Producer Fiona Cushing-Allan checks a camera angle as her team of students sets up for a weekly television program at NSCC's Waterfront Campus. (Photo: Colin Parrott)

NSCC TV program as real as it gets

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Fiona Cushing-Allan leans back in a leather interview chair while the rest of her team sits perched on the stage’s edge in front of her.

One person sits at the news anchor desk and another works the camera. Technical jargon is flying around the room as the group works out stage directions in this television production studio.

“What about pedaling the camera up?” someone says. “See how those monitors in the background look higher now? Don’t we need some light above them in the control room?”

It’s a professional studio equipped with professional gear. But the people aren’t professional news anchors or producers – they are students.

Their show, Waterfront Weekly, debuts in late October and the group has only two more weeks to work out the technical details. They do it all – producing, directing, sound and lighting.

Cushing-Allan is learning by doing. The 19-year-old is a second-year student at Nova Scotia Community College, where she is taking the radio and television arts program. She chose to focus specifically on television production because she wants to work as a producer.

“I like to do hands-on things. I want to make stuff and at the end of the day be able to say, ‘Hey, I made this’,” Cushing-Allan says about her decision. Other options in the program are radio production or broadcast journalism.

The program, based at NSCC’s new Waterfront Campus in Dartmouth, has a competitive entry process that ensures small classes – only 30 students from 250 applicants are accepted each year. And only nine focus on television production. This ensures they have access to the equipment they need to learn technical skills.

Cushing-Allan, originally from Bridgewater, is a winner of the Garfield Weston Merit Scholarship for Colleges. She is one of 25 students to win the national award, which offers $8,000 and participation in a mentorship program. Her mentor is Geoff D’Eon, the producer of This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Scholarship rules say she must maintain a 70 per cent average in the program, so she takes her role seriously.

“It’s like a job. If someone’s sick, they have to call in and tell us because we do everything. If that person’s in charge of sound, we’ve got to know so we can cover for them or else we’re screwed.”

Steve Melanson, the instructor for television production, says the program equips students to work in the industry. “If they’re going to university, they get the education. If they do this program, they get the skills. They’re both valuable – just different.”

Students like Bill Barnaby are attracted to the up-to-date equipment and an instruction style that allows students to make decisions independently.

“When I walked into the door I looked forward to doing the work … if you do it long enough, it’s not really like school. It becomes part of a lifestyle,” says Barnaby.

Cushing-Allan says she, too, is attracted to the creative aspects of TV and doing something different every day.

For now, she has plenty to do. The team needs to get back to set design. They still have a few more lighting details to figure out.

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