Booker T. Mattison writes and directs “The Sound of Christmas”

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.

Grady professors explore niche topics through first-year odyssey seminars

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.

Professor Dean Krugman meets with students in his first-year odyssey seminar on the first day of class. Krugman has previously taught courses on changing media, but this is the first time he is teaching the course to first-year students. (Photo/Jackson Schroeder)

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.

Booker T. Mattison sits and teaches in front of students
Mattison says his favorite part about teaching the first-year odyssey seminar is meeting first-year students. (Photo/Jackson Schroeder)

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 Summer Media Academies attract dozens of students from across US

This summer, a total of 52 campers from eight U.S. states and Puerto Rico traveled to Grady College to attend Summer Media Academies in Advertising and Public Relations (AdPR), Journalism and Entertainment and Media Studies (EMST). 

Akili-Casundria Ramsess of NPPA talks with students attending the Journalism Summer Camp.
Akili Ramsess of NPPA talks with students attending the Journalism Summer Academy. (Photo: Sarah Freeman)

The weeklong camps were run in partnership with the University of Georgia Summer Academy program and introduced students between the ages of 13-17 to the tools they need to become multi-skilled professionals in their desired fields.

“We were excited to return to hosting in-person camps this year,” said Stephanie Moreno (ABJ ‘06, MA ‘20), scholastic outreach coordinator at Grady College. “Participants explored our majors and learned about the variety of career paths available in the media industry. They also got a glimpse of what life is like on a college campus.” 

The AdPR camp was instructed by Tom Cullen (MA ‘18, MFA ‘21), a lecturer in the AdPR Department, and Cameron Shook (AB ’22), who graduated in May with a degree in Public Relations. They taught students how to become creative problem solvers, writers, decision-makers and persuasive communicators within traditional and new media. 

Students take notes during a lesson at Jackson Spalding.
AdPR Summer Academy students take notes during a lesson at Jackson Spalding. (Photo: Jackson Schroeder)

Participants studied ways to reach target audiences and effectively communicate messages to the general public. They visited Jackson Spalding Public Relations and Marketing Agency to gain a sneak peak at life working for an agency, listened to guest lecturers, and designed an integrated campaign for a local non-profit organization, Project Safe. The camp ran from June 13-17.

“I highly recommend this summer camp,” said high school student MC O’Brien. “This camp not only teaches you the basics of AdPR but also life necessities and qualities about how to approach problems.”

Likewise, participants in the Journalism camp studied the art of interviewing, multimedia reporting, writing, editing, producing and social media storytelling. Instructors were Joe Dennis (MA ‘07, PhD ‘16), co-chair of the mass communications department and associate professor of mass communications at Piedmont University, and Heaven Jobe, a Journalism master’s student at Grady College.

Journalism Summer Academy Students sift through papers and stickers at the Red & Black headquarters.
Students in the Journalism Summer Academy visited The Red & Black, where Charlotte Norsworthy (AB ‘19, MA ‘20) shared details about what it’s like to work at a student newspaper. (Photo: Sarah Freeman)

The participants were also introduced to principles in visual journalism with a session led by Akili Ramsess, executive director of the National Press Photographers Association, headquartered at Grady College. They took a visit to The Red & Black independent student newspaper, where they caught a snapshot of a working newsroom. Throughout the week, they listened to guest lecturers, wrote articles and produced a news website, Rockstarwriters.blog. The Journalism camp also ran from June 13-17.

Ten days later, from June 27-July 1, a new group gathered for EMST camp led by Jeffrey Duncan, a third-year Ph.D. student focusing on entertainment media law, and Kimberlee Smith, a master’s student. EMST camp taught students interested in careers in film, television, radio, online, mobile and other new media industries valuable content production skills, from screenwriting to digital editing. 

Over the course of the week, the campers listened to guest lectures led by professionals in the field. A highlight was a screening of a short film and discussion with director Booker T. Mattison, an assistant professor in EMST. They also made short films, wrote scripts or designed posters for their portfolios.

Booker T. Mattison speaks to a group of students attending EMST Summer Academy in Studio 100.
EMST Summer Academy students listened to a lesson led by Booker T. Mattison, filmmaker and assistant professor in Entertainment and Media Studies. (Photo: Stephanie Moreno)

“I really love how we get hands-on presentations,” said Psalm Arias, a high school student who recently moved to Watkinsville, Georgia, from the Philippines. “Before this camp, I didn’t have a huge interest in filming. When I saw how cameras work and how lighting works, It got me very interested in it.”

This camp has given me more options and allowed me to see more spaces that I have to go into,” added Kristina Buckley, a high school student from Buford, Georgia. 

A showcase of projects is available at summermediaacademy.wordpress.com. Below is a slideshow of images taken during all three of Grady’s summer camps. For more images, visit Grady’s Flickr account

Information about 2022 Summer Media Academy opportunities will be available in late fall at grady.uga.edu/apply/high-school-discovery and www.georgiacenter.uga.edu/youth/summer-academy.

 

  • AdPR campers receive a lesson at Jackson Spalding Public Relations and Marketing Agency in Downtown Athens.
    Students in the AdPR Summer Academy took a visit to Jackson Spalding Public Relations and Marketing Agency in Downtown Athens. (Photo: Jackson Schroeder)

Grady College names 2021-22 Teachers of the Year

Grady College is happy to recognize its Teachers of the Year for the 2021-22 academic year: 

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.

Dodie Cantrell-Bickley advises students on the set of Grady Newsourse. (Image: Sarah E. Freeman)

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.”

In 2021, Cantrell-Bickley launched an all-volunteer news production program focused on social justice that attracted students from freshmen to seniors, and she led a team of faculty coaches and students to produce the hour-long documentary, “The First Five: The Integration of University of Georgia Football.”

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.

Booker T. Mattison celebrates with students during Grady’s spring 2022 graduation celebration. (Photo: Sarah E. Freeman)

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!”

“AMERICAN Triptych,” a short film from Booker T Mattison premieres December 3

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 Tryptych” provides a look at the pandemic through the lenses of different American ethnicities (photo submitted).

“”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.

Most of the professionals who worked on the film also teach in the MFA Film, Television, and Digital Media program, an innovative program where students study one year on campus in Athens and one year at Trillith Studios.

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!”

The film premieres was created during the pandemic and ensured all cast and crew remained healthy during production.(photo submitted).

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.