Broadcasting students behind the camera of nationally covered story

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A group of NC students have an incredible story in the palm of their hands that they're turning into a documentary. The story has captured the attention of major news sources like CBC. From left: Megan Murray, Philip Robertson, Andrew Dickhout, Sean Elliott and Evan Forbes.

Niagara broadcasting students know a good story when they see one – just take a look at the national coverage one story has picked up.

The story focuses on John Dickhout, a Welland resident who ran the Hypothermic 10k race in Ottawa after receiving a heart transplant. The donor – a 22-year old from Kanata, a suburb in Ottawa. Dickhout finished the race to cross off an item on his bucket list and to commemorate the selflessness and generosity of his donor, Adam Prashaw, whose family was in attendance cheering him on as he crossed the finish line.

Students of the Broadcasting – Radio, T.V. & Film program have been producing a documentary, titled ‘A Racing Heart’, about the event. Their support and documentary idea gave Dickhout an additional push to take part in the race. The students even financed the journey and helped Dickhout get in shape with the proper training.

The meeting was of chance and fate. Dickhout, who’s an aspiring actor, happened to audition for an NC third-year student film directed by an individual with the same last name, Andrew Dickhout. It was then that they realized they were related. On their way to Toronto for the film’s photoshoot, John mentioned to Andrew about him growing up in Dunnville and his recent heart transplant.

“He told me this amazing story about having this heart attack and getting this list written when his doctor told him that he needed to write his will in case the transplant didn’t work,” said Andrew, the documentary’s director. “He was looking down at this blank piece of paper and it dawned on him that he’s not going to write what’s going to happen when he dies, he’ll start writing down what he’ll do when he survives.”

The bucket list and John’s motivation to meet his donor’s family was a story that Andrew couldn’t pass up. Joining him on the doc were Kristen Little (assistant director), Sean Elliott and Ella Glooch (producers), Michael Curtis and Allan Kotarski (directors of photography), Brenden McAuley and Evan Forbes (sound) and Megan Murray and Philip Robertson (editors).

“This is the biggest deal we’ve had and is something that feels like it’s beyond us,” Andrew said of the project’s undertaking. ‘We had to find a way to tell this story not only on John, but Adam and how their lives interconnected and all of the people they’ve touched…it was a little nerve-racking.”

The emotional story got the attention of major Canadian news outlets. This included a segment on CTV and an interview on CBC’s “As it Happens” with the CBC also requesting footage the students captured to put in their coverage. John additionally made appearances on the Tim Dennis morning show and the story reached as far as Australia.

“Seeing our story in the news was impactful,” said Murray. “Knowing that such an amazing story touched so many people, tackling the emotion behind everything a little more.”

To see John’s determination attract national and international coverage was shocking to the students, despite knowing that they had a great story on their hands.

“We captured this doc as students and it’s getting this amount of coverage, so imagine what we can do when we leave school and we’re out in the industry,” added Forbes.

“You saw in real time the want from people to hear this story. It was like seeing the reviews before the film ever came out,” said Andrew of the coverage. “People were sharing the story and just from hearing that he [John] ran a marathon, saying ‘I’m going to become an organ donor,’ maybe our film can help.”

It was important to the team that both John and Adam’s family feel validated afterwards and that there was a call to action integrated in the project. During their research they discovered that while 90 per cent of Canadians support organ donation, only 20 per cent are willing to donate. After wrapping up the shoot, Forbes made the decision to register as an organ donor.

“Before I thought about being an organ donor but said I’m never going to do it,” said Forbes. “Once I connected with John and the people and learned about the story, I signed up.”

The crew’s diligent work coming together on their editing software, where many hours have been carefully poured into.

The crew spent countless hours on the road and in the studio tinkering with the doc and chipping away at the project like a marble slab. For Elliott, producing the film called for locking down locations, setting John up with trainers and providing the groundwork that the rest of the crew could work on. Editors Murray and Robertson, who weren’t in contact with the individuals on camera, had the challenge of piecing the footage and soundbites together to capture the personality, strength and feel of someone they’ve never met.

“It’s about finding the story and bringing the important pieces to light,” said Murray. “You’re watching these characters develop through a screen, looking through the wishing well, and you connect them from a different perspective to make the audience empathize with characters they know nothing about.”

“It’s the best learning experience I’ve had thus far because it really challenged us as editors,” said Robertson. “I’ve never had to edit anything this emotional and I’ve never edited a documentary prior to this.”

When the doc is complete, the students intend to take it on the film festival route.

“We’ll try to get this story on big screens across Canada,” said Elliott. “Organ donations are something that groups like the Organ Project are trying bring awareness to and get widespread donor-ship across the country, so showing this is at festivals going to highlight the great story of John and the great power of being an organ donor.”

In closing, the crew forwarded some words from Adam Prashaw’s mother, Suzanne.

“She wants to make sure that John understands that Adam doesn’t live within him, this is a gift that Adam chose to give him,” said Andrew. “I hope that this film is a thank you note to Adam, a person that he’ll (John) never be able to thank. I hope we do him well.”

For more information on the Organ Project, click here.

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