They’re not exactly mad scientists, but they are student filmmakers, and that is why they volunteered to start a documentary Web series showcasing undergraduate science researchers and their work.
Maliik Morales and Alexander Shoneck, both film majors, are the brains behind this new documentary Web series, which they’ve titled The Expo.
The film project consists of mini documentary-type episodes spotlighting interesting science research being conducted by students. The project originated with a Reddit post that Morales stumbled upon last semester from the Mad Scientists Research Society club, an organization that aims to foster scientific curiosity and research via mentoring and discussion.
The club was seeking volunteer help for the Web series, and Morales and Shoneck viewed it as an interesting opportunity. Although it began as a volunteer project, they soon turned it into an independent study for academic credit in order to rent out film equipment they might need.
The film duo generally receives requests to be included in their Web series from members of the Mad Scientists Research Society club; they then do preliminary interviews before starting the actual filming process. They tend to structure their interviews deliberately in order to make sure that the sometimes-complex information is both interesting and easily digestible to their viewers.
“We’ll talk about what influenced them as children, what influenced them in high school, how they got interested in research and, you know, just go through why they’re here, pretty much, and talk a little about their future and what they hope to achieve with their research,” Morales said. “That can take weeks because we have to cipher through all this information and build some sort of narrative based on that and create a coherent timeline for our viewers.”
The interviews with the researchers aren’t the only component in the Web series, but they are the foundation that holds the whole episode together and gives it cohesiveness. Their first video spotlighted undergraduate researcher Hollis Dahn, an evolutionary biologist who studies reptiles and traveled to China as part of her research.
“We’ll gather either footage of them doing thing things in the lab or previous [field] experiences — so Hollis Dahn, whose [episode] we just finished, took several trips to China, and we got footage of her in China doing her work, so the interview was kind of just the backtracking to the whole thing,” Shoneck said.
Not all of the researchers that they feature have taken extensive trips around the world, however, so to supplement their episodes with diverse footage Morales and Shoneck sometimes create mock labs for the researchers to show viewers what they do, or they venture out into the field with their cameras to accompany the researchers.
Their two next episodes will highlight the research of Kelly Rosch, a researcher at UCF’s Applied Cognition and Technology Lab who studies how people learn through different teaching methods, and Steven Carrion, a researcher at UCF’s Coastal and Estuarine Ecology Lab and president of the Mad Scientists Research Society, who studies how the environment affects plants.
Shoneck decided to jump on this film project because opportunities are precious things in an industry as competitive as film, while Morales thought it would be a good chance to hone his skills by producing a documentary.
“I was actually already interested in documentaries, so I wanted to do something along those lines and so, when I saw that post on Reddit, I wasn’t necessarily thinking, ‘Oh this is a good documentary opportunity,’ but it kind of just morphed into that, and so far it’s been a cool experience,” Morales said.
Charles Sutter, a film professor who has been teaching at UCF for a little more than two years, agreed to sponsor their independent study project. He has been impressed with their work thus far and said he is happy to see them hone their craft with a project they thoroughly enjoy.
“It’s funny, they play off of each other well even though their strengths seem to be in different directions,” Sutter said. “Malik is a little bit more … I guess, he’s a little bit cynical and laid-back, and Alex is more talkative and outgoing, it seems, but it’s funny, that’s usually how filmmaking teams work out best.”
To watch episodes of The Expo, visit their YouTube channel.
Gabby Baquero is the Entertainment Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Gabby_Baquero or email her at MariaB@centralfloridafuture.com