During the 2018-2019 school year, English teacher, Mrs. Rachel Jeffries approached media arts instructor, Mrs. Tammy Marzano with an idea for a video project. Jeffries was part of a female trail running tribe led by UHS alumni Brynn Cunningham. Mrs. Jeffries indicated that Brynn had an amazing story about her races and thought that a video about the topic would be a great way to tell the story. Mrs. Marzano invited Brynn in to speak with the Video Production course to tell the students her story and discuss ideas for a video project.
Brynn shared the story of losing her father, who had always been her biggest running fan. She held her bib numbers while describing how her father’s birth digits began appearing miraculously, by chance, in her race bibs. In all, he has appeared 14 times at Brynn’s races since his death. Brynn has published blog posts and poems at www.inhaleexhalerun.com about her story and the details that unfolded with each race that students were able to read.
Senior, Benjamin Witt, who also has a love for running as a member of the Uniontown Cross Country team, was quick to show interest in this project. He and classmate Bridger Cameron met with Brynn and Mrs. Jeffries again. This time they discussed how they wanted the film to feel and look cinematically. They took notes in a shared Google document outlining film locations like the dirt road near Brynn’s fathers home, Meadow Run loop, Ferncliff loop, Jonathan Run, Jumonville, and the track at Bill Power stadium. They listed the types of audio they needed to capture, for example, the sound of footsteps running on the track, the rush of water at the falls, the sound of heavy breathing while running, and song choices for background music. After this meeting, Ben composed a series of questions for Brynn about how she wanted to tell the story and what scenes she envisioned. The team wanted to showcase the beauty of the Ohiopyle State Park trails, the connection between the woods, river, and running outside, and the four seasons. They made a plan to capture footage over the course of the year with footage of the Mt. Summit Challenge race in April as the capstone to the project. Considerations were also made for the equipment that would be used including a gimble to stabilize footage while running and a drone for aeriel footage which required a permit from the state park for permission to fly over the falls.
The class joined Brynn outside on the track in October to capture B-roll footage to overlay on top of the dialogue when she talks about how her father was there for her at track meets.
Several running days were planned to capture footage. One was on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which was a rainy day. Ben literally ran behind Brynn while filming, navigating slippery terrain in the rain. Bridger used his photography background to capture unique angles with the camera focusing from leaves to Brynn as she runs past. The two also joined her family at their home over Christmas break to record the dialogue as well as footage of her sons. The original story was over 45 minutes in length and the team knew that edits were necessary to keep the video engaging and to meet the contest time frame guidelines. Ben took Brynn’s spoken words and narrowed them down into a succinct script that Brynn then read from the Teleprompter in the Gismondi Center for Media Arts studio.
The 37th annual Mt. Summit Challenge race was held on April 28, 2019. Ben was there, with camera in hand, to capture footage of Brynn at the starting line, at the water station near the mid-point, and when she crossed the finish line. Brynn won the race as first female for the second time. Her father’s birthdate appeared again in her race bib number, however, this was the first time that she was given the option to choose her number 252 after race officials heard her story.
Editing for the film took several weeks as Ben worked during his 90 minute internship and lunch periods. Custom masks were added to transition between scenes using the treeline. Audio channels were overlaid to mix the sound of footsteps running with the background music. Audio levels were adjusted to increase or decrease the volume for effect at certain points in the story. Slow-motion effects were also added at key points. Poems written by Brynn about her father were spoken and weaved throughout the story.
This feature film will be entered into the 2020 Ledlenser Trails in Motion film tour. When asked about the project, Mrs. Marzano replied, “It was a big undertaking for our newly established media center that was only in its second year. The students gave of their time and talents and the result is beautiful. It was great for Ben to have a project of this size and scope to dedicate his time to. Ben has a keen eye for the cinematic vision of a video project and the innate ability to capture footage that matches his vision. Ben has worked alongside his father, Torrey Witt, at Witt Studio and used the skills he has developed over the years.” Brynn stated, “Thank you so much for such a gift. I absolutely love the film. My mom loves it. Eric and I both cried. The boys ask to watch it every day – they love seeing themselves and getting to know their grandpa.”
Dedicated to A.J. “Jazer” Cunningham
February 15, 1952 – June 1, 2013
Uniontown High School online school newspaper Tomahawk Talk