Carmella Boykin, now an associate producer on The Washington Post’s TikTok team, grew up dreaming of a career akin to Oprah Winfrey.
But her alma mater, Syracuse University, unfortunately did not offer a major in “being like Oprah.”
Boykin instead studied broadcast journalism, earning experience at the student-run television station and an internship producing for the weekend Today show on NBC. After graduation, she took a job as an early morning multimedia journalist at WROC-TV in Rochester, New York. But she would soon discover that covering news such as bus driver shortages or crime didn’t necessarily satisfy her creative itch.
She took matters into her own hands, chronicling via smartphone her daily adventures of being a reporter in Rochester. Her work, which she posted on her social medias, gained a following, and before long, she found herself in one of the world’s most prestigious newsrooms as a TikTok producer, where she puts her own spin on stories for a Gen Z audience.
Boykin shared her story with George Washington University students in Hanan Daqqa’s University Writing course, centered around writing as both a journalist and filmmaker called “Not Another Home Movie,” as they presented their final projects Dec. 11 at the CREATE Digital Studio in Gelman Library.
“Being able to think about my career in an entrepreneurial way, learning how to pitch different things, think about what the future's going to look like and developing that feature was really valuable and is valuable today,” Boykin said. “I definitely encourage you to lean into what works for you and what you're really passionate about.”
Students in the class did just that all semester, as their final project was a five-minute “home” telling a story of themselves and their families, which they built on throughout the course.
While University Writing is a required course for all GW first-year students, Daqqa’s curriculum offered expanded room for creativity as students spent the first part of the semester learning to tell a narrative story and finished it by having it come to fruition. Students were asked in September to write a 100-word essay about themselves and their families, which they ultimately turned into a 600-word piece. Using that story as a foundation for the final project, they then did exploratory research on how to tell that story by video, which students shot with their own phones and cameras.
“It was really just about figuring out how to translate the writing on screen,” said Ryan Brady, a dancing and political science major from Malvern, Pennsylvania. “It was fun, because I think a lot of people in the class didn't know what they signed up for. And I think there's a lot of people who are innately creative, which made the process really fun.”
Daqqa challenged students to take risks and dig deeper into themselves to tell a captivating and impactful story and encouraged them to let their research questions drive the story arc.
“I think the point that [Daqqa] wanted to drive home was that filmmaking is about creating an emotional flow and figuring out what you want the audience to feel as they are watching your film,” said Laila Anderson, a psychology major from Greenbelt, Maryland. “And so just identifying within yourself as a director or filmmaker what the emotion was and then translating that into film was the most impactful.”
CREATE Digital Studio instructional technologist Ben Horn assisted with the technical aspects of the video as students learned how to use framing, camera movements and sound to tell their stories, in addition to using editing software.
The projects were all personal to the students, who even learned some things about themselves during the process. Brady, for instance, interviewed his father about his upbringing and found out that they had more in common than he thought, and he appropriately titled his video “Like Father, Like Son.”
“A lot of the answers we gave about our childhood and just life in general are very similar,” Brady said. “And that's when I pivoted to thinking that my dad and I are similar even though on the surface we were very different people. So, it was kind of a love letter to him and myself, in a way.”
Not everyone in the course will become a TikTok producer at The Washington Post like Boykin. But heeding her advice, the filmmaking experience taught them to look at their own career paths through a different lens.
“The interviewing aspects I think sort of mirrored a clinical therapist, in a way, which is the part of psychology that I would like to go into,” Anderson said. “Just sitting there with a person and asking them sort of deep questions about family, home and personal things is something I can employ in my future.”
And, in addition to the skillsets gained, the students in the course have a nice family keepsake for generations to come.