This past April I had the pleasure of attending a ‘Science Film Workshop’ at Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island, Washington. The week-long, intensive course is one of several offered by Colin Bates and Jeff Morales, and it was a jam-packed week of total immersion into the world of film and video. Colin and Jeff teamed up several years ago after meeting at Bamfield Marine Station in British Columbia, and they have since been offering courses both for private individuals, institutions, and for university credit at several Western-Canadian Universities.

Colin Bates

Jeff Morales

I’ve known Colin for several years; we were in the same ‘PhD cohort’ at the University of British Columbia. An avid photographer, Colin brings his ‘techie skills’ to the teaching team - he has got every sort of instrument imaginable and he entertained us with stories about his adventures with lipstick cameras, time-lapse mini-cams and much more. Jeff focuses on the storytelling aspect behind films and videos, and his remarkable resume of projects with National Geographic (including ten Emmy nominations!) speaks to his strength in this area.

On a personal level, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the course. I brought with me a little experience with editing and shot-framing, but the majority of my know-how is in writing, storytelling, and being in front of the camera. Although I could shoot some basic footage with my camera (a Canon Vixia HFH21) I didn't have much idea about all of the different settings for light, sound, color balance etc. In addition to the content of the course, I was also simply looking forward to a week of being immersed in the unbelievably gorgeous environment at Friday Harbor Labs. By gorgeous I should clarify that I mean BOTH the scenery and the exciting buzz of being on a research station where everyone is so completely immersed in their work….such a vibrant and invigorating atmosphere!

We started out our week learning about the ‘building blocks’ of a scene, and slowly built up from there. The experiences of the course participants were quite varied, as were our home bases…we were an ecclectic group, from destinations as disparate as Alaska and South Carolina. Despite our varied levels of knowledge, we were all challenged in our own ways – and of course the bottom line for all of us was to learn as much as possible, no matter what tools we were starting out with. Days were long- I felt like I was back in undergrad summercamp! Lectures started promptly at 8:30am, and we were kept very busy until around 9pm with lectures, film assignments and evening screenings.

Friday Harbor Labs (FHL) was perfectly equipt to house this workshop, with a lab full of imac computers designated specifically for our use. The course is taught using imovie, although if you are a user of another type of software Colin and Jeff do their best to accommodate you. I was one of those ‘misfits’, being a PC girl till the end, so I was using my own computer with Adobe Creative Suite 5. While I’m singing the praises of FHL I should mention that the accomodations were great and the cafeteria food was spectacular. I HIGHLY recommend looking for another workshop to attend there!

Now for the videos! After a week of learning the techniques, we all completed on a final project video of our own, and we had a mini-film festival on our last night to showcase them. There were so many great projects from the participants in my workshop – a really diverse crowd. Here are a few of my favorites:

SueEllen Campbell is an English professor at Colorado State University, and she has a huge interest in helping scientists better communicate their work to the world. I loved SueEllen’s story, and especially her final project, because she so eloquently explains that this whole process can be entirely unnerving and frustrating at first! Her journey throughout the week is beautifully captured in this video.


Monika LaPlante is an undergraduate student in Environmental Science and Marine Biology at Northeastern University. I loved her short film for its creativity and pure humor. To pull off a parody like this takes talent – the ability to know how much humor to include and when to call it good. I think she struck an excellent balance.


Lastly, here’s mine. Much of my blogging and video projects have involved a more serious and ‘textbook’ approach to interviewing and talking about science, so I really wanted to break out of my comfort zone and take up something a little more humorous. This video compilation was a blast to make, and all of my lovely classmates lent me their voices for the characters.


ScienceFilm currently has two upcoming film sessions planned for the fall of 2011, an October session back at Friday Harbor and a November session based at the Vancouver Aquarium. Check back to their website for the dates, to be announced soon. I found the course to be an amazing combination of information, great people, comraderie and food for the soul. I had always wanted to explore Friday Harbor, and I simply cannot think of a better way to have done it.