At 6:45 p.m. on a Wednesday, a crowd slowly files up the stairs to Top of the Roc in downtown Charleston. The second floor of the family-owned restaurant no longer has public events, but they make an exception once a semester.
Students, faculty, family, community members and a few hold-overs from Free Music Friday sit in chairs, on stools and on the stairs. The late arrivals find themselves jostling for a sightline to the spiderweb-shaped screen in the front of the room.
“This my fourth screening and I still get that anxious and excited feeling each time I go,” said senior communication studies major James Bateman. The crowd teemed with excitement and the members of Alt TV all shared in the feeling. It was 6:58 p.m. on a Wednesday, and over a hundred people gathered in a room to watch television together.
Since 2012, the Alternative Television and Film Club at EIU, or as it is lovingly known “Alt TV,” has produced a full episode of television without any external funding or censorship. Students work together communally to create truly innovative and interesting television and screen it in public once a semester.
At 7 p.m., the event commenced when the club’s advisor Dr. Scott Walus walked up to the front of the room. Acting as one part master of ceremonies and one part carnival barker, Walus worked the crowd before introducing everyone who had produced a video that night. Each name was greeted by an enthusiastic cheer from the crowd and a 2.25 inch Alt TV button by Walus. After one final cheer, the room went silent and the show began to play.
As the show played on the large spiderweb screen, the audience reacted like they were attending a midnight screening of their favorite film. “It was a great thing to see this was the biggest crowd we ever had,” said Bateman, “It’s cool to see a big crowd laugh or be moved be your work.” Graduating senior Brandon Barker agreed, “It’s a very accomplishing feeling to actually see a large group of people engaged and laughing at something I created. It’s just motivation to keep getting better.”
The episode had the longest total running time to date, clocking in at 52 minutes. The screening kept up the momentum for its entire duration, culminating with a raucous applause that lasted the duration of the ending credits and a crowd who spent a half an hour socializing about the screening after it concluded. The power of that applause and those midnight movie-esque reactions reverberate far beyond the night of the screening.
“I attended my first Alt TV screening last year, and this year being a part of Alt TV and having produced a film, my experience at the event can only be explained as a moment of clarity’ said Hillary Fuller, a senior communication major, “Being there with so many people, watching the same thing I was, showed me why I joined. I was waiting for this moment to see my work displayed.”
The screening provides both motivation and reward for the craft of television and film production. The As graduating senior and former Alt TV president Kayla Myers said, “I love seeing people grow in film and see their reactions when they see their work at the screening. I love the screening because we finally get to show off all of our hard work and seeing people love what you made is a feeling like no other. I will miss this group so much, but I have loved every minute of it.”
Buried in the excitement of the screening, lies the true purpose of Alt TV: Students make friends as they make videos and become better people as they produce better television. When asked about what made Alt TV special to them, nearly every member echoed the aforementioned sentiment.
Incoming co-president of Alt TV Dakota Pruemer said, “My favorite part about being in Alt TV is the friendships I’ve made because of working together. It’s hard to find people to work on videos with you, and it’s even harder to find people who half know what they’re talking about. I’ve learned so much about making videos, and being a better person because of Alt TV.”
“My favorite part of Alt TV is the people,” said Fuller, “No matter who you are, how experienced you are with film or how long you’ve been in Alt TV, the members make it a mission to make you feel comfortable being yourself and appreciate the art form that is filming. You are never just a member you really become their friends.”
Myers succinctly agreed, “I made some of my best friends in this group and we all get to share the love of film together.”
Work on Episode 8 begins during the spring semester and Alt TV enthusiastically welcomes new members from any major, undergraduate or graduate. Additional information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/ALTTV