Interview with Assistant Producer Mariel Rodriguez-McGill

Mariel Rodriguez-McGill is a graduate student at the University of Denver, and is the assistant producer on the film Woodstock West: Build Not Burn. We took a moment to sit down with Mariel and ask her about her involvement in the project, as well as what she has been working on in her spare time.
 
How did you become involved with the project?

In the fall of 2008, I enrolled in the Master's program at the School of Media, Film and Journalism at the University of Denver. Sheila E. Schroeder was assigned as my advisor throughout the program upon my arrival at DU. For two years, I had the opportunity to experience Sheila in the classroom-including classes such as documentary film, narrative film and scriptwriting, as well as assisting Sheila with the production of a DU political science class broadcast in association with C-Span. From these experiences, I feel that not only did I grow to know Sheila quite well, I also had the opportunity to prove myself as a diligent worker, and someone passionate about the art of film. As she began to plan her sabbatical year, Sheila asked if I would be interested in helping out with the film, Woodstock West: Build Not Burn, as a research assistant and assistant producer. Of course my answer was yes!
 
What is your role in the project?

For the past few months I have been helping Sheila in any aspect of the project necessary. When I first became involved in the project this past fall, a lot of the emphasis was on social media. I spent a lot of time learning about different successful film web sites, and their use of social media to interact with fans. Facebook and Twitter were two of the most useful sites out there for popular films, as fans could upload photos, make comments and form a sense of community by interacting with not only the filmmakers, but those interested in the film and it's themes as well. I have also helped Sheila with some of the research aspects of the film. By organizing myriad photographs from Woodstock West, viewing old news station footage of the events, and reading articles not only in the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News, but also in the DU student publication, The Clarion, I have gained a more rounded perspective of the events of May 1970. One of the areas I have enjoyed the most is having the opportunity to meet individuals who were at Woodstock West. A few months ago Sheila sat down with Robert Amme, and as the one behind the camera I was able to hear first-hand what it was like to be the Faculty Senate president on campus in early 1970. A few weeks ago I also had the chance to join in on the conversation with Sheila and Larry Hotz, a current Denver resident, who was actually present in Strike Central during Woodstock West. Hearing the stories of those on campus really puts the photographs, film footage, and news articles in context.

What have you learned from working on Woodstock West: Build Not Burn?

Having the opportunity to work side by side with Sheila on this project has really been a valuable experience. After learning about Sheila's methods in the classroom for producing a documentary film, it is so interesting to see her apply her own rules in the real world. I am currently working on my own thesis project to complete my Master's Degree at DU, and so I find that many of the steps Sheila is taking her in project, I am able to mirror in my own. Seeing the background research necessary to produce a feature length documentary such as Woodstock West has really helped me to understand how important and valuable the pre-production process is to creating a quality film. Observing Sheila during subject interviews, and hearing the questions that she asks has also helped me to realize the important and interesting topics to cover in order to piece together a story (the events of May 1970), which has many points of view and contains a multitude of experiences. Sheila's work ethic has also helped motivate me to move forward in my own project.
 
How has this impacted your work on your own documentary?

It seems that every time I leave a meeting with Sheila, I cannot wait to go and work on my own project [Mariel is currently working on her thesis project, a documentary film about food trucks in Denver, CO]. Seeing Sheila's enthusiasm about her own work, and hearing about the success she has made, whether by contacting individuals who were at Woodstock West, or being awarded grant money to put toward her film, really helps to push me to work on my own film. I have also mimicked many of Sheila's documentary strategies, such as the art of the pre-interview and the production binder. Pre-interviews are important not only to gather information for the film, but also to get to know each individual, and give each person the opportunity to get to know the filmmaker and feel comfortable in her presence before moving forward with the project. Meanwhile, the production binder is a key organization tool for any filmmaker. This is a binder divided into important sections such as release forms, typed up interview notes, a timeline, research and budgeting information. This binder becomes the filmmaker's binder during both production and post-production.

As a twenty-five-year-old, do you see yourself as someone who is part of the film's main target audience?

Though the film references activism in the 1970s and focuses on interviews with numerous individuals who were around for the events of Woodstock West, I feel that Sheila's efforts to discuss activism today really expands the audience from Baby Boomers to the present college generation. Though its form may have changed greatly since the end of the Vietnam War, activism is still present and thriving today. I think that Sheila's efforts to include college students in the research process of buzz-words such as 'activism' and 'builder', in addition to creating activist-related contests in which college students can participate will help blend the two audiences so that the film will not only attract activists from forty years ago, but will also cater to present day activists.
 
For more information on the film, be sure to visit www.woodstockwestthemovie.com and www.facebook.com/woodstockwest.