Behind the Lens: Marquise Mays transformed through filming

By Marquise Mays, UW-Madison PEOPLE College Scholar, reposted with the permission of Madison Magazine 

Filming my third short documentary, “Voices,” was a transformative experience. “Voices” is a 10-minute documentary chronicling the inception of the first Afro-American Cultural Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1973 and the opening of the newly minted Black Cultural Center in 2017. It tells the erased narratives of black students at UW–Madison.

My goal was to tell a story that has never been shared by this institution. It was also to remind black Badgers that we’ve existed and thrived on this predominately white campus primarily through cultivating and fostering our own spaces, and to inform black Badgers that we come from a lineage of political activists and courageous leaders who remained steadfast and resilient in moments of unrest, and came out victorious.

This was transformative for me because I was invested in these untold stories and learned more about myself throughout the process. The three stages of film—preproduction, production and postproduction—provide a framework for ensuring that your work is always at its best version. I follow this process, not only through film but through life. It has allowed me to know myself, put first things first and be patient with myself.

Preproduction:  Knowing Yourself and Your “Why”
Preproduction can be explained as the process of fixing some of the elements involved in a film and ensuring elements are aligned. This is the stage where you find your “why.” It can include financing, casting actors, and finalizing the director and cinematographer. In the preproduction phase of self-growth, it is important to take these elements into consideration when working toward your best self. With a film, financing is very important. It sets up the infrastructure for the project and acts as the deciding factor on whether your project is high quality.

In the preproduction phase of finding your voice, be sure to know yourself and what’s wholeheartedly best for you. At times, as we work tirelessly to enhance the voices of others, we forget to listen to our own voice. The preproduction phase of “Voices” was interesting because I spent a lot of time ensuring that this story was full and rich in history.

With the time constraint, it was difficult to fit in all of the expansive history of black students at UW–Madison; nonetheless, I found my why. I found myself throughout this process. I realized that recording history, collecting these narratives and filming them was a way to learn more about myself. It allowed me to explore my passion for exposing these untold stories and to help those who strive and thrive in this predominately white space.

To find and know yourself in any endeavor, you must finance and invest in yourself; find a support system that will love you, cheer you on and remind you of your worth. Remember that you are the director of your destiny and that everything is in divine order under your guidance. Act as the cinematographer of your story, ensuring that you capture your voice.

Production: Putting First Things First
Lights, camera, action! This is when the camera begins to roll. This process will capture all the scenes and information in the preproduction process. At this point, you’ve crafted your vision and have found a method to your madness.

To find your voice, you must put first things first. This is something I have learned through the process of creating “Voices.” With such a short amount of time allotted, I had to prioritize aspects of the story over others. It was difficult, but it allowed me to put the narrative and story first.

This process has taught me that in difficult times, I must prioritize not only my story and my narrative, but also my life. Everything else is secondary. During the production phase of growth, life can get hectic and it can cloud your goals. That is why it’s so important to prioritize responsibilities. Put yourself, your health and, most importantly, your why first.

Post production: Patience
After all the footage is captured, it is time to fine-tune and edit the work. Postproduction is my favorite part of the process; it promotes discipline and allows me to practice patience. Patience is a virtue, and it is necessary for the postproduction process.

 I had three days to edit a final version of “Voices,” and those three days showcased my passion and work ethic toward the narrative. I sat for up to six hours each day, clipping, cutting and pasting with the purpose of completing a quality film that prioritized my why over my technical camera and editing skills.

From this experience, I learned that patience feeds off of being disciplined; it encouraged me to take time with myself and with the story to ensure that the narrative was told in all its truth, which it deserves. As I continue to grow and learn, I’ve learned the importance of patience and how not to rush into anything that I am not meticulously aware of. You must stay in the moment and understand that you are on your own time.

The time spent matching videos to sound bites, cutting out the endless “ums” and splicing long answers allowed me to review my passion for documentaries. I have always been a fan of the stages of creating a film. Filming is more than capturing a story; it’s about the process.

These three stages within the process of filming reinforced my passion. It gives me the opportunity to trust the process, trust that I am worthy and trust myself.

Marquise Mays is a University of Wisconsin–Madison student, PEOPLE College Scholar, researcher and filmmaker who works to recreate narratives imposed upon black people.