Sunday, March 20, 2016

TreeStory Director Ward Serrill Gives Ballard Film Student a Chance to Grow

Students in Ballard’s Digital Filmmaking Program are fortunate to live in a film-loving city with an active filmmaking community.  Any list of distinguished filmmakers in the area is bound to include Ward Serrill.  Serrill made a big splash in 2005 with his Oscar-caliber documentary The Heart of the Game.  Following the premiere at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival, it was given international distribution by Marimax, picking up various nominations for Best Documentary.  Serrill himself was nominated for Best Documentary Screenplay by the Writers Guild of America.      

Serrill’s most recent work is a big contrast from the crowded gymnasiums of raucous fans in The Heart of the GameTreeStory (, a web-series, encourages viewers to hear the voices of our silent neighbors.  Explains Serrill: “Everywhere I have ever lived: Alabama, Seattle, Alaska, Port Townsend, I have always gravitated towards one particular tree in the area and start what feels like a friendship with it. When I mentioned this to people, I was surprised to hear that many people have relationships with special trees in their lives. So I thought, perhaps I can make a film series that tells some of these stories, that shows people's devotion to trees. In the deeper sense I hope to inspire a movement of TreeStories that will grow into a deeper stewardship with trees on the planet.”  Serrill hopes that audience donations will make it possible to release a new episode of TreeStory every month.  

Serrill serves on the Professional Advisory Committee for Ballard’s Digital Filmmaking Program.  He shares his wisdom with classes in excellent guest lectures.  On TreeStory, he provided an internship for senior Leo Pfeifer.  Although Pfeifer has won awards for various types of productions, documentary is his special interest.  “When I found out I would have the chance to work with Ward through this internship, I was very excited. I’d seen some of his work, which I was a huge fan of, and heard him talk about documentary filmmaking, so I knew that this internship would be a tremendous learning experience for me.”  The DFP routinely arranges internships for students, giving them an opportunity to earn school credit as they learn from professionals.  “My main duty was logging footage and transcribing interviews.  I was able to see Ward’s interview technique, the ways that the footage was shot, how the audio was recorded, and countless other small things that gave me a stronger understanding of documentary production. Ward and I also discussed the structure and story of the piece. He asked for my input, and explained his thoughts and approach to structuring it. Right away, I could really tell that Ward was invested in making this a learning experience for me, and not just giving me some tasks to do. He was always interested in hearing my thoughts on the project, and he took the time to look at a couple documentaries I had made to give me feedback.”

Leo wasn’t the only one who felt he came out ahead.  Working with Leo was revelatory” says Serrill. “He served as an assistant editor and as a production assistant. He is so talented and works with such a great attitude that I would bring him on to any program I was working on. I couldn't have done this series without him.”  Since completing the internship, Serrill has hired Leo to work on future episodes.  “I am a great fan of the Ballard film program. And working around young people who have a passion to learn is very inspiring to my process.”