day and my future as a documentary maker was clearly in jeopardy.

Except that it wasn’t. Many other students had gotten refusals; a few had been turned away several times. The trick seemed to be twofold: practice a clear, straightforward introduction and keep trying until someone agrees to talk, because someone will. I figured that out the next day when making cold calls to potential subjects for our Documentary in a Day project.

And so, with this early lesson from multimedia class in mind, it seems appropriate to close with a practiced introduction. These are the most pertinent facts: my name is Alison Hudson and I grew up on Mount Desert Island, Maine; I spent the last twelve months living and working in Wyoming; and I am in the writing track at Salt and will be blogging about my experience in the multimedia program.

- Alison, writing