Booker T. Mattison has been focused on “The Sound of Christmas” not just during the holiday season, but all year long.
Mattison, an assistant professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies at Grady College, was tapped to write and direct “The Sound of Christmas,” a holiday film debuting on the streaming service BET+ on Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day. It stars Grammy-winning recording artist Ne-Yo and Serayah (“Empire”) in a story about a widower who falls in love with a music teacher who brings love and music back to the family during the holidays.
The musical is based on the novel, “The Replacement Wife,” by Tiffany L. Warren, who is a friend of Mattison’s. She recommended Mattison to write and direct.
“It’s a good example of what I tell my students…relationship capital is more valuable than any currency,” Mattison said.
Mattison spent 12 days in March filming the movie, but that is only a fraction of the time spent on the project. Countless hours were spent researching concepts for the film, studying music cues, and script analysis.
“Script analysis is remarkably important,” Mattison, who was screenwriter and director for the film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s story “The Gilded Six Bits,” on Showtime, said. “It’s part of your world building but also part of characterization. It’s how you get depth and dimensionality and is so incredibly important.”
The original songs for the film were recorded in Atlanta’s Einnor studios the day before principal photography began.
While Mattison appreciated the challenge working with Ne-Yo and the rest of the cast, this was his first time writing and directing a musical.
“Most of my movies [are dramas and] tend to be dark,” Mattison admits, “but, the most important thing to me is that it is a good story, which this is.”
Mattison teaches classes in directing, screenwriting and the production capstone course at Grady, and brings lessons he learned on set into the classroom.
“Everything I do professionally on set is a potential learning tool. The most important lesson I can teach my students is creating fail safes that will help them prepare to deviate when changes come,” Mattison said.
“The reward for me is if this becomes a movie that everyone looks forward to during the Christmas season and that people sing the songs after watching the movie,” Mattison said.
Mattison has recently committed to his next project— writing and directing the Tubi-original film, “Twisted Marriage Therapist” (working title), a psychological feature-length thriller for MarVista Entertainment to stream on Tubi.
View the trailer for The Sound of Christmas above.
Eleven Grady College professors are teaching first-year odyssey seminars this semester. The goal of these seminars are to provide first-year students with the opportunity to engage with faculty members and other first-year students in a small classroom setting.
Professors chose a topic of their interest and craft a course tailored to first-year students. Courses span across all departments, and topics this fall range from telenovelas to film festivals to fake news.
Dean Krugman, Booker T. Mattison and Ivanka Pjesivac share their experience teaching first-year seminars this fall.
Developing a Perspective on the Changing Media Landscape
Dean Krugman is a professor emeritus in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. Prior to his official retirement in 2011, he taught courses in advertising management and advertising and society to undergraduates, as well as a graduate course in advertising management and communication theory.
Krugman held positions including department head and senior associate dean, “but nothing was as rewarding as teaching and doing research,” he said.
This year, he has returned to Grady College to teach a first-year odyssey seminar in changing media.
“This presented a great opportunity to come back and get in touch with students. It’s been really, really enjoyable,” he said.
His course on changing media is designed for students to understand how they consume media.
“The idea is for the students to build an intelligent and critical perspective of the media they’re using,” Krugman said.
Krugman says the classroom has always energized him, but that it’s been great to see how enthusiastic his students have been about sharing their views and receiving feedback. During the second week of class, students were assigned with writing a critique. Krugman said when he walked into class that day and asked if anyone wanted to share their critique, all 17 hands went up.
Krugman says the most rewarding part of teaching the course so far has been watching students grasp concepts, build on those concepts, and use those concepts in their work.
He says the first-year odyssey program is an enriching experience for students, and he credits UGA’s central administration for holding onto and championing this program.
The Short Film – A Lens of the Human Experience
Professor Booker T. Mattison’s course on short films uses films as both a genre and as an opportunity to examine humanity.
As a working writer and director, Mattison says “it’s nice to share with students not just what they learn in the textbook, but what’s happening in real time in the industry.”
Each week, Mattison screens a different short film – four of which he directed.
Students then write a response in class.
Mattison says it’s important for students to respond in real time so that other students do not influence their opinions. He says he hopes by doing it this way, discussions in his course are unvarnished.
For the final assignment, Mattison’s students will choose one of the films they’ve reviewed this semester and write an analysis.
He hopes the main takeaway for students in this course is that they will be able to look at visual media more critically, see themselves in visual media, and use that knowledge to better interact with others.
“The unique thing about film is that 100% of students on this campus watch movies,” he says. “The opportunity to then talk to a filmmaker and ask questions is pretty unique.”
Fake News, Misinformation and Propaganda: How to Deal with Information Disorder
Dr. Ivanka Pjesivac’s course covers topics of misinformation, disinformation and propaganda in the digital world. Pjesivac’s course begins with an explanation of misinformation, and then delves into a historical perspective of misinformation.
Pjesivac says it’s important to teach this to first-year students, who are more vulnerable to misinformation.
“I think it’s important for young people to get digital media literacy skills as soon as they can,” she says. “It’s especially important for first-year students to be familiarized with some of the characteristics of misinformation, and how to distinguish true information from false information.”
She says it’s important to expose first-year students to the research potential at UGA. In addition to lectures, she takes her students to the special collections library to view first-hand propaganda material, and takes the class to visit some of the research labs in Grady.
Pjesivac says it’s exciting to see an interest in news and misinformation among her students, many of whom are not pre-journalism or pre-Grady students.
“I see that there is a general interest among a variety of young people to learn about our current digital media ecosystem and how to navigate it,” she says.
By the end of the course, she hopes her students will have the tools to identify suspicious information and justify their skepticism.
Pjesivac says the most rewarding part of teaching this seminar is being able to apply her research to a class setting, and to expand the knowledge at Grady College to other majors.
Editor’s Note: Comments trimmed for length and clarity.
Grady College is also happy to recognize the 2021-22 recipient of the Roland Page Award for Outstanding Graduate Faculty:
Sabriya Rice, Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism, Journalism.
The Teachers of the Year are annually selected by their peers, based on excellence in the classroom and student feedback. The recipient of the Roland Page Award for Outstanding Graduate Faculty is annually nominated and selected by graduate students.
“Winning the Teacher of the Year award in one of our departments is saying something, because these hallways are lined with award-winning teachers. It takes a superb effort to rise to the top of this competition,” said Charles Davis, dean of Grady College.
Cantrell-Bickley, who previously spent more than 30 years in various roles for television news stations, is known by students for her enthusiasm, high energy, interesting and inspiring stories and persistent willingness to help students both inside the classroom and during the job hunt.
“(Professor Cantrell-Bickley) communicates a lifetime of experience in easy-to-understand and widely applicable techniques, quotes, witticisms, and when need be, lectures. All of this is done in a frank and personable manner with respect to who students are and who we are developing into as people,” wrote one student.
“The Journalism Department is so lucky to have Dodie,” added Janice Hume, head of the Journalism Department and the Carolyn McKenzie and Don E. Carter Chair for Excellence in Journalism. “She offers students the perfect mix of professional rigor and support. She does as much for students outside the classroom.”
Mattison, a filmmaker and author, uses his large bank of experiences writing and directing to teach his students what it takes to create stellar films.
“Some students in his directing and capstone courses come away with award-winning films. But they all come away with invaluable knowledge, experience and insight into the skill, inspiration and determination it takes to create an entire, original visual story from the ground up,” said Jay Hamilton, head of the EMST Department and the Jim Kennedy New Media Professor.
Outside of the classroom, Mattison recently finished shooting for his upcoming film “Sound of Christmas,” which stars musical artist and actor Ne-Yo and will air on BET during the holidays.
Pfeuffer is known as an avid proponent of active learning, a teaching method that focuses on engaging with students through discussion and problem solving.
“Professor Pfeuffer is absolutely amazing. He’s so understanding and so concerned about every one of his students. He makes sure we understand the material, while still being genuinely concerned about our workloads,” wrote one of his students.
“Alex is a beloved professor who teaches tough core courses in the curriculum,” added Bryan Reber, head of the AdPR Department and C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership. “The fact that students express the fact that they don’t have to come to his classes, but they want to come to them, speaks volumes.”
Smith, who specializes in teaching Graphic Communication, is beloved by her students for preparing them with applicable skills for their careers.
“Kristen is an excellent instructor!” wrote one of her students. “She was always engaging and excited about our work and eager to both give helpful feedback and listen to students’ ideas. I feel like I learned a lot about graphic design, to the point that I would feel comfortable doing graphic design work when necessary in my career.”
“Kristen Smith continually embraces new pedagogical models in her teaching,” added Reber. “Even when it means that it will increase her workload, she is willing to take the plunge and try new ways to critique and grade student design work. Kristen is a remarkably dedicated teacher. Our students are fortunate when they wind up in her classes.”
Rice is an expert health and medical journalist and communications professional with experience reporting for some of the nation’s top news organizations and serving as the director of media relations for the American Cancer Society. She is praised by her students as a mentor inside and outside of the classroom.
“Professor Rice has gone above and beyond countless times for me and my peers in and outside of the classroom,” said one graduate student. “She helped me network and helped me get an assistant producer freelance job that I am enjoying so much!”
The short film showcases collaboration from EMST students and alumni.
“AMERICAN Triptych,” a new short film from Booker T Mattison, assistant professor of Entertainment and Media Studies, is set to premiere December 3.
This short film is a triptych, meaning it is three separate works of art that are unified by a common theme. The commonality in this triptych is Covid-19.
The film features three narrative chapters. Each highlights a different protagonist — one white American, one Asian-American and one African-American. Through those lenses, the film explores food insecurity, homelessness, xenophobia and police brutality all amid the Covid-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020.
“”AMERICAN Triptych” also serves as a veritable showcase of the talent that we have in the department of entertainment and Media studies in Grady College, the Design & Technology MFA in the Department of Theatre and Film Studies at Franklin College and our new MFA in Film, TV Production and Digital Media,” said Mattison.
Mattison is the film’s writer and director. Shandra McDonald, the film’s producer, is based at Trillith Studios. Bryan Cole is the film’s editor.
Julie Ray and Ivan Ingermann, the production designer and costume designer, teach in the Design & Technology MFA.
Dave Kruetzer, the gaffer, teaches production in the Film Studies department.
The cinematographer is Garland McLaurin, a Peabody Award-winning cinematographer who previously taught EMST students.
“AMERICAN Triptych” is a group effort with faculty, alumni and current students. The film gave UGA students an opportunity to work on a professional production with award-winning filmmakers.
Cyrus Townsend (AB ’19) worked as the assistant editor. Townsend is currently a content operations edit apprentice at WarnerMedia Studios. He is excited about the ever-growing community of filmmakers in Georgia.
“I loved getting back and touch with Mattison and a lot of my peers from UGA,” Townsend said. “I feel as though it’s poetic that after the pandemic, I felt very distant from my peers and this film about people going through the pandemic is what brings us back together!”
Demi Lehman is a double major in EMST and Theatre. She is one of the actors in “AMERICAN Triptych.” She had briefly met Mattison in Dean Charles Davis’ career explorations class designed to introduce pre-Grady students to opportunities within the college. Lehman recognized Mattison’s name on a casting call website for actors. That led to an audition and being cast for the role.
“My favorite part of this project was how kind and collaborative everyone was throughout the entire process,” Lehman said. “It was even cooler for me to see how students and faculty from UGA came together to create a really impressive and efficient set. It was the perfect blend of both of my majors and I got to see the skills I’ve learned in a classroom in action on set.”
Other students involved in the film include Samantha Eubanks, design production assistant, Cash Robinson, key grip, Brandt Tharpe, camera production assistant and second assistant director and Cullen Herter, who shadowed the production.
There is a UGA Spotlight on the Arts virtual event on November 17 where guests can learn about the art of collaboration in filmmaking and ask questions. In addition to Mattison, participants include McDonald, Ray, Ingermann, and Cole, all from Theatre and Film Studies. All five panelists are involved in teaching within UGA’s new MFA program in Film, Television, and Digital Media. Register here.
The film premieres on Friday, December 3 at 6 p.m. in the Balcony Theatre at the Fine Arts Building. Masks are strongly encouraged at the screening.
Many university faculty members collaborate with one another on research or projects for the good of the community, but for Booker T. Mattison and Garland McLaurin, their collaboration draws on more creative elements—those of filmmaking.
Mattison, an assistant professor, and McLaurin, a lecturer, each are relatively new additions to the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies at Grady College, and the two graduates of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts knew that they wanted to work together on projects not just in the classroom, but outside, as well.
If their first collaboration, “Ungubani (Who Are You?)” is any indication, this is just the start of more films to come.
“It’s been a great relationship,” said McLaurin who worked as the cinematographer and a producer for the movie. “It’s been good to work with someone in the department who’s in the same creative space that you’re in and have that collaborative effort with a friend but also a fellow faculty member.”
“Ungubani” is gaining a lot of attention thanks to its acceptance at numerous film festivals, which are mainly virtual events since the pandemic. Festivals that the short 15-minute film has been accepted include the Harlem International Film Festival in New York City; the Deep in the Heart Film Festival in Waco, Texas; the Roxbury International Film Festival in Boston, Massachusetts; and the Cineodyssey Film Festival in Charlotte, North Carolina, among others.
There are also two Academy Award qualifying festivals that have accepted “Ungubani”—the St. Louis International Film Festival and the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival—which means if it wins best short film at either festival, it will be eligible for an Academy Award nomination.
“Ungubani” won Best of Competition in the Narrative Category of the BEA Festival of Media Arts last spring.
Mattison and McLaurin explain that the film festival circuit provides extra visibility for films through added viewers and also a juried competition. Most importantly, it’s a showcase of what the filmmakers can do individually and collectively.
“It’s a business card that utilizes sound, performance, imagery and story,” according to Mattison. He also likens it to the NFL Combine: “The power brokers come to discover new talent.”
Like many other events in a pandemic world, Mattison, the director and a producer of the film, has been connecting with festival viewers over Zoom to discuss the messages of the film and answer questions.
“Ungubani” focuses on a young Black man who puts himself at risk to help a young white woman.
Mattison said he had been looking for a project to direct with McLaurin and when he read the script, he knew he wanted to be involved.
“The film is about identity, perception and race,” Mattison explained. “At the end, the characters are not who you think they are in the beginning. Viewers are constantly peeling back layers of the characters and come to realize that they can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Other advantages of the collaboration between the two faculty members are the benefits it brings to students. For instance, former students and now alumni Jacob Hale (AB ’18), Natalie Garcia (AB ’20) and Sheldyn Moore (AB ’20) served as the gaffer, director’s assistant and production assistant, respectively, on the film. Moore is now in the inaugural class of the MFA Film program.
Department of Theatre students Leah Merritt and Robyn Accetta acted in the film.
“I like to extend my pedagogy beyond the walls of the classroom. It’s one thing to tell the students how to make a film, but another to be able to show them how it is made. It’s really a great opportunity for them and us.”
“Ungubani” will be distributed early 2021 on the Urban Movie Channel.
Mattison and Garland’s work together is expected to continue. Mattison, who is known for his work as the screenwriter and director for the film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s story “The Gilded Six Bits,” which aired on Showtime and McLaurin, who won a Peabody Award for “180 Days A Year Inside an American High School” and “180 Days Hartsville,” are currently working on a television series pitch.
“I’m basically Robin to his Batman,” McLaurin explained with a laugh.
Grady EMST students won four statewide awards at the Georgia Communication Association sponsored 2020 Student Film Festival.
To honor award recipients, an awards dinner and ceremony took place on Friday, Feb. 21, at the GCA 90th Annual Conventionat Georgia Highlands College in Cartersville, Georgia.
Among the winners, Kiana Washington won first place for her documentary, “Breaking the Box.”
“I am so honored and thankful that my film was recognized as a winner of the Georgia Communication Association student film festival,” said Washington. “I made this film in my documentary class last semester, and it was the first film that I made mostly on my own with a story I was proud to shine some light on. In creating this documentary, I really wanted to explore the concept of identity and self-expression for the non-conforming society. I do not think there are enough stories told about the non-conforming community, their struggles, and their experiences, so I wanted people to take something away from Blake and Metas stories like I did in making this documentary.”
The GCA Student Film Festival exists to recognize outstanding original visual narratives created by Georgia college and university students. This year, there were 31 total submissions from students throughout the state.
Narrative Film Awards
First place – “The Dreams of a Flightless Bird”
Director/Co-Writer: Armaan Eric Najhawan Producer/Co-Writer: Ben Janes Director of Photography: Joybeth Sullivan Sound Designer: Nick Hayward Lead Editor: Caroline Young Post-Production Supervisor/Assistant Editor: Daniel Mathis 1st Assistant Director: Samantha Harris Art Department/Production Designer: Jane Turula Casting Director: Julia Ruffino Composer: Enoch Lee Faculty adviser: Booker T. Mattison
Second place – “2030”
Director/Writer: Caleb Moss Producer: Natascha Tang Director of Photography: Quinn Reeder Editor: Katy Plant Composer: Polychroma Faculty adviser: Booker T. Mattison
Third place – “Murphy’s Law”
Documentary Film Awards
First place – “Breaking the Box”
Filmmaker: Kiana Washington Music Composer: Cameron Gwynn Editor: Ian Nixon Camera and Sound Assistance: Cyrus Townsend Faculty adviser: Garland McLaurin
The Georgia Communication Association is a professional organization comprised of faculty who teach media and communication at campuses throughout Georgia.
The following is an excerpt of a Q&A originally posted at news.uga.edu.
Booker T. Mattison, an assistant professor at Grady College, is an author, filmmaker and educator who prepares students for careers in the state’s booming film and television industry.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned a Bachelor of Science in mass communications from Norfolk State University and a Master of Fine Arts in film and television production from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
Since I joined the department of entertainment and media studies, which is in the midst of a spectacular growth spurt, I have been actively involved in the development of our M.F.A. in film, television and digital media, an overhaul of the undergraduate entertainment and media studies curriculum, and serving on the search committees for two new faculty members who will join our team in the fall of 2019.
What are your favorite courses and why?
My favorite course is “Advanced Production” because I am able to midwife compelling and diverse narrative short films from our supremely talented entertainment and media studies students. Since this is a capstone course, I have the opportunity to work with content creators who are about to graduate and make their mark in the world.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I premiered my latest short film, “Bosniak,” here on campus last November. It was a great experience because I collaborated with four UGA professors and a UGA staff member to make the film. Professor James Biddle (Grady) was the lead editor; Emily Koh (Hugh Hodgson School of Music) composed the score; professor Hatidža Mulić (Lamar Dodd School of Art) translated the script into Bosnian and created original paintings for the film; Walker Swain (College of Education) created original hip-hop music for the film; and Stephen Bridges (Office of Online Learning) was also an editor. Having the first public screening at UGA in front of cast, crew, current and former students, and colleagues was one of the more unique screening experiences of my career.