You’d never know it from the outside, but the non-descript trailer is a “learning laboratory” on the inside, giving St. Bonaventure University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication a “magnet” to attract students “that no other school in the country has.”
Game Creek Video has given the university a television production trailer, originally valued at $5 million when it was designed by Unitel Video in 1988. Game Creek engineer Tom Kline and Buffalo video engineer Paul Halsey visited campus Friday morning to show faculty and students how to operate the equipment on the 48-foot trailer.
Journalism lecturer Paul Wieland invited CBS producer Mark Wolff, father of Alex Wolff, one of Wieland’s students, to serve as a guest speaker in one of his courses. Wieland mentioned that he needed equipment to teach a production course.
“Two weeks later, I get a message from Mark that he not only found some equipment for us, he also found a truck. I thought he was kidding,” Wieland said. “Everybody at the school is just thrilled. What a student magnet this is going to be.
“Our journalism program is pretty strong, but this is the coolest thing. No other school in the country has anything like this. It’s like Santa Claus came.”
Mark Wolff had reached out to Ken Aagaard of CBS Sports, who put in a call to Ray Cantwell at Game Creek Video, who just happened to have a truck sitting around.
“It’s a well thought-out truck that’s exceptionally well designed, but it’s analog SD (standard definition), so we weren’t having any luck selling it,” said Game Creek Video President Pat Sullivan. “Ray came to me and told me about this conversation with Mark Wolff. I know that St. Bonaventure has a pretty active TV-production program. I contacted them, and the truck was on its way.”
In Game Creek’s early years, the company — headquartered in Hudson, N.H. — did a fair amount of work in the Atlantic 10 conference, home to St. Bonaventure.
“We were at St. Bonnie’s a lot, and people were always really grateful to us,” said Sullivan. “Trucks are meant to be used, not sit dormant. It was not a difficult decision.”
Because the equipment on the truck is analog and not high-definition, the value is now about $200,000. But it’s “priceless” as a learning tool for the university, said Wieland, who was more familiar with the donation than he first realized.
“I looked up the specs on the truck and realized I used to direct on that same truck when it was owned by Unitel back in the ’90s,” Wieland said with a laugh.
Built in 1988, the 48-foot double-expando truck was once one of the signature mobile units in the country, taking on big-ticket entertainment shows like the Academy Awards. As a former freelance producer and director — as well as longtime head of the Buffalo Sabres’ television operations — Wieland worked in the truck, among other production trucks, before leaving seven years ago to teach at St. Bonaventure.
Thanks to the gift, two new sports-specific production courses are in the works, Wieland said.
Game Creek has a contract with the Buffalo Sabres, whose home ice is 70 miles north of St. Bonaventure, so an engineer will be able to spend significant time on campus giving Wieland’s team a rundown on the truck. With the equipment already inside, “it could do a college basketball game tomorrow,” Sullivan said.
The truck will be eventually be moved this summer near the Reilly Center, with cables run into the building and out to the athletic fields to facilitate game and event production, Wieland said. The truck should be able to be used for class instruction by the fall.
That equipment includes a Grass Valley 3000 switcher, four hard Ikegami cameras with Canon lenses, three hand-held Ikegami cameras, four Sony W75 Beta decks, a Yamaha 3500 audio console, a Chyron Infinit, and an Abekas DVEous. Wieland hopes the production truck will allow the journalism program’s 295 students to provide content for Time Warner’s Upstate New York sports channel.
“The thrust of the truck would be to provide in standard-def a series of sporting events to Time Warner,” Wieland said. “They don’t do any high-def stuff themselves, so we could actually turn out product and make it a learning laboratory for baseball, women’s basketball, men’s basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and whatever else comes down the pipeline. The kids will be able to learn doing real events, not just theory.”
Wieland will also bring in adjunct professors to teach specific modules on technical production, asking his friends from the Sabres’ production team, for example, to teach one on graphics.
About the University: St. Bonaventure is in the top 25 percent of institutions in U.S.News & World Report’s 2009 ranking of Northern universities that offer master’s degrees. It has a history of accomplishment and service that extends back 150 years. At the heart of St. Bonaventure University is the Franciscan affirmation of the dignity and worth of the entire created order. Fundamental to this vision is an awareness that it is within relationships and community that individuals discover and develop their potential.