C-N students collaborate with actors to make film on perseverance

Carson-Newman University students join Blacklight Productions actor Alena Dingeldein, fourth from left, and director Jordan Scott, at far right, during filming for "Of Birds Who Try." Participating students include, from left, Shelby Flenniken, of Knoxville, Riley Wilson, of Taylorsville, North Carolina, Helen Donahue, of Madison, Alabama, Khushbu Patel, of Chattanooga, Aliyah Trammell, of Mascot, and Daniel Cox, of Chattanooga.

Being in the film industry used to be a pipe dream for Khushbu Patel, who was originally pursuing a career in forensic science. On the other hand, a young Aliyah Trammell had long wanted to be an actress and make it big in the industry. Meanwhile, Daniel Cox did not make the decision to pursue a career in film until he was a junior at Carson-Newman University.

Patel, a senior film and digital media major, Trammell, a freshman marketing major, and Cox, a senior communication, film and digital media major, were part of a team that worked in collaboration with Backlight Productions to make the short film “Of Birds Who Try.”

Other C-N students who worked on the project are Helen Donahue, Riley Wilson and Shelby Flenniken. Backlight Productions is a nonprofit disability theatre in Nashville. The film tells the story of a penguin who learned how to fly and an ostrich who learned how to run. The project was filmed in January.

“The film is about perseverance, and its central message states that if one sets their mind to something, even the impossible, they can do it,” Cox said.

For the three film students, perseverance has played a great role in helping them overcome challenges they have faced in school, life and while making the film.

“When I first came to Carson-Newman, it didn’t feel quite like I belonged here,” said Patel. “However, the longer I was here, the more I realized that this is a very accepting and well-rounded community of students and faculty whose main goal is to learn and teach.”

Trammel had been having a hard time last semester in math and was really discouraged.

“I was determined to be successful, though, and I ended up reaching out to my professor for help and finished that semester with a 4.0,” she said.

For Cox, the challenge is always with homework: “Many long hours and not much sleep!”

Dr. Jerod Hollyfield, associate professor of Film Studies and Communication, offered his students a chance to earn extra credit by participating in the Backlight project.

During the two-day filming, Patel worked as the script supervisor and oversaw anything that was on camera to help with the postproduction editing.

Trammel oversaw the slate, meaning that she kept track of the sound, the scenes and the takes. Cox worked as the gaffer on the first day of shooting and helped with sound on the second.

Being at C-N holds special meaning to each of the students and has positively impacted each of their lives.

Cox said his work ethic and time management skills have increased tenfold. Being at C-N challenged him to pursue new things, including the chance to be in theatre plays and perhaps even hold a lead role in an upcoming production.

Despite having limited time to film and the actors not being used to performing on camera, the three students say they felt a sense of accomplishment, because they were able to learn new things and finish their project on time.

The film will be available on demand through Backlight's website this summer and will have a special presentation at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in November. Hollyfield is also editing it along with existing footage into a longer documentary production that follows Backlight and its actors through their work.