A photo of a person and a video camera seperated by a fallen tree. At the end of the fallen tree another person is sitting on one of the branches
A look behind the camera during an interview with Huda Kadhim, one of the subjects of the Media Production class documentary “Growing Through the Motions.” Isaac Martin (right) conducts the interview. (Photo by Nikkita Taylor)

VCU media entrepreneurship students reflect the class mission: They form a production company and film a documentary

In the Robertson School, they join forces under instructor Robert Milazzo, and their look at college life will screen on Dec. 6.

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During the first week of his media entrepreneurship class this semester, instructor Robert Milazzo scrapped his plan to have students develop individual commercial projects. Instead, he thought about a group project – without knowing what the project would be.

So Milazzo, the media production sequence coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, asked his 24 students anonymously if they were open to the notion – they were – and to vote on various ideas they submitted.

“They all voted unanimously to do the same project, which was really exciting for me,” Milazzo said.

The subject, proposed by Isaac Martin, a junior majoring in mass communications with a concentration in media production, was to create a documentary on a small, diverse group of university students. To bring it to life, the classmates in Milazzo’s MASC 410 ended up forming 410 Productions to make “Growing Through the Motions.” The student company says the documentary “follows the diverse pathways of three undergraduates, exploring what it truly means to be a modern college student, including all the possibilities and complexities of school, home and social life, within an ever-shifting technological, educational and cultural climate.”

Throughout the semester, the students filled roles as producers, film production specialists, marketers and postproduction technicians.

A free public screening of “Growing Through the Motions” will be held Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. in the Grace E. Harris Hall auditorium. The event, organized by the MASC 410 students, will feature other student films, refreshments and live music before the documentary screening.

A photo of a man holding a video camera while standing in front of a large screen which shows two people filming another person on a set.
Robert Milazzo, instructor and media production sequence coordinator at VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture, stands in front of a still image of some of his Media Entrepreneurship students videoing a subject for the “Growing Through the Motions” documentary they are producing. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Milazzo was impressed by his students’ professionalism and passion in developing the project.

“I said, if we’re going to do a project of 24 people, you have to treat each other the way you would treat me – meaning, if someone in your group says, ‘This is the deadline for this,’ you have to honor it as if it’s my deadline,” Milazzo said. “That was no transition at all. They jumped on that and did it. To have young people sign on was amazing. It was liberating.”

In the previous semester, Milazzo’s media entrepreneurship students worked independently to produce apps and other projects. But this semester’s group project has given students collaborative experience in a real-world simulation.

Craig Martin, a junior mass communications major with a concentration in media production, was press lead for 410 Productions, helping create a press release and graphics for social media. Posts on the 410 Productions Instagram account featured the students and highlighted different elements of their work on “Growing Through the Motions,” such as production, marketing and postproduction, as well as behind-the-scenes reels to promote the project. The marketing team also reached out to media and affinity groups.

A photo of four people standing in a bridge in a circle. A man and woman on the left hold video cameras. A man on the front right side is holding a microphone. A woman on the back right is looking down and holding a water bottle.
Camera operators Cameryn Turner (left) and Nikkita Taylor (center) filming an interview with Huda Kadhim (center-right). Isaac Martin (right) conducts the interview. (Photo by Hazel Hoffman)

“I think there’s only so much that you can get from just a lecture-based class, or a class where you do a lot of in-class assignments,” Martin said. “That doesn’t really apply to the media world, especially for freelance videographers, which I would want to do. You just have to get started doing it yourself and be in the process of what a production is. We’re simulating what our life would be after college, in the real world.”

Kristen Furlo, also a junior mass comm major with a concentration in Media Production, said the class has strengthened her skills and confidence to pursue a career in media production.

“I always go into this class excited about our project, and Milazzo creates this family atmosphere where you feel safe to share your ideas and flourish in your creativity,” said Furlo, who has been one of the heads of casting, producing, marketing, press outreach and fundraising.

Ashley Miller, a senior who is a mass communications major focusing on media production and production manager for 410 Productions, got a taste of TV while working on the Apple TV+ series “Swagger,” which was filmed in Richmond.

“We’re doing something that movie production companies do professionally,” Miller, an aspiring TV writer, said of the “Growing Through the Motions” documentary. “That’s not normal. A movie takes like four months to film, maybe a year. We’re doing it in two months. So it’s been really time-consuming. But when I’m actively doing it, it’s fun. I’ll leave and be like, ‘Oh, that was so cool. That was so exciting.’”

Milazzo structures his class around the craft of media entrepreneurship, and discussions focus on students’ questions about the processes surrounding their work. For benchmarking assignments, students summarize work they have done over two-week intervals. And he grades students on effort.

Implicit in his class format is Milazzo letting go of some control. He said this semester’s group project highlights his confidence in students leading the way – and shows how VCU students “feel seen” when showcased by their peers.

“My goal since I stepped into VCU,” Milazzo said, “is I want VCU’s students to know that people will take them seriously and their voice matters.”