Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Only the Beginning...

It has been 2 weeks since our return from Belize. The weather in the Northeast has not been very kind to us with a random snowfall and wintery mix lingering in our forecast.  With many classmates working long hours, we were able to complete all the interview transcriptions before today’s class.

In our regular Wednesday meeting with Dr. Luskay and Andrew Revkin, we sifted the transcripts and built a rough draft of the critical first act of the film, in which viewers will learn about the journey that took Linda from Illinois to Belize, from pig farming to shrimp farming.

A central challenge is meshing words with images and interlacing the views of the many subjects we interviewed.

While we were working, David Laub, a writer from the news website, came to write a profile of our class and project.

He asked how we got the idea of focusing on an American expatriate building a seafood business in the tropics and how long Dr. Luskay had been running this film course (nine years!)

He sought students’ views on the course and this particular project and quickly learned that the draw is Linda’s remarkable tale of endurance and creativity.

Many students expressed passion in their response and we all look forward to seeing what he publishes. This interview is expected to be published sometime soon in the Pleasantville and Briarcliff area Patch.

As the weeks wind down toward our May deadline, we all know the amount of work we have ahead of us. We are ready and with the Avid editing system finally working properly, this documentary is officially in full-swing post-production. Although, we aren’t ready to hit any red carpets, many of us are proud of what we have accomplished thus far.

Stay posted… this is still only the beginning.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Let the Editing Begin!

It has been three days since we returned from Belize. Many of us are missing the amazing tropical weather, as our welcome to the United States was a cold (and now snowy!) one.  Many of us are getting back into the swing of the rest of this semester.

Since returning many of us have reflected on the amazing people we met. Linda Thornton is a remarkable individual who has touched each of us in many ways.

Who knew someone else's life story, passion and vision for the future could open our eyes to the idea that anything is possible? She has overcome so many odds, leaped each hurdle thrown her way and still stands strong -- an image we wish to show you in the upcoming documentary.

Today we laid out a rough sketch of our documentary’s timeline on a six-foot-long sheet of white paper. We are starting to brainstorm approaches to the opening and closing scenes.

One of our classmates gathered everyone's availability for editing and the schedule is close to being posted in our Avid room.  In this post-production process, we are transcribing remaining interviews before we start capturing the rest of the footage on the computer and organizing shots and sections into bins.

Many of us have carried the warmth of the Belizean people back with us. As our journey continues the students and professors had remarkable comments about their experience filming this documentary, learning about shrimp farming and experiencing the Belizean lifestyle.

Dr. Maria Luskay: “This was truly a great experience.  I’m so proud of my students and the work that they have accomplished.  Linda Thornton is a great woman whose story needs to be told.  I look so forward to another award winning documentary. “

Professor Andrew Revkin:  “I've met a lot of amazing people overcoming long odds using wile, endurance, creativity and other traits. There are a few standouts, such as Sister Michael Mary Nolan, an American nun who worked with slum kids during Brazil's dictatorship but became a prosecuting lawyer after seeing the police murder one child after the other. Linda Thornton, with both grit and humor and endless optimism, is right up at the top of the heap.”

Yilan Wang:  “I think I really learned a lot from this experience.  I learned shooting, logging and transcribing techniques of which are vital in the production industry.  I made new friends and maybe next time I will not be as shy.  I’ll always remember Belize.”

Pedro Rivera:  “Belize was a great experience.  It gave the entire crew and I a chance to see a different side of the world that many people do not get a chance to see.  Linda Thornton was by far one of the most interesting people I have come to meet.  I’m enjoying the opportunity to be more of a leader on this trip and we are looking forward to finishing this project.”

Lauren Ostrofsky: “Going to Belize consisted of many surprises and opportunities that I never anticipated. Getting to live inside the footsteps of an amazing woman who has gone through many twists and turns and never gave up is inspirational. This trip can only be described as one in a million. I will never forget what I have learned. Belize is a jewel the world has in its own right – from the landscape and exotic blue-green water, to the Mayan dances and museum, Placencia and Carrie Bow Caye, words can’t describe this experience and saying “thank you” is never enough. Regardless, Thank you Linda, my fellow classmates, Andy and Dr. Luskay for letting me experience Belize with you and creating what will be an extraordinary documentary film.”

Martin Totland:  "Filming on location taught me so much about the filmmaking process, like what's going to be necessary for the editing process and how to get the best shots.  And as far as location goes, it doesn't get much better than Belize."

Alexandra Frye: “Going to Belize and getting to know Linda Thornton was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.  The country is absolutely gorgeous and Linda is truly an amazing woman.  We’ve all learned so much from this trip, and I hope to return one day.”

Harrison C. Davies:  "I feel like we already have so much more material to work with and go through than we did last year, thanks to some crew discussions on location, we really have a nice starting outline, and of course we have great correspondents from Linda, who without a doubt will carry our story."

Emily Tuczinski:  “The journey to Belize has impacted my life in many positive ways.  Witnessing the poverty, especially within the rural areas, was a reminder of how fortunate we are to even participate in a travel documentary course.  The Belizean people were so warm and willing to help us everywhere we went.  Even the orange truck driver who stopped for us on the side of the road made a lasting impression.  I’ve learned so much about filming and the fellow students I work with are incredibly talented.  I have faith that we will be able to produce a dynamic piece of work.”

Molly Forman:  “Trying to capture the life of such a remarkable woman in three afternoons was no easy task.  Though it wasn’t easy, it was one of the best weeks in my life.  Learning about a proactive woman pioneer while surrounded by the beauty of Belize was certainly awe-inspiring.”

Zachary Dalva:  “This is an exciting time for us as we will edit an incredible documentary.”

Yan Zhang:  “This was a once in a lifetime experience!  It liberates my mind, body and soul.  And I’m pleasantly surprised that I met my fellow Chinese at different places at Belize.  This documentary will definitely change my life.”

Megan Katuran:  “Belize was a completely new experience.  You do all this research and get an idea in your head, but when we got to the actual shrimp farms I was blown away.  Linda Thornton was one of the most influential women I have ever met.  I can’t wait to make a documentary that captures her essence. “ 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Farewell Belize!

For our final day in Belize, we spent the morning shooting some b-roll at South Water Caye.  The weather was absolutely beautiful and the scenery couldn't be more perfect. The beauty that surrounded us was truly incredible.  In the afternoon, we took the boat over to Carrie Bow Caye Field Station at the Smithsonian Institute, which is located on a tiny island not far from South Water Caye.  There we learned about the fascinating research they’ve been doing over the years to preserve their coral reefs. It was a very interesting place to visit and Bonnie, one of the island caretakers, was truly passionate about everything Carrie Bow Caye has to offer.  After leaving, we observed the reefs that surrounded South Water Caye and its inhabitants through the clear blue-green sea.

That evening, a few students filmed the sunset and the “Super Moon”, while others brainstormed on our documentary’s timeline in preparation for the editing planned for the weeks ahead.  Lastly, we finished up on transcribing and logging footage from the previous day.

The last day in Belize flew by. After an amazing week filming, most of us went to bed early that night. The next day was our departure to head home and our water taxi was picking us up at 6:30am. It was going to be an early morning. 

We woke for a quick breakfast and all headed to the pier at 6:30am on a boat to Dangriga Town where we took the infamous bus that supposedly has nine lives. After loading up and getting on the road, not to our surprise, we had to pull over for yet another leak!  This time the bus was leaking a different fluid - oil. Rhonesh, our bus driver, quickly fixed the leak.  We all prematurely thought to ourselves, “What else can seriously go wrong?” During one of these pit stops, one student sarcastically asked if we were at the airport, but that was not the case. Little did we know this wasn’t the last pit stop. To stay on schedule, we knew we had no time to waste or to get stuck and within a few minutes, we were back on the road.

All of a sudden, BAM!, we heard a loud bang. Startled, many of us jumped out of our seats as the bus, without swaying, came to a complete stop. Much to our surprise, the hood of the bus released and the loud noise we heard was that of the hood smashing into the window. Although the window shattered, luckily it was only the top layer. Rhonesh, with much frustration, quickly locked the hood back into its appropriate position and we continued on to the airport for our 1:30pm boarding time.

With time to spare we – finally – made it to the airport, gathered our belongings, said farewell and started our journey back to the United States. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just Keep Swimming!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Instead of attending the typical parade, we split the day between exploring a remarkable reef and getting down to business blogging and logging video from our visits to the shrimp farms.

Our underwater excursion took place at Angel Reef, a portion of the world’s second largest barrier reef.  We captured great underwater footage of distinctive aquatic life, ranging from giant rays to Nemo-sized fish flicking around multicolored corals.

Following our return from our snorkeling trip, we rounded up the cameras and got to work. Most of the group began logging video and transcribing our final interview with Linda Thornton at Haney Farms. Some of us decided to take advantage of the beauty at South Water Caye by filming tons of B-roll, industry shorthand for video setting the scene for a film.

Around sunset, the team finally began to sit back, relax and celebrate on this St. Patty’s Day.

Stumbling toward Paradise

Waking up to a thunderstorm should have been an indicator of how the day was going to go. After our final breakfast at Sherl’s restaurant in Independence Village, we boarded the bus to start the second leg of our trip. The destination was a quiet resort on South Water Caye, an island off the coast. It didn’t take long before chaos theory paid a visit.

Just seven miles from Dangriga, with our driver, Rhonesh, nursing a nearly empty tank of diesel, he pulled over to meet up with a van bringing some fuel. A close call seemed to have been averted, but as he tried to restart the bus, we heard a loud thud and knew that we were not going anywhere.

Upon further investigation, we saw a green fluorescent liquid leaking out from under the bus, which we later found out was radiator fluid. While stranded on the side of the road, a truck full of freshly picked oranges pulled over and offered a delicious snack.

After a half hour, Rhonesh’s company sent a replacement bus and we continued our way. We arrived at the Pelican Bay resort in Dangriga – a sister hotel to our lodging on the island – and were excited to discover free wi-fi. Everyone with a computer feverishly started blogging and checking emails. We even had a chance to see our journey and blog featured on the homepage of Pace University!

Quickly it was time to head to South Water Caye. We expected a smooth ferry ride but, as we approached the pier, were startled to see a 30-foot-long high-powered speedboat. The skipper ordered life jackets on all around and no one hesitated.

The boat sliced through the choppy seas at close to 30 miles per hour, but anxiety about seasickness faded and the quick trip ended with the boat pulling in over glassy clear water to an island pier, where we were welcomed by smiling staff and, soon after, had lunch and snorkeling lessons.

We’ll be spending our final three days in Belize logging our footage, filming b-roll, transcribing interviews and developing a script outline – and getting wet when we can!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Last Day with Linda

It‘s a big day, the pressure is on. This is why we came to Belize. Today, we interview Linda Thornton.But first we needed to visit one more shrimp farm -- Haney Farm, a partner of Aqua Mar. At the ponds, we filmed as workers cast nets to check the size, weight and health of the shrimp.

We moved to the extraordinary gardens at the farm, which is also a sprawling orchard. Seated amid gardenias and orchids, Linda answered all our questions, building a picture of a life of resilience and endurance and capturing her spirit of relentless optimism.

When asked what keeps her up at night given the big, costly operations she runs, Linda smiled and said, nothing really, except squawking birds. It was an informative, emotional and compelling interview and a great way to wrap up our exploration of shrimp farming and Linda’s remarkable life.

After the interview, Mr. Haney, who created this farm, led us on a pickup-truck tour of the orchards, weaving through coffee and allspice shrubs, cashew, teak, mahogany, mango and jack fruit trees (jack fruit is the biggest fruit in the world). 

He jumped out at one point and tossed an armful of pickle-shaped fruits at those in the back of the pickups. They were crisp and refreshing but as mouth puckering as a handful of Sour Patch Kids candy.

After departing Haney Farms, it was on to Maya Center, home of the world’s first Maya Museum, which was established in 2010. The museum is run by Mr. Julio Saqui, whose family was relocated from the rainforest by the government to make way for a national park set up to protect jaguars. 

He founded the museum to bring the rich Mayan culture both “forward and back to the people.” Many children, he explained, had lost their awareness of traditions in a flood of microwave ovens and TV. We learned how Mayans lived using only natural resources, getting everything they needed from the rainforest. He showed us traditional musical instruments and even persuaded several students to dance traditional dances. 

We watched his wife, Eleodora, make corn tortillas and got the opportunity to make our own on a clay sheet over a fire. 

Mr. Saqui then acted as our guide for an hour-long hike through Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, a 128,000-acre preserve. We hiked through the rainforest until we reached a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole, where most of us jumped in to cool off.

After returning from the preserve, we had one more stop, and it may have been the highlight of the trip. 

Linda Thornton hosted a dinner party for the group at her spacious, Spanish-style home on a hill overlooking forests and fields and Cardelli Farms. On the menu, shrimp of course, Mexican style! Besides sharing food and drink, Linda shared more of her life, showing us photo albums and reeling off more tales. We ended the night with laughter and hugs, having come full circle on why we came here in the first place. 

At home with Linda
We made a new friend and memories we will never forget. The visit provided a perfect conclusion to our days in Independence, Belize. 

Now it’s time to make a film!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Shrimp Farming 101 at Aqua Mar

It was not even 8am and we were off to Aqua Mar, the largest shrimp farm in Belize, for the second day of our project. Owned by Michael Duncker and managed by Linda Thornton, Aqua Mar is a massive, multimillion dollar establishment covering around 1,000 acres. It is comprised of 90 ponds and raises shrimp from eggs to half-foot giants.  There are over 100 employees, including more than a dozen specialists in research and technology. Each night, 4 staff members sleep overnight to manage risks ranging from power outages to raids by seafood thieves.
Upon arrival, we interviewed Mr. Duncker about the history of the Aqua Mar farm and Linda’s role in the company. He told us that Linda was the one he needed to manage his farm for her experience and knowledge. According to him, 90 percent of Aqua Mar’s shrimp are exported, but only rarely to the U.S.
After wrapping up the interview, we drove to see the farm’s hatcheries. We saw shrimp at all different life stages in the hatcheries, tanks and ponds. The full-grown shrimp, which are used for breeding, were much larger than we had ever seen. The smallest were so tiny that staff members viewed them under microscopes. During our tour of the facilities, Linda and her staff explained each stage of shrimp production.

The first building contained the largest shrimp –which are given a special diet and are living egg factories. According to Linda, typical female shrimp reproduce once a year. At Aqua Mar however, they reproduce once a week and each female produces around 200,000 babies. We learned that while only one percent of those fry survive in the wild, 25-50 percent survive at Aqua Mar.  A staff member, Bartolo Cal, held a flapping and uncooperative shrimp above the water to describe its features and an undergraduate on the filmmaking team, was daring enough to lower a waterproof camera into the tank to get underwater footage of the swimming shrimp.

Our crew then toured the outdoor tanks where shrimp in the later developmental stages are farmed. Luis Carlos Vergara, Aqua Mar’s Hatchery Manager, held up a glass container holding month-old shrimp that were nearly transparent.  Linda said it was helpful to be able to see the shrimp’s digestive tract in monitoring their health.
Just before we returned to Independence Village we witnessed the feeding of shrimp at a few ponds equipped with large aerators. We got some great footage after setting up the tripod in the back of Linda’s parked pickup truck. Also, some of us went up the rooftop of a tower at Aqua Mar to get some aerial footage.

Just before sunset we called it a day and enjoyed a nice dinner in Independence. Walking home from dinner, a few students came across a local store that happened to be selling shrimp. The owner, who immigrated to Belize from China 20 years ago, buys some varieties of shrimp from Aquamar. In fact, she told us that most Chinese restaurants in the area buy shrimp from Aqua Mar.
Soon we’ll be posting video clips giving the full sweep of action around the vast facility.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Shooting Day 1 and Production Has Just Begun!

We woke up excited to finally meet Linda Thornton whom we’ve been researching for the past two months.  Linda arrived at Hotel Hello to greet us around 8:45am.  After our initial introductions we loaded everyone on the bus to Cardelli Farms.  Two students accompanied Linda in her truck in order to film a casual interview.

When we got to Cardelli, the 400 acre farm, we were surrounded by two large rectangular ponds.  As media students we are always searching for the perfect shot.  On top of the hill, in between the two ponds, we found a great panoramic view of the farm.  This became the best place to film our first interview with Linda.

Professor Andrew Revkin conducted the brief interview with Linda.  We will be conducting a more formal interview within the next couple of days.  Linda described her role in the sustainable shrimp farming industry.  She discussed her reason for opening Cardelli farms and why Belizean shrimp are among the best in the world. 

“Imagine an eyelash with two little eyes on the end”, said Linda, as she was trying to assist us in locating some of these infant shrimp.  We had a difficult time finding these tiny crustaceans because of the sun’s reflection off the pool.

A Cardelli Farm employee came by to feed the shrimp, and one rather daring graduate student laid on the floor of a small canoe in order to film.  She left feeling a little less dry than she had before entering the boat.  Witnessing Cardelli Farms first hand really gave us a sample of what’s to come.  Cardelli is a fraction of the size of the next farm, Aqua Mar.

After our day of filming, we took the Hokey Pokey Ferry to the more tourist driven town of Placencia.  At the beach we were able to catch our breath and enjoy the sun, since this past winter was filled with an abundance of snow and ice in New York.  We know our journey has just begun and we look forward to what’s in store for us as we continue exploring this beautiful Central American country.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Are we there yet??"

“Meet me at the group gate on the upper level of Terminal C,” the text message ran across our cell phone screens as we were arriving at Newark International Airport. As we began to gather, a twist truly started our day. It was only 7 a.m. but WAIT!!!! “Where are Lexi and Molly?”

Our group received word that our classmates were stuck in traffic due to a horrific bus accident south bound on I-95. They arrived with only 5 minutes left to board.  Our flight successfully took off at 8:50am.  Most of us caught up on much needed sleep.  As we approached our destination we admired the breathtaking views of the Central American coastline, the blue-green Caribbean Sea and it’s beautiful reefs.  We have now arrived to the lovely country of Belize. 

To our surprise, we exited the airport to see a MUCH smaller bus then expected, leaving us to wonder if everything and everyone would fit.  After a 4 ½ hour flight and a few hours on the road, “Are we there yet????” was the question on everyone’s mind.  Five hours into our road trip every house, store, and bus stop suddenly became “Hotel Hello.”   Day turned to dusk and dusk turned to night, during which we saw incredible scenery, lush forests, a mountain called “The Sleeping Giant,” and expansive brush fires. 

After 14 hours we got to say hello to “Hotel Hello,” in Independence Village within  the Stann Creek district.  We settled in and gathered together for our first Belizean feast.  We sat at a long Thanksgiving-style table and enjoyed homemade rice and delicious chicken topped with famous hot sauce from Marie Sharp, a Belizean entrepreneur. 

Now it’s time to say goodnight as we prepare for day 1 of filming and our first adventure at a shrimp farm.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Preliminary Interviews... and so it begins!

During the pre-production process, we contacted three individuals who are highly proficient and knowledgeable of the shrimp farming and aquaculture in Belize.

A few students contacted Sean Ledwin of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  Mr. Ledwin wrote his Graduate thesis about the ecological effects of shrimp farming in Belize (After speaking with him, he suggested we contact several people including Mr. Timothy Smith and Adrian Vernon, a Belizean naturalist.  Mr. Ledwin spent much time doing research in Belize.  He knows Linda Thornton from previously engaging in writing his thesis for Michigan and is familiar with all three shrimp farms that we will be visiting. Upon our return from Belize, we will be interviewing Mr. Ledwin.

We recently conducted a preliminary interview with Timothy Smith, an Ecologist with Brooksmith Consulting and the World Wildlife Fund.  It was a success.  The interview took place for about four to five minutes in our media lab via skype.  We recorded both audio and video.  He gave us vital information about the environmental effects of shrimp farming, noting new techniques that have been adopted within shrimp aquaculture at Aquamar that we should not miss.

While students were experiencing hands-on pre-production filming Smith, the other students were brainstorming effective questions for Dr. Anthony Michaels’ interview, which took place Friday via Skype as well. Dr. Anthony Michaels is the owner of Proteus Environmental Technologie, where he has been Director of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Technologies for 12 years. An expert in ecology and sustainable aquaculture, he is now co-Founder and Managing Director of Proteus Environmental Technologies. During the interview, Dr. Michaels talked about the different types of shrimp farming techniques. He identified that indefinable “ultimate-intensive” technique of shrimp farming methods will create this profession’s future. He also touched base on the issues that the industry faces.  Some of the issues he identified during our interviewed were based on water drainage and bacteria. To him, sustainable shrimp farming is of great importance to human beings because shrimp is seafood of enormous nutritional value.

During the interviews a group of students took practice sessions outside to become more familiar and comfortable using the camera correctly.  They went over some basics, for example, white balancing, manually focusing, using the menu bar, etc. 

And so the countdown begins, 7 days until our departure... You better Belize it!