Collaboration and Creativity Meet Up in the Media and Gaming Lab
Conversations happen in the Lab. While the equipment is important, building a creative community as a safe space for students and faculty is objective No. 1.
By Garrett Page
Bolton 113, once used as a storage room, had plain white walls and a couple pieces of furniture. Then Joseph Lopez, who prefers “joey lopez phd,” acquired the room and launched the Media and Gaming Lab. Purple paint immediately gave the walls color. Lopez has continued to grow the lab since 2018 and now the space is filled with computers, mics, Sony cameras and gaming systems on loan from his colleague Patrick Burkart. Besides the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, there are computer stations for video and audio editing software and signs of the time: posters, movie and video game models including a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog.
Students can sign up to reserve time slots in the Media and Gaming Lab in the COMM department office, but it’s the meetings that are the life of the lab, said Lopez, a COMM professor of the practice. Wednesdays from 5-7 p.m. and Thursdays from 5:30-7 p.m. are lab meetups – either on Zoom or in person in Bolton 113 – or sometimes in Downtown Bryan. Recently, Labs members collaborated on production of the short film “Journey to Fame,” by Kali Johnson with a photoshoot in Downtown Bryan. Johnson, a junior Telecommunication Media Studies major, has been participating in the Lab since June 2021. Some meetings are hands-on opportunities to work with video and audio editing software, added Lopez.
A Creative Safe Space
Conversations happen in the Lab. While the equipment is important, building a creative community as a safe space is objective No. 1, explained Lopez. Showing Trajectory is a talk series that highlights different people’s paths to success including obstacles they have overcome. The Dia de los Muertos Student Symposium in the fall brought together students from Texas A&M and University of Texas to discuss the holiday that originated in Mexico and celebrates the living and the dead and what it means in their lives.
With Lopez’s help, COMM doctoral candidate Anthony Ramirez launched Resocial at the Lab together with graduate student Emily Riewestahl. Their goal – to showcase academic work in a unique way. Students can submit work through a website to be broadcast on ReSocial Instagram and TikTok accounts. Riewestahl was a graduate student who is now working on her Ph.D. at Syracuse University.
“ReSocial is a tool that is meant to showcase awesome work that awesome people are doing,” explained Ramirez.
For Lopez, the meetups are the heart of the Lab. Whatever a student’s skill or experience – curious beginner or professional – everyone is welcome to share knowledge and experience at the Lab. Videography, photography, editing or directing – if a student expresses interest in a project, Lopez said he will put them in charge just like he did with Johnson and her short film. Lopez and the Lab provide resources. Students get time, equipment and space for practical experience, projects and digital communication tools.
“I’ve never encountered a group that gives their members so much freedom,” said Johnson.
Students Take Charge
Before joining the lab, Johnson had no experience with film production. After expressing interest in production and media, Lopez encouraged her to work on a short film with others at the Lab. She ideated the film with Lopez, and he put her in charge of the project. Once the script is finalized, a casting call will go out through the COMM department and production is scheduled to start after spring break.
“It was a great way to get involved with the whole process of filmmaking and understanding the whole process by being the producer, and a director and writing it,” said Johnson. “I wasn’t entirely anticipating writing it; I had ideas, but it’s actually been great in helping me develop my creative process.”
Johnson’s film takes place during the late ‘70s to early ‘80s and follows two prominent rockstars on their rise to fame. One rock star focuses on glam rock, a grandiose style of music modeled after stars such as Elton John and David Bowie. The other rockstar produces more hard rock music modeled after bands like KISS and Metallica.
Collaboration and Learning
The Lab has hosted two short film shoots in Downtown Bryan, which split members into two groups to ideate a plot and film a short. Ramirez said he learned from some of the students during the process how to get better angles with the camera as well as some video editing techniques.
When the Lab got a DJI Ronin, a steady mount for cameras, one of the students helped Lopez set up the mount for one of the cameras, teaching others in the lab how it worked in the process. A recent alumni who is a producer and in a band based in Houston recently taught music production at a meetup. Lopez noted that everyone in the lab, including faculty, learns from students and former students.
Xiaofei Song, a COMM instructor who helps out in the Media and Gaming Lab, said the students continuously inspire her with their creativity. Creative art and media relies on exploring new ideas to keep an audience engaged, said Song. When in a creative space, there are infinite possibilities; being surrounded by different people and offers new perspectives.
“The most valuable learning from the students is just what they can bring as a person that comes from a different background,” explained Song.
Lopez and colleagues sometimes apply practices from the Lab to the courses they teach. Ramirez enjoys learning new skills, such as camerawork and editing, through the lab and receives feedback, such as when he produced a short film about border identity. He also gets the chance to lead discussions on certain topics, such as a short presentation on graphic design, emphasizing how to create a logo.
“It’s been good practice, testing out the material for when I use it in the classroom as well,” said Ramirez.
For Song, the lab provides a space to practice what learned in her graduate communication studies. While her instructors taught her how cameras and other media work, the Lab provides Song with a place for hands-on, practical experience. It has allowed her to grow her teaching and research in new ways.
“It’s just like driving a car … you know theoretically it’s simple,” said Song. “But you still need to get the hands-on experience of how it actually works.”
Ramirez most enjoys seeing how the Lab can grow anyone’s media skills. He’s seen students come in not knowing how to work a digital camera and leave with a general understanding of how to shoot and frame shots.
“When you see that students are excited about something,” mused Ramirez, “how can we encourage that, and move that forward into building something special?”
Anyone seeking ways to be creative and to learn is encouraged to be a part of the Lab, said Lopez, who wants students to take the initiative and reach out. Lopez understands students may not have much experience with media technology, but said he encourages them to join Lab meetups.
Committing the time is the first step to taking advantage of opportunities at the Lab to learn skills such as cinematography, photography, video editing, audio engineering and podcasting, noted Lopez. What follows is collaboration, creation and many great conversations.