Interview With Blake Cortright - The First Encampment
By: Scott Robertson
I recently had the pleasure to interview 16 year old Eagle Scout Blake Cortright, who created the documentary film “The First Encampment”. As explained on the films website http://www.thefirstencampment.com/backgroundstory.htm
In 1908, Sir Robert Baden Powell started Boy Scouts in England. Only a few years later, with the backing of Chicago publisherWilliam Boyce, the Boy Scouts of America was formed. The YMCA played an integral part in its early development. In August 1910, the YMCA hosted the first Boy Scout camp in America at Silver Bay in upstate New York.
The film is a 30 minute documentary about this first American Scout Camp held in 1910. The film has already aired once on PBS and will air again in August 2010. You can also buy a dvd copy at http://www.thefirstencampment.com
What was your inspiration for making The First Encampment?
I have always loved filmmaking, videography, and motion pictures. In 2008, when I heard Mr. Bob James give his presentation about this first scout camp, my dad and I knew we just had to record it on film. So we did, the following year.
Is it true that the decedents of Jame E. West actually contacted you? Have any other famous people / families contacted you?
Yes: One day while in school, I got called down to the principal's office, and of course that got a lot of "Blake's in trouble" sort of comments which are typical when one is called to the office. Then, I wait down there for about five minutes trying to figure out why I'm being requested. The principal comes out and invites me to his office. He told me that my documentary had spread wide and far and many people had heard about it now. One person who heard about it was the wife of James West's grandson. She sent me a very kind letter and a book written by James West, and now re-released by her son titled "Making the Most of Yourself". We got in further contact with the West family and have been in communication now for some time.
Are there any behind the scenes video or even bloopers you can share with us?
Unfortunately, I only ran one camera during the presentation, and therefore the things happening behind the camera were not recorded. No real bloopers, or behind the scenes on this project.
This is mainly because I wasn't even planning on making a documentary rather I just wanted to record the presentation. There is a Bonus Section on the DVD titled, "Story Behind The First Encampment with director Blake Cortright" in which I talk about how this project came about, and some of the challenges and triumphs I experienced during production. Also, in that section are interviews with some of the voice actors that are quite interesting.
I am a computer geek, and the geeky side of me always likes to ask … How long did it take you to complete the film? What kind of equipment did you use? (For example cameras, lighting, mics, etc.) What software do you use for video editing? Where do you find music and sounds to use for your films?
Approximately eight months. I shot the main presentation in August of 2009. I shot a separate interview with Mr. James in September, 2009. I started really getting into the "documentary" editing, (which went way beyond my original plan to just edit in photos when he narrated about them), in mid November of 2009. We sent a "final copy" to our local PBS affiliate, WMHT, in early January 2010, and heard back from them in late February 2010. I finalized production in April, and it aired on TV in late May.
My personal equipment was very low-budget and simplistic, but effective (being a high school student with no job can do that). The camera used to capture everything which is seen (and not seen) on the DVD is the Canon VIXIA HV20. It's a handi-cam HDV camcorder which is quite nice and can create pretty nice images when the person using it knows how to "fake" certain things through various camera tricks. I used mainly hand-held mics intended for use in presentations, run through a sound system, and my audio interface (XLR audio cable into USB for computer use). Toward the end of the project, I had a pretty nice shotgun mic which I used during the interviews of me and of some of the voice actors for the DVD which are seen in the Bonus Features section. For lighting, I just used a mix of things: Bright halogen lights (including a clamp light), two small LED lights, and natural light as well.
I used Final Cut Express to edit the documentary (and the promotional videos), and I edited on a borrowed Mac Pro which I was allowed to work on. I edited "The Story Behind The First Encampment" in Final Cut Pro and created the DVD in DVD Studio Pro on my new Macbook Pro which I got in April.
For music, I used Apple's Garageband, and Soundtrack Pro. I also used a royalty free package called "Pro Scores" from Videocopilot.net
Do you have any formal training in making films?
I attended a summer film camp at Compass Film Academy in August 2009, before I filmed Bob James' presentation. I learned many new things and had many wonderful experiences. It was a great time and I really enjoyed the whole week long camp. There was a ton of information in just one week. I have not taken any film courses in school, though I do intend to go to college and study Communications concentrating in Film. However, I made my first home movie when I was 6 or 7. Then I did a few things here and there, until 2006, when my partner, Matthew Elton, and I began video taping ourselves and friends in the woods. This is when we started "Plasma Productions" our videography studio. We made Star Wars Fanfilms for a year and a half and got experience that way. In 2008 we started doing work for other people, beginning with our Church. Since then, we've both grown a lot in technical ability and storytelling ability as well.
I understand you made Eagle at the age of 14, does being an Eagle hold any special meaning for you?
Yes. Earning the rank of Eagle Scout was one of the most rewarding achievements of my life. It still is very rewarding. Partially because of the title itself and the honor that goes along with it because of those Eagle Scouts that have gone before me in the last 100 years, but also I've learned so much that I wouldn't have otherwise. I learned survival, camping, first aid, leadership, citizenship, management, as well as planning skills, to name a few. All of these skills have been helpful in life, and many in making this documentary.
Have you made any other films relating to Scouting? Do you have them on youtube?
I created a short "Join Scouting" commercial ( called "Boy Scouts Do It All”) for a Boy's Life video contest
It is on my website here:
also on vimeo: http://vimeo.com/8523883
and youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnZLkAPFw2E
What are your favorite things about Scouting? What do you think Scouting could do better at?
I really love the team building in Scouting. I very much enjoy seeing older Scouts leading and teaching what they've learned to younger Scouts and being a part of that process. The adventures and skills learned are also extremely fun. However, I most enjoy the process of older Scouts passing knowledge, wisdom, and experience to younger Scouts so they can have an even better Scouting experience.
Nothing comes to mind. I really love the organization as a whole.
Did you earn the Cinematography merit badge?
Yes, about a year ago, and it was after I became an Eagle Scout. The delay was only because I couldn't find a merit badge counselor for the longest time, but I finally found one and he was very kind and we did it in one night (because I came prepared).
What else do you do in your free time, besides making movies? Any special hobbies? Do you play any musical instruments?
I make movies- oh right. :) I fellowship with my Church family, play piano, work on motion graphics, climb/hike mountains. I also watch movies too from time to time. My main hobby is filmmaking.
I understand you do well in school and that you are a honor student. Any advice for Scouts who are not doing so well in school?
Work with the school system. In my school, teachers stay in their classrooms after school so students who are struggling can get extra help. This has proven crucial after I had been out sick during lessons in class. Also, talk with your peers and older Scouts in your troop. Tent with them on campouts and have someone teach you material as well. They know a lot and are already sharing much with you; use your resources.
Do you have any advice or suggestions for other young would be film makers?
Just keep shooting! If you are looking for stories, stories that people want to hear (like The First Encampment of the Boy Scouts), you'll find them. I didn't know I was going to make a documentary when I started, but I just kept filming. I didn't know my work would be aired on a PBS affiliate or that I would meet so many interesting and experienced people because of it. I also learned so much from this project and I continue to learn so much as it goes along. I would say never assume you've reached the pinnacle of knowledge in any area of film, because then you limit yourself from learning more and being better at something. Also, don't compete with others, compete with yourself. Always do your latest work better than the work preceding it.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me – good luck and keep that camera rolling!
And, thank you for your interest, support, and excitement about the project! I'm thrilled to have been able to use my skills and passion in filmmaking to document a wonderful, historic event such as The First Encampment.