RTA practicums a crash course in finding cash

Little House Productions, a group of fourth-year Ryerson radio and television arts school of media students. (Courtesy Little House Productions)

Little House Productions, a group of fourth-year Ryerson radio and television arts school of media students. (Courtesy Little House Productions)

Fourth-year radio and television arts school of media (RTA) students are not just being crafty with their capstone projects, they’re finding creative ways to bankroll them.

Ambitious practicum projects can cost up to $6,000, which is a strenuous burden to throw on top of already hefty tuition fees.

To cover expenses without having to reach into their own pockets, Jacob McMorrow and his production team, Treble City Films, are fundraising.

But so are their peers, and the forum for fundraising is getting cramped.

“The market for donations and the number of groups campaigning (for funding) is oversaturated,” says McMorrow, a fourth-year RTA student.

The fourth-year practicum project asks students to create a “quality electronic media production,” which can be anything from a short film to a web series. It tasks them with learning how to budget for a full-scale piece, meaning each group has to find its own means of funding or risk compromising their ambitions.

Chanel Belliveau, a producer for Treble City Films, says it’s not just creative vision that is affected by financial strain — grades depend on it too.

“(Professors) are expecting a certain standard of production, and our own money is going into it. Without that, we wouldn’t be able to produce what they want us to produce,” says Belliveau.

She and her crew are currently working on a 30-minute documentary called Listen Close. The film brings together three musicians from different genres while examining Toronto’s music scene.

In just three days, the team raised $460 through Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website.

Their ultimate goal of $2,400 will cover almost all of their expenses, including everything from travel fees, to food costs, to marketing. The group’s largest expenses were $500 in equipment rental fees and $230 for renting out a theatre in Orangeville, Ont., for a day.

For many of the practicum fundraising campaigns, cash flow starts from friends and family, but Belliveau says even that is a challenge.

“Everyone in the program knows how much of a big deal practicum is, but it’s hard to explain to our family and friends,” she says. “It’s a school project, but at the same time it’s the real thing.”

Fundraising would be easier if RTA could reach out to its industry connections and promote the project, “rather than going to people and trying to prove ourselves,” Belliveau adds. “Our recognition is through the program.”

Little House Productions, another group of fourth-year RTA students, steered away from Indiegogo. Allison Walsh says that although she finds crowdfunding a smart method to raise cash, she still thinks it’s “really a professional way to ask your parents.”

Instead, Little House Productions is providing a service to raise cash for its documentary on youth living on a First Nations reserve in northern Quebec.

For five hours on Nov. 21 and 22, the team is offering professional headshots taken by their cinematographer for $5 for any student with a valid Ryerson OneCard, and $10 for everyone else.

The school offers some help. Little House was able to get a RED digital camera — the same type used to film The Hobbit —from Ryerson’s Equipment Distribution Centre (EDC).

“You definitely need money to achieve broadcast-quality material, and sometimes, it’s money from your own pocket. But Ryerson provides the opportunity for students who can’t afford it,” Walsh says.

But good cameras can’t pay for a blown tire on the drive back from Waskaganish, Que., or for submitting the documentary to festivals. Hence the headshots.

Walsh hopes the fundraiser will stand out from bake sales and shirt vendors that crowd the Rogers Communications Centre (RCC) lobby.

“It’s hard to compete with all the other practicums. You walk in the RCC, and you’re overwhelmed with all the people asking for money,” she says. “We’re all students asking for other students for money. And we’re all broke students.”

With only 40 slots available for the headshot event, the Little House Productions team won’t make back the money they spent, and they don’t expect to.

“I knew 100 per cent going into it that we’d have to put in our money,” says Hailey Brooks, Walsh’s colleague and Little House producer. “You find other ways, other outlets,” she said. “We enjoy the challenge of figuring it out on our own.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on November 20, 2013.

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