Farm to Table
Course Work is coming together, and we now have evidence. Producer Lisa Bralts offers you a first look.
We're less than a week from air time and are deep into finishing the editing as I write, but we found some time to make this trailer.
Tim edited; I narrated. I've watched it a few times, mainly to see the sunflowers and the gardens...I'm missing evidence of plant life in the outdoors something fierce these days. It's been so much fun to put this program together, but it's also been intense. I dream of the windmill and the #CourseWork hashtag; I'm sure Tim sees the script in his sleep. And goats... always goats.
In any event, the show airs Monday, December 9, at 7 PM. Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband (Prairie Fruits Farms' owners) will be joining me and my colleague, membership director John Steinbacher (also the associate producer of the program,) live on the pledge set to talk about how the program was made, why it's so important for WILL-TV to produce local programming spotlighting local people, businesses, and organizations, and to encourage viewers to support the station (and get themselves a chance to go to a private screening of the documentary on the farm... delicious treats included!). Don't miss it - and we hope to hear from you. - Lisa Bralts
From June to October, WILL-TV followed the arc of a farm-to-table meal that began—and ended—at Prairie Fruits Farm north of Champaign-Urbana. The documentary Course Work: Dinner Season at Prairie Fruits Farm, airing at 7 pm Monday, Dec. 9, on WILL-TV, shows viewers how the activities on the farm build to the night of the dinner.
Tim Meyers, WILL-TV director of photography for the project, and producer Lisa Bralts wanted to show how the fruit orchard, at one time lush with blackberries, peaches, pears and apples, dwindled with each weekly U-pick. The vegetable gardens were transformed as the deep greens and bright reds of basil and tomatoes gave way to the hardier fall crops. And the mud-loving hogs, growing noticeably fatter every week, began to disappear one by one as they headed off to become part of the season’s dinners on the farm.
Prairie Fruits Farm chef Alisa DeMarco and her kitchen team are shown cooking succotash, plating cheese, brushing oil onto crostini, and scooping homemade ice cream onto apple pie during the Sept. 15 dinner, which raised funds for Illinois Public Media. Footage also captured guests enjoying wine and hors d’oeuvres, walking around the vegetable garden and touring the milking room.
“One of the goals of this project was to show viewers what life is really like on small, diversified family farms as the seasons move forward,” Bralts said. “We’re so lucky to have a farm just outside Urbana-Champaign where farmers are willing to share their experiences ―not just with us, but with the patrons who visit them for dinners, breakfasts, and U-Pick. They’re an amazing community resource.”
Footage review (which never happens just once - you're looking at the same stuff several times as you're putting things together) has probably been my favorite thing about working on Course Work so far - and the whole thing has been fun. The idea behind gathering footage is to gather as much as possible to increase your choices as you edit; most of the footage we shot won't end up being used. It's been an instructive exercise that appeals to my acquisitive side. I've learned a lot about my acquisitive side since I started doing In My Backyard a few years ago (nothing like not having enough audio for a piece as your deadline looms), and while video is similar, it's not the same. It's... MORE, somehow. Sound + vision. It's been great to work with Tim, who has a lot more experience in the video realm than I do. He has been vastly patient with me (at least to my face) as we work on this.
Anyway. What I'm getting at is this: in terms of video production, there's a lot the viewer doesn't see. We're all familiar with "gag reels", scenes from films and TV shows that don't make it into the actual production but are saved for the end of the movie or show as "bonus material". We're probably not going to have time to put together any real bonus material, so I'm leaving you with a photo instead. I think Blue, the farm's dog, was getting a little tired of not playing fetch.
We'll blog more soon, but we're REALLY looking forward to presenting Course Work to you on Monday, December 9, at 7 PM on WILL-TV. Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband will be joining us in the studio that evening, so it should be really fun. We hope to hear from you!
- Lisa Bralts
Producer Lisa Bralts, Director of Photography Tim Meyers, and others at Illinois Public Media are deep into the particulars of getting Course Work ready to air.
Lisa's to do list:
Review one last piece of footage (got lost in the shuffle - oops!)
Finish drafting narration
Wander around the house, reading narration for pacing
(Is that too much narration? Narration should be a bridge, not the focal point of the story... I do have a tendency to talk too much, so I have to be careful, but but I digress)
Add to narration; delete from narration; will I ever be happy?
Look for photos that will work for web/print/TV advertising and DVD covers
FIND A FONT!
Ponder clever tag lines, if possible (I'm a sucker for a good tag line... isn't everyone)
Record narration when Tim is ready
Cook my family tasty food :)
- Lisa Bralts
Director of Photography/Editor Tim Meyers checks in with a program title (finally!) and some musings about how filmmaking and farming might not be so far removed from each other.
So first off…we have a title! After a quick brainstorming session (in which we were determined to finally pick a title…or else!), Lisa and I (but mostly Lisa) came up with what we think is a pretty decent title: Course Work: Dinner Season at Prairie Fruits Farm. So, now that that's out of the way…on to the main blog post!
Having first grown up in northern Illinois, then moving to Urbana-Champaign a few years ago, I've rarely been more than a stone's throw away from the endless corn and soybean fields that cover so much of the state. It's actually a comforting feeling knowing that I can hop in my car and be surrounded by farmland in a matter of minutes. Taking the backroads through farm country has always had an oddly therapeutic effect on me; the seemingly endless rows of crops are more soothing than monotonous.
What's weird is that I've never actually lived on a farm. I've been to a lot of farms, I have plenty of friends who grew up on farms. But lived on a farm? Nope. And, as it turns out, I actually have a pretty weird history with farm life. In fact, my first job was on a llama farm. Yep, you read that correctly…a llama farm.
So, where am I going with this? Well, as a filmmaker, it's important for me to try and identify with a subject in some way. I know that Wes, Leslie and the Prairie Fruits Farm crew all connect with farm life in a much deeper way than thinking of it as just a job. There's an emotional connection that drives their passion for doing what they do. Even though I'm sure I connect with farm life in a much different way, I know that I relate to their passion for their craft. It provides you with a sense of place, a sense of meaning. Lisa and I hope that Course Work will convey that passion - that attention to the farm and their craft, and that sense of place and meaning to the community and abroad.
Producer Lisa Bralts goes through the summer's footage... and finds some older gems on her hard drive.
It’s really unbelievable how much the weather has changed since our last full day shooting at Prairie Fruits Farm. Sweaters and scarves are being busted out much more frequently at WILL-TV HQ, and all of us notice the approaching (or existing) dusk as we prepare to leave for the day. Summer’s definitely over.
When we first began this (as-yet unnamed) project, summer was just starting to maybe, possibly think about peaking – things were GREEN! They were BLOOMING! They were BURSTING! – and it was hot. There were a couple of shooting days where I thought all of us – crew and interviewees – would melt like so much goat’s milk gelato. Today? Tim finished almost all the shooting at the farm. He captured a previously-elusive sunrise and gathered remaining exteriors, but he was bundled up, and the hat he was wearing wasn’t a baseball cap. (Dodgers or Cardinals, Tim? Tigers or Red Sox?)
Activity is now moving mostly inside, as Tim mentioned in the last entry. I’ve been reviewing footage and re-living summer 2013 as I make my notes and draft the narration, but I’ve also had a chance to start going through the many photos I’ve taken at Prairie Fruits Farm over the last 5 or 6 years, some of which we’ll use for coverage in the program. Lots has changed at the farm, definitely, but much remains the same.
Food is still planted, grown, harvested, and cooked. Goats are born every spring. Cheese is still made, packed, and shipped – and now its cousin, gelato, joins it in the coolers. People still visit the farm to eat and learn a few things and pet a few goats (and Wes still hops up onto the John Deere tractor to speak to guests). Chef Alisa remains PFF’s chef – just with an expanded cast of characters. Watching things unfold at the farm through pictures has been instructive for me – we hope the show will do the same for you.
Back to the notebook and computer monitor. We’ll check in again soon!
Director of Photography/Editor Tim Meyers talks about what happens next with our F2T documentary project.
As producer Lisa Bralts and I get ready to hit the ground running in post-production, I find myself reflecting back on the past few months we’ve spent filming at Prairie Fruits Farm.
While most location productions like this would be shot over the course of one or two days, the proximity of the farm to WILL (a short 5 minute drive) allowed us to capture the progression of life on the farm from June to October. And life on the farm goes well beyond the human element. We saw how the fruit orchard, at one time lush with succulent blackberries, peaches, pears and apples, dwindled with each weekly U-pick. The vegetable gardens transformed, seemingly overnight, as the deep greens and bright reds of basil and tomatoes gave way to the hardier fall crops. And the mud-loving hogs, growing noticeably fatter every week, began to disappear one by one as they headed off to be slaughtered for the season’s dinners on the farm. With each visit, I found myself wanting to not only capture life on the farm for the camera; I also wanted to share in the experience by seeing it myself.
The next two months for us will be a decidedly drastic shift away from the sights, sounds and smells of farm life, as we head into the edit bay: a softly lit, soundproof room where I’ll be spending a good portion of my days, sorting through footage and assembling the program with Lisa. Even though I’ll miss filming out at Prairie Fruits Farm, I’ll try to remember that as we move further away from the sun-filled summer days, we get closer and closer to a finished program that I think we’ll be very proud of - and that I truly hope you’ll enjoy.
Director of Photography Tim Meyers and I have been filming for months out at Prairie Fruits Farm for a documentary about the arc of a farm-to table meal that begins - and ends - on the farm. The filming has been happening since June - we've been gathering interviews, capturing footage, and occasionally battling the elements (the one day we got up super-early to capture the sunrise, the [unpredicted] clouds were low and thick and made for a wholly unphotogenic morning sky. Ah, well. We'll try again). Shooting is nearly complete; as soon as it's done, the editing - the stitching it all together - gets underway. We'll be working very hard these next 8 weeks - the program will be broadcast on WILL-TV in December.
Watch this space for blog entries about the progress of the project as it nears completion. It might be just a photo. It might be a lengthy entry about something we saw or experienced out on the farm - while it's only a few miles north of Urbana-Champaign, it can seem like another planet entirely (in the good way). This blog is a way for you to see the farm the way we saw it, including how dinner came to be and comes to be every year, as the farm cycles through the seasons.
- Lisa Bralts, producer