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Diploma students wrestle Alligator Man

by: MUN

By Janet Harron

The diploma in performance and communications media is proving a fertile training ground for future videographers and filmmakers.

English students Kate Hennigar and Patrick Leonard recently completed work on Alligator Man, the latest video from the St. John’s Ukulele Orchestra. Filmed at Memorial University’s Reid Theatre over a weekend in December 2011, the sideshow themed video is a smoke-filled homage to freaks and gaffes.

Alligator Man is about misinformation,” explained video director and editor Dr. Jamie Skidmore  (who also happens to be a member of the popular local band, along with Matt Grant, Chris Parsons, and Adam Reid).

“As a semiotician, I look at images and their visual language,” said Dr. Skidmore, who, in addition to his more than 20 years experience in the theatre, has co-ordinated the diploma program (“on and off”) since 2008. He’s currently on sabbatical. “Film and stage design are visual languages – I’m really interested in how these images can tell a story.”

Of course the way images are captured by the camera are essential to the telling of that story.

Operating the single camera on the shoot, a Sony HDF-FX 7, Mr Leonard says he knew nothing about film prior to enrolling in the diploma program.

“Everything I know is from Jamie and Peter Walsh,” he said. (Peter Walsh is an alumni of Memorial who runs Nine Islands, a production company, and also teaches as a per course instructor in the English department.)

Seeing the final cut of Alligator Man was “pretty amazing” said Mr. Leonard, who also found himself operating a camera in a rowboat on the orchestra’s first video, Dead Man’s Lament, in July 2011. “In that case, it was interesting to see how my shots were interwoven with other shots.”

The fourth-year English major and geography minor (who did his field placement for the diploma at Mount Pearl’s Best Boy Entertainment) is currently weighing his options between Memorial’s Faculty of Education and a career in film production.

Kate Hennigar, who completed the diploma in performance and communications media in 2011, acted as the shoot’s producer and is now involved in marketing Alligator Man online and to film festivals.

“For me, producing meant a lot of emails, calls, setting everything up and making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be and when,” said Ms. Hennigar, an English major and film studies minor who is also enrolled in the creative writing diploma program, and is “definitely” heading for a career in theatre and film.

This year, the fifth-year student hopes to enter a short film co-directed with fellow student Ryan Dillon (created as part of the requirements for the diploma program) to either the Nickel Film Festival or the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.

“It’s definitely a stepping stone program,” said Dr. Skidmore. “We have several students who walked out the door and ended up in the profession, including Amanda Mews who appeared in Dead Man’s Lament and is now at NTV..”

Alligator Man and the two other videos from the St. John’s Ukulele Orchestra can be viewed at The band has been involved with the RPM album challenge in the past (recording an album of songs in 28 days) and plans to record another such album in February 2012.  A professional album based on these recordings is next on the agenda for Dr. Skidmore and his fellow pickers.

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