Students Create Trailer About Abolitionist

Multimedia students at California Lutheran University are creating a trailer for a movie about the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman – a movie they aren’t making.

“We don’t have the budget for a high production or to make a full movie, but we do have the talent and the ideas,” said Cal Lutheran art instructor Barry Burns.

Burns teaches a one-credit course called Multimedia Community, a weekly class designed to give students an opportunity to collaborate on creative projects.

This semester’s project was chosen by the class last semester: a spotlight of Tubman, an escaped African-American slave and a conductor of the Underground Railroad.

“It’s a great idea for a film, a full-length feature film,” Burns said.

Cal Lutheran sophomore and multimedia major Jordan Bowlby is a storyboard artist for one of the two groups in the class.

“We had to think of the movie and not even make the movie, then try and think of what trailer scenes to shoot for it,” Bowlby said.

Burns said it takes a lot of condensing and understanding of Tubman’s story – the highlights and turning points of her life.

“What trailers really need is a lot of action. There’s plenty of that in her story,” Burns said.

Burns said Tubman was struck violently to the head, causing her to have clairvoyant visions which worked to her advantage in Civil War plantation raids.

“She was able to take that newfound gift and actually see where to deploy people to make these very successful raids against these plantations,” Burns said.

Cal Lutheran History Department Chair and Professor Michaela Reaves said she’d never heard of Tubman leading military raids.

“She took out slaves and escorted them. ‘Raid’ is not a historical term I’ve ever heard associated with her,” Reaves said.

While it’s uncertain whether Tubman engaged in battle herself, she did play a role with the union army.

“I can tell you she is a guide and leads regiments down into areas, and she helped them get through,” Reaves said. “You see her as a guide. You see her as a spy.”

Regardless, the student production will avoid portraying firearms, partly for practical purposes.

“Apparently, if you are going to use guns in a trailer or in a movie, you have to get licensed, and you have to have professional handlers on set,” said sophomore Joey Luau, a multimedia major in the class.

“We might as well figure it out creatively. You know, use spears or use knives,” Luau said.

The students are also finding themselves getting creative with locations. Bowlby said modern buildings can look old enough with the right frame.

“If you just cut to just this amount of it, it could look old enough to be from [the 19th century],” Bowlby said.

Bowlby said he and other students are actively searching for locations with landscapes resembling the eastern United States.

“I’ve looked at Santa Paula. They have a lot of great farmland scenery there and great old historic buildings,” Bowlby said.

Bowlby said the two groups in the class will yield two unique two minute, 30 second trailers – one about Tubman’s early life and another about her later life. A final trailer will combine footage from both trailers into a third, two minute and 30 second trailer.

The project is not destined for public viewing, although Burns welcomes attention.

“We’d be very happy to show it publicly,” Burns said.

Jeff Baker
Staff Writer
Published March 18th, 2015