Interview with Dr. Joe Bookman

by Olivia Ruffins’20

Dr. Joe Bookman, assistant professor of media studies, is a recent addition to the Beloit community. For the past four years, Dr. Bookman taught film and media classes at Penn State Behrend— a branch campus of Penn State University, located in Erie, Pennsylvania. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Dr. Bookman coordinated a small equipment lab for Behrend’s Communication Department, as well as managed a special project that aimed to draw independent film productions to Erie. 

In this September 13th interview, Dr. Bookman shared the nonlinear path he took to pursuing a doctorate in media studies, and how he plans on utilizing his educational and professional experiences to partner with faculty and staff to create a new media lab on Beloit’s campus. 

COULD YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT DREW YOU TO BELOIT? 

I have a background in film and media studies and creative writing, and I went to Oberlin College. In my twenties, I worked a bunch of different jobs, did different things, wound up at grad school, got my PhD, but I was sort of an unusual candidate in my media studies program because I spent a lot of time actually making films, working with people in the FMA program at the University of Iowa.

I kinda had a dual type trajectory—academic and creative— which again, was not so common in my program, but that lead me to get a job at Penn State Behrend. There, I taught film classes and media classes, and was heavily involved in running campus equipment labs and developing the new digital cinema initiative there.

I spent a lot of time dealing with the equipment needs of students there and managing access to those resources. I was on the job market and was kinda keenly aware of what all the different possibilities were out there nationwide, but the Beloit job immediately sort of stuck out to me instantly [i.e.,]”This is a good fit. I would like to be here. I think I could bring a lot to this institution.” I have been eager to find my way back to a liberal arts institution, as I have a deep fondness of my own undergrad years. 

ARE YOU TEACHING ANY CLASSES THIS SEMESTER? 

I am. I’m teaching one class; it’s called “The Video Essay.” It’s a production class, but it’s sort of a mixture of production and theory, and creative writing. We are looking at the essay as a literary form, as a cinematic form, and now, what it means in the sort of era of new media and experimental film-making online. It’s the first time I’ve taught the course, but it’s material that is interesting to me and that I’ve spent time with it in the past, so having the opportunity to teach a course like this is pretty cool.

I’VE HEARD THAT YOU ARE PLANNING ON LAUNCHING A NEW MEDIA LAB HERE. COULD YOU SPEAK A LITTLE ABOUT THAT AND WHAT YOU ENVISION IT WILL BE LIKE?

Great question. I don’t have concrete answers yet, but I can tell you sort of where we’re at? I am working this year to introduce new production resources onto campus, and there is some funding available to make purchases. Right in this moment, I’m in the process of trying to finalize an assessment of where all of the production resources exist on campus. You may or may not know that there are various cameras and audio recorders and lighting resources available to students, but there’s not a single place where they all live. Some of them are reserved for certain students doing certain kinds of projects. Some are owned by specific departments and that will likely continue into the future in many ways. As I’m working with others to make smart purchases for the new lab, I want to make sure there aren’t too many redundancies with things that Beloit students already have access to…

I think I will probably begin to make purchases later this fall, and into the spring. These will be items that students who are interested in media making, video, audio, music, other things along those lines will be able to have access to. There might be priority access to students who are in production classes and who need access to these resources to complete their assignments, but the system is still being figured out. There is some idea right now that we might partner with the library to integrate these new production resources into their circulation system, so students could basically go to the library to check out cameras, tripods, lighting kits, and things like that. And all of that will become more concrete really within the next couple months.

The media lab project will come into clearer focus sooner than the major, which is sort of a bigger, longer term project, but it’s exciting. I think students who are interested in making things with technology filmmakers and podcasters, and people interested in broadcasting journalism and things like that will have more access—and more convenient access— to better tools than they’ve had in the past…at least in the near foreseeable future.

HOW DO YOU THINK THE ADDITION OF A NEW MEDIA LAB ON CAMPUS WILL HELP STUDENTS TO DEVELOP THEIR PROFESSIONAL SKILLS?

Well, it’s my understanding that access to resources here so far has been a challenge for some students, and some of the resources aren’t fully up to date. So, if you’re trying to go work in the world of production, you need to learn the equipment and have access to it, and take it out and spend time with it and make stuff. That seems like a basic answer to what you’re saying. But I think media production is one of these fields where there is no certain track to getting into the industry or for making a livelihood for yourself. It’s about using all of your education and instincts, and charting a course and actualizing a vision
(in many cases). 

I feel like Beloit is a great place to sort of cultivate those intellectual resources, and in conjunction with technical skills, you’ll be well positioned to try to figure out how to make it work out there, but it’s not an obvious path. You just have to start making stuff;  you have to start developing your skills and start developing your confidence. You take your work out in the world, and you show it to people, and you prove that you can do more and better. And people will hopefully be willing to collaborate with you, or hire you, or introduce you to new possibilities. That’s sort of a general answer, but I think it’s—if you want to do this kind of work—there’s no better way to begin than by making. If you want to write, you have to write. If you want to make videos or audio, you have to get out there and make it a discipline. You know, take it on full time as a dedicated pursuit. We want to provide students the resources necessary for them to be able to do that.