On the rise: Evan Gulock
Evan Gulock, a member of this year’s SRL Academy, will be documenting his internship experience at Detroit Public Television in Michigan this summer. Evan’s internship is sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen initiative.
By Friday, I was leaning back in the semi-comfortable operation room of a young doctor who was about to drill holes in my mouth. Oh yes, wisdom teeth. The trojan horses of dental problems.
“Think about your week,” the doctor says, slapping on her plastic gloves. “Think of someplace, anyplace, and the best part about this place is that you don’t have to worry about the mess of getting there.”
What could I say? My mind drifted to Clark Park, which I had at long last filmed in full the previous day. The park is beautiful. There are kids there all day long, with dedicated mentors.
The programs at Clark Park are at the intersection of three different schools in Southwest Detroit, and it is one of the strongest forces that are contributing to a raised graduation and college attendance rate in the area. I managed to hire one of the best cinematographers in the business here in Michigan, Bill Kubota. Bill and I interviewed a grand total of seven people over the course of the day, along with multitudinous b-roll to go along with it. Profiles, activities, the works. All the exhaustive pre-production prior to this moment truly paid off. As much as it is true that you need to be able to think on your toes in this breakneck news business, I think the same can be said of having a sense of longevity and integrity. Patience through thick and thin, a collected calm and precision through sprints and marathons alike.
In the week to come, I will be ingesting, transcribing and editing away at this piece, eager to create a final product, a story worth telling.
I was so involved with this story-worth-telling, however, that I acquired an exceptional sunburn, having spent hours in a park mostly bathed in sun.
The doctor chuckled. “I’m going to say this only because you most likely won’t remember that I said it … There’s this thing called sunscreen.”
The room erupted with laughter. I smiled and tried to respond, at which point I was promptly hit with anesthesia and the next thing I knew I was waking up in the recovery room with gauze sticking out of my mouth.
I enjoy the places I end up, the stories I stumble upon. But thank god I enjoy the mess of getting there too.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a Movies at the MetroParks event put on by the Detroit Film Theater. “Paper Planes,” a short film I had made earlier this year, was selected to play prior to each classic “Godzilla” film every weekend for the rest of the summer.
A lakeside inflatable projection screen, popcorn, upwards of 100 people — I was absolutely thrilled. A total fangirl for terribly cheesy movies since I was a kid, being chosen as the opening act for “Godzilla” was a mind-blowing honor for me. I mention this partly because I am ecstatic about having my work seen by so many people, just the same as when the parkour piece I produced at SRL Academy aired on NewsHour. I think sharing ideas is really one of the loveliest parts of the video production industry. We tell stories so we may spend a collective moment with a shared emotion, a shared breath, a shared idea with the audience around us, and it really is one of the most incredible feelings spending that moment because of something you have created. I mention this also because “Godzilla” serves as a wonderful comeback metaphor.
Week 5 of my internship was all about resurgence for me. Reeling to find a new story after the Jackelyn Rodriguez story fell through, I came across the one and only robotics team in the area, tying everything back to STEM education. Perfect! Except it’s no longer in Southwest Detroit. Or in Detroit at all. Actually it’s in Canton now. Sweet, how about a Western International High School credit recovery class? Ended in June. A grant-funded tutoring Youth Council? No longer exists. Any success stories from local Southwest teachers? Jackelyn Rodriguez, Jackelyn Rodriguez, Jackelyn Rodriguez. How about a hip new student-run program called Owning It: Our Education which has a phenomenal grit to it? Nope, program ended in May. Oh hey, founded by Jackelyn Rodriguez.
And then there it was, a literal oasis in the midst of adversity. The story of Clark Park was one that had been around since the beginning of my journey, and it only then occurred to me what a beautiful and perfect story it is.
Ziggy Gonzales used to go to Clark Park since the 1940s. In 1991, parks and community centers started closing due to a Detroit budget shortfall. Led by Ziggy Gonzales, Deb Sumner and Anthony Benavides, the community of Southwest Detroit came together to find out how they could keep the park around for their kids and their families.
The Clark Park Coalition is almost entirely volunteer-based, with the help of family, friends, strangers and a partnership with the city. Upwards of ten sports programs are available to kids year-round, along with educational classes including nutrition, photojournalism, writing and gardening. Every day during the summer, Clark Park offers free lunches to over 100 kids as a part of a program called Meet Up and Eat Up.
Ziggy is among a collection of deeply-involved mentors that strive to keep kids off the streets, out of the way of gangs, drugs and violence and give them a family of sorts to belong to. Ziggy was a teacher at Western International High School for many years, and between the school and the park, he says no matter where his students go in life, they always seem to come back to Southwest Detroit because it is home and the people there made it such. He is a strong believer in investing time with kids because they are the future.
“We know every kid by name,” he said. “And we will always be Clark Park kids ourselves.”
There is a 10-year-old boy named Sergio Broughton who comes from a broken family. Ziggy in many ways became the father figure Sergio never had. When asked, “Is that your grandpa?” Sergio replies “No, that’s my mentor.”
A story of mentorship and community, I couldn’t have found a better topic in the end. I’m set to shoot all day this upcoming Thursday, with five different interviews and b-roll in between. I expect it to be a hectic but fantastic experience. The sharing of ideas is, after all, my favorite part of every process in storytelling.
Otherwise, this week was filled with odds-and-ends jobs as an intern, but the progress made on my Southwest Detroit piece was the most notable aspect. I have jumped through hoops, cleared every hurdle sent my way and I will continue to do so now that I have everything planned — schedule, crew members, interviewees and all. Like the cryogenic oxygen destroyer in “Godzilla vs. Destoryah,” I have kept my cool under nuclear pressures. Okay it wasn’t that bad. But I’m so happy I’ve been given the opportunity to innovate and problem solve around curveballs during this internship.
And then there were the twists and turns. Neck-deep in the predictable unpredictability of story-chasing, Evan Gulock found himself backtracking on his original plans for the American Graduate story.
There is a girl in Southwest Detroit named Jackelyn Rodriguez. Her parents are first-generation Mexican immigrants, with nothing more than an elementary-school education. Jackelyn, with the support of her family and the incredible community programs in Southwest Detroit, got a 34 on her ACT on her third try and had three Ivy league schools fighting over her by the end of her senior year. She will attend Stanford University this fall. This has been one of the most inspiring stories I have come across in a while.
Given the go-ahead by the production department, I gave Jackelyn a call, ready to set up an interview date. Life with a capital “L,” however, got to her before me. As of this Sunday, Jackelyn left for a Stanford summer program and she won’t be returning until I have left for college myself. This discovery sparked a dozen more phone calls, to program managers in Clark Park and to half-dressed organization CEO’s hastily getting ready for morning meetings – “Any other time would be great, but I’m getting dressed right now!”
I’m one of the busy people now. I was back on the hunt. If I have learned anything from this past week, it is to be flexible.
I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind that in this business, the story will never be what you think it will be. You can’t force your own narrative onto something, and if you try you will find yourself simultaneously disappointed and delighted. Disappointed because it’s not what you thought it would be, delighted because it was something new, different, even better than you could have ever imagined. The world out there is funny like that. The news is and can only ever be a window to let the sun in. Where the sun will point is anyone’s guess. All we can do is adjust that window.
In this way, I had to let go of the Jackelyn Rodriguez story. But that’s okay, I’m on the tail of several stories that I have been delighted and inspired by. Production will begin later this week or early next week.
I was interviewed on Thursday about my internship experience by a fellow intern in the HR department, Dominique. Having completed the interview with a sense of reflectiveness, Dominique let me in on a little secret about what every single intern here at DPTV said about their experience. Every one of them, without exception, talked about the fact that, day in and day out, they feel as though they are doing something important. They’re not just some henchmen to fetch coffee, they’re an important cog in the system. They feel a sense of significance. And I had said the exact same thing.
Neck-deep in the predictable unpredictability of Life with a capital “L,” Evan Gulock moves forward.
My third week here at DPTV began with utter excitement. The piece I helped create during the Student Reporting Labs Academy, “The American Ninja,” was chosen to air on the PBS NewsHour!
Finding out an hour before it was about to go on-air, my headspace became a-flutter with social media and phone calls, letting as many people know as I possibly could before the 6:00 call-time of the national broadcast. Though Judy Woodruff said you wouldn’t catch her doing any parkour tricks, I certainly felt as though I could by the time the broadcast was over. A couple minutes later and a dent in the wall proved that I was still no more coordinated than before, but I still felt pretty dang good.
My success yielded no time for rest. I began editing together 15 and 30 second promos for Ed Moore’s most recent documentary, “Ride the Tiger.” These trailers will soon air on all the stations that are picking up the doc. I also found myself taking the minutes for a three hour meeting with DPTV’s Community Advisory Panel. Never before have I typed so fast while listening, watching and talking simultaneously in such a blitz of information.
I’ve just about finished pre-production for my Southwest Detroit piece and I hope to start production as soon as time allows, since everyone here is so busy. There’s always something going on. That being said, I’ve begun assembling a crew and we will ideally be shooting within the next week or so.
It should be noted that all this only transpired over the course of two days. After which I was off to Chicago for my college orientation. I’m ecstatic, Columbia College really does seem to be exactly what I need and what I am looking for.
Here’s to the future.
Monday morning arrived, crisp and fresh and ready to throw me into the flames of pre-production.
Everyone in the office was taking off for an annual all-day training session. Georgeann, our aforementioned Influencer and director of strategy, was just about to leave as well, pushing the up button for the elevator with a decisive “ding” and “click.”
“American Graduate is interested in a piece focusing on the Southwest Detroit area,” she said to me. “Make a few calls and see where it takes you. Become an expert by the end of the day.” And with that, she was gone.
It should be noted that before this week, I was not a fan of making phone calls. Phone calls, that is, to strangers. People I have never met face-to-face. Every muscle in me would tense in the anticipation of a conversation not-yet-had. Meeting people in the flesh is often my forte – I tend to smile and use a lot of hand gestures when I talk. You can’t see that through the curled wire of an office phone. Storytelling is my passion – I love chasing the line of a story with the enthusiasm of an energetic gazelle – but now all the other gazelles had left to learn about department synergy, leaving me in a dead quiet office with an ominous phone staring me down.
My anxiety was short-lived, however, much to my surprise and relief. These people were delighted to hear from me, giving generously in their time to talk about their youth community and what’s being done to strengthen and support it. The educational programs are highly-involved and versatile. The people who run them are passionate and innovative, the students invested and ready to learn. In talking to these folks I realized, phone call after phone call, that you don’t need to see a smile to hear one. Because I certainly heard it in the voices of the Southwest Detroiters, and I can only hope that they could hear it in mine.
Although I had a wonderfully busy mix of days, full of meetings and studio productions, b-roll organizing and rapid note-taking, that moment definitely defined my week. Thursday evening had come as soon as Monday morning had gone, and before leaving, Georgeann said to me “Whenever I’m interviewing someone for a new position, I ask myself, ‘Does he have ten years of experience, or one year of experience ten times?’”
This struck me. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the thought “Never Repeat Yourself.” And I realized I was off to a great start. The whole idea behind an internship is to gain experience, but it’s one thing to just go through the motions, and another entirely to grow and adapt and change because of the motions. Motions even when they are unfamiliar, even when you are uncertain of that first phone call – and you find you’re learning in your bones.
Now that’s an experience.
Can’t wait to see where this story takes me.
No more than two days after an incredible and intensive week in Washington, D.C. with Student Reporting Labs, I was off on my next PBS adventure with Detroit Public Television.
When I arrived, DPTV’s office space was abuzz with a new installment of the award-winning documentary series, “Beyond the Light Switch” about the future of energy in America, as well as “Knit and Crotchet” with more seasonal quilts and adorably-stitched pot holders than ever before. Somewhere in between was the rarefied air of a news station as passionate and introspective as the city it resides in.
Okay, it’s in Wixom, but Detroit is still the heart and soul of DPTV’s broadcast. In one day, let alone the entirety of the week, I learned so much about the inner and outer workings of public television – a wide-ranging taste test of departments, working in tandem and individually to create the best programing possible for Michigan and beyond. I hear that in Canada, DPTV is PBS.
The corner cubicle I’m working in still has the nameplate of its previous occupant, so I’ve been called Sophia more times than I was expecting my first week on the job. Sophia, Evan or “Hey intern,” I’m ready to work as diligently as I can.
While I’ve gotten the opportunity to experience a broad scope of what DPTV has to offer, my primary responsibilities come from Ed Moore, the head documentarian here at the station, and Georgeann Herbert, “The Influencer” – essentially the guru at the top of the hill that people come to with their ideas. It truly has been an absolute honor. I’m not sure anyone has been more enthusiastic about transcribing hour-long documentaries, greeting guest interviewees, retrieving coffee and water and putting together journalist reels for CPB grants than I have this week. I think I’m generating some of the renewable energy the station is running on now by the heat coming off my keyboard.
As I write this first blog entry, I am sitting in the park in front of the library. The wifi is out of commission at my house, a panic struck me, and now I find myself here, musing over the beginning of my internship, next to a man with a clipboard asking if I’m registered to vote. I imagine there is a metaphor in this – how “The News,” more and more over time, has become about a need to be connected. Myself to wifi, “The News” to the world. Suddenly, the world doesn’t seem so vast anymore. Just watching how immediate a story can unfold at DPTV – how current affairs from right nextdoor are so readily blended with current affairs halfway across the planet – I’m realizing that the world is our neighborhood now. There’s that good ole’ Mr. Rogers from PBS in my head. So glad to be everyone’s neighbor.
If you’d like to take a look at my experience with Student Reporting Labs Academy, check out this video below.