Hosting Duke’s “Office Hours”

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Like I’ve written in the past, I’m continually amazed at the type of productions that go on at Duke University. Believe it or not, I was able to host Duke’s weekly talk show called “Office Hours” on November 17, 2011. “Office Hours” is streamed live on UStream every week Thursdays at noon and then uploaded to YouTube to be viewed at one’s convenience. “Office Hours” is mostly promoted through Duke Alumni Association, as well as Duke Media Services, but the audience is expanding week by week. Just as the name suggests, the purpose of “Office Hours” is to let students, faculty, alumni and parents listen to conversations that are taking place on Duke’s campus. Viewers can send in questions to be part of the conversation. The idea of my involvement with the show has been in development for many months and started at the beginning of the school year. I initially applied for a social media internship and though I didn’t get the internship, my interviewer referred me to more production-based work with the show “Office Hours.” I’ve gotten to know the staff very well and have watched the past five shows grow into its own audience and style. The episodes usually have a different interviewer and each interviewee brings to the table his/her own flair and knowledge. Afterall, each episode features an important, topical subject. Each week brings a new host and new guests. On my episode, I brought the student voice to the show and I hope that I represented my colleagues fairly.

The topic I dealt with on “Office Hours” was not a light topic. “Campus Mental Health Issues” are serious issues and it is real and prominent. I talked with Dr. Glass, who is the Assistant Director of Outreach and Programming for Duke’s Counseling and Psychological Services (also known as CAPS), throughout the show. The end result is posted below, and though I am extrememly satisfied with it, I spent many hours researching and gearing up for the show. I had two sessions with producers from the show to roleplay the conversation and tweak my script. However, once you sit down in the hosting chair – all script notes fly out of the window. As soon as the show began, my adrenaline overcame by body and all that was left was Dr. Glass and myself. Though I stumbled on my words here and there, I felt I did pretty well for my first time hosting a live long-form talk show (and it’s not an easy task)!

I learned a lot about mental health for college students while I was preparing for this conversation. A common misconception is that everyone is happy here at Duke, at least that’s what it looks like to outsiders. Students cheer on their beloved Blue Devils in Cameron, walk through the beautiful Duke Gardens, converse with fellow students with meaningful dialogue. Though this sounds ideal, this is unfortunately not the case for much of the student population. For example, in a recent study, the American Psychological Association reported a rise in depression and mental illnesses on college campuses. The percentage of students with moderate to severe depression has gone up from 34 to 41 percent in the past 10 years. The American College Health Association assessed colleges across campuses and published shocking statistics such as over the last 12 months, 26.9% of males and 33.3% of females felt so depressed that it was difficult to function and “40.5% of males and 56% of females felt overwhelming anxiety. At Duke, it’s an even more crazed environment, and the situation is often amplified.

Many students at Duke feel they have to follow this Duke mentality of “work hard, play hard” which is mentioned in the upcoming Duke Magazine’s November/December cover story titled “Pressures Beneath the Surface.” Many students believe everyone else is succeeding at balancing their academic and social life, while doing so effortlessly. However, Bridget Booher writes in her article, that in reality, many students feel alone at Duke and experience periods of isolation and this is actually the majority of the population (called the marginalized majority). The current generation of students often experiences a strong fear of failure. We hold ourselves to such high standards and create these ideal expectations because everyone else seems to be doing the same thing at Duke. This fear can turn into either self controlling behaviors (such as eating disorders) or avoidance (which can lead to alcohol abuse or other issues). Dr. Glass hits on these subjects throughout the interview.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the conversation, but we talked about some pretty serious and meaningful topics. Instead of going into more depth, I urge you to check out “Campus Mental Health Issues” that was presented on “Office Hours” this past week.


An Evening with Morgan Spurlock

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If you’re looking for a filmmaker that cuts through to the heart of an issue, who will do whatever it takes to go after an idea and won’t take no for an answer, Morgan Spurlock is your man. He has publicly tortured himself by eating McDonalds three times a day, lived on minimum wage, worked in a coal mine and locked himself up in jail each for 30 days at a time. Morgan Spurlock is an incredibly interesting and compelling person. I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite documentary filmmakers and I learned so much from him during the interview, and then later during his lecture at Duke University. Spurlock makes it his mission to educate our generation. Just by watching his numerous documentaries and TV series one will be impacted in some way from the productions. It was even more special listening and talking to him in person.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Spurlock, maybe “Supersize Me” will ring a bell? Spurlock always had a creative mind, but wasn’t always that successful. After graduating from film school at the prestigious New York University Tisch School of the Arts in 1993, Spurlock struggled to find his niche in the industry. He worked on movie sets and toured the country as a spokesman for ESPN and SONY, but knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. He started his own company, employed 6 fulltime workers and lived off his good credit for years. Eventually, debt caught up with Spurlock, who would have had to file for bankruptcy if he didn’t strike gold when MTV signed his pilot “I Bet You Will” to their company. After that show ended, Spurlock invested the profit from the show into his documentary film “Supersize Me.” In the film, Spurlock uses his own body as a testament to the evils of fast food and our food culture and the obesity we face today.

After “Supersize Me” went on to reach the highest box office success for a documentary up to that time, Spurlock had an easier time pitching and finding the funding for his next projects. Following the success of the reality-documentary “Supersize Me,” Spurlock filmed three seasons of the show “30 Days” and continued making compelling documentaries. This year, he has been on the road promoting his newest box office documentary “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” The film takes a look at product placement by completely breaking down the barrier of subtle advertising in order to provide transparency for the audience. In the film, Spurlock overtly flashes products in an effort to completely finance his film thanks to these products.

Spurlock is a risk taker. He’s also an entrepreneur in the film industry. He will be the first one to try out an idea and be the first to fail at it (which he continues to avoid doing). Spurlock has such a wonderful personality and demeanor so people are willing to trust him to take the risks that some people only think about taking. A regular man on the street will more likely be enamored by Spurlock and go along with him then any average Joe (which may be the reason why his first show “I Bet You Will” took off).

The great thing about Spurlock is he is willing to share information he has gained from his experiences with the world. As a group of eager Duke students, many of us wanted to hear about his successes and failures he encountered thus far in his career. Spurlock shared a large amount of advice with his audience. My favorite anecdote he shared centered around the theme of “negotiating for success.” As part of the legal agreement Spurlock had with his sponsors, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” had to hit 600 million media impressions. Media impressions are a technique used as a PR measurement to calculate how many times some product appears in a form of media (website, news, talk show, paper, etc.). Before settling, Spurlock and his team debated whether they should add an additional measure of 1/10 of a penny after the 600 million media impression mark. However, Spurlock thought he set the bar high for his film and told his top endorsement (POM Wonderful) that they would settle on that number. Little did he know, only a week after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, his movie had not only surpassed the 600 million mark, but would eventually hit 5 billion media impressions. Spurlock estimated he would have made 5.4 million dollars had he aimed higher. “Always negotiate for success” is the motto Spurlock now lives by after losing this potential for a substantial profit. Going forward, he realizes that one should never sell themselves short. There’s a lot to learn from people like Morgan Spurlock and I hope you watch the interview and learn something yourself.