Welcome back. This week, I sat down with Dr. Anthony Collamati, Chair of Communication and New Media Studies. We met in the DMC conference room on Friday afternoon.
Chelsea: First, I always like to talk about your background. What was your Pre-Alma experience, and how did you get here?
Dr. Collamati: My Pre-Alma experience was in the corn fields of Indiana –no, well, kind of. I was born there in the Midwest, but I grew up around Boston, and went to a small liberal arts school in New Hampshire. You see it often during times like this when people are debating, usually the democratic or republican debates will travel through my alma mater which is Saint Anselm College. That not only steered me into, I was an English major initially, I worked with some great faculty, and I really fell in love with the liberal arts experience. I don’t think I would be here today if it wasn’t for that kind of college. Then, I was in Chicago. I went to grad school thinking that maybe I wanted to teach or write, and I ended up getting into film. I worked on film a little bit in Boston, and it was always one thing or the other, and I had the good and bad fortune of writing a script and getting people interested in giving me money to make it and direct it. Seems like good fortune, but the bad fortune was that the script wasn’t too good. So, it wasn’t a really great film, but I learned a heck of a lot because I got the chance to work with some very talented people. Actors, cinematographers, production designers, it was another education. And then Clemson after that, as a way to marry the film work I was doing in Chicago with the teaching that I had always loved to do. They had a program that was interdisciplinary, kind of like new media studies now.
C: So then from there, you said you wanted to be a teacher, so after that program did you intend to become a professor, or were you still looking to be a filmmaker?
A: When I was in Chicago, when I left, this was way back in the day, the internet was just getting dusted off! I didn’t want to have a career in academia at that point, but I always loved to teach. I didn’t necessarily want to study things, I wanted to make things. But then, given a little time, these programs started to change and started to involve making along with teaching. That’s where I found a place.
C: I try to do some background research before we sit down to have a good concept of the work you do, and I saw that you worked on a film with Alma students recently. Can you talk about this experience, and why including students to create these things is important?
A: Absolutely, in Chicago I worked on a few projects of mine, and worked with a few crews. When I started teaching classes here at Alma, as part of the new media studies program, there is that experience of working on a set with professionals. We do it a little bit with students in the spring, but getting on a set on location with a full crew is a totally different experience that I can’t replicate in a classroom. At the same time, I really wanted to keep making things. I teamed up with a great partner who cowrites with me and produces a lot of our films, actually all of our films. We suddenly had this project that was starting to gather some momentum; it was called ‘Break my Bones.’ Part of our pitch was that we wanted to take people who were really good in the industry, at the time. This was right after the tax credits folded in Michigan, so there were all these cool people who were still here, that had just worked on films like ‘Batman vs Superman,’ ‘Transformers.’ They had all this really great experience. We wanted to give students the opportunity to work alongside them and learn from them, and that’s what happened with ‘Break my Bones,’ and a couple years later we did it again with another film called ‘Base Camp.’
C: Really interesting; I’ve been really interested in film. In high school, I got really into stop motion movies with LEGOs in painted box sets.
C: I have a whole new respect for that, so much work goes into a single minute of content.
A: As we speak, my eldest has a big cardboard box full of LEGOs with a painted background on the foot of his bed that I have to remind myself not to trip over when I wake him up. Yeah, that’s how he’s getting into it too.
C: It definitely is fun. To get back on track, what programs that your department is involved with do you think more students should know about or utilize?
A: So, there is a student production company here called “Bitworks” that is run by students. They work with clients and do jobs from creating videos, doing photoshoots, redesigning graphics or retooling websites. They get paid better than any other position on campus, and they get this really important experience that is client based. It’s not the way some people want to work; It might not be as magical as stop motion, or the narrative stuff, but it can be really rewarding in different ways, and your work can impact a community, or give them experience that will last long after graduation.
C: That seems like a really good opportunity. Do you have any closing thoughts about your Alma experience or words of advice for students who want to pursue something like that?
A: Yeah, I think the real strength of Alma College is that, and I say this quite a bit — Our greatest weakness is also our greatest strength: we’re small, we’re isolate. It can be seen as a weakness. But I think a great strength that we have is that we’re small, we’re rural, we’re located in the middle of the state. Why is that a strength? Because we have the opportunity to get to know each other and work across divisions that other people are more confined by, to be a little more adaptable and move quickly in adapting. We don’t always do it, but when we do, really cool things can happen.