One of the oversized monitors at Jacques Mersereau’s desk streams a live feed from cameras in the video studio next to his editing room, and the other plays a loop of student and faculty projects. The patch bays, the speakers, the toolboxes and the wide desk in front of him are all black, and his parrot-patterned Hawaiian shirt lights up the room.
As the producing manager of the Digital Media Commons Video Studio in the Duderstadt Library, Mersereau spends his workday helping students and faculty with video projects of all kinds.
“People come in and are putting their art on the chopping block. That’s their baby, and there’s an incredible amount of stress and tension, so I try to have the ‘aloha’ spirit. Part of my job is just coming in and having a goofy shirt on and smiling,” Mersereau says of the 40-plus Hawaiian shirts he owns.
The video studio can be booked by anyone in the university community. “It doesn’t matter who you are as long as you have a UMich email address,” says Mersereau.
The studio does many student films, which often bring together engineers, musicians, actors and writers. “To juggle this whole machine, with all its moving parents, is incredible, and many students tell us that working here is their favorite experience at Michigan,” he says.
The studio’s offerings include a motion-capture system with ball suits (to make 3-D characters), a dance floor, green screens, and thousands of dollars’ worth of lights and projectors.
“The Video Studio takes the U of M’s creative community’s ideas and turns them into something they can share with the world,” Mersereau says.
The studio typically churns out a project a week, but no two videos are the same. Recently, Mersereau has worked on a Broadway pitch, in which three musical theater professors put together 30 dance numbers based on Air Supply songs. The show, called “Dance with Me,” currently is looking for investors.
A senior in the Stamps School of Art and Design utilized the video studio to put together a video diorama about her parents coming to America, which went on to win “best experimental film” at the Toronto International Film Festival.
One student wanted to shoot a scene from the script he wrote for his senior thesis that called for his character crawling through broken glass.
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“‘No’ is never the first answer. ‘Let’s see if we can make it happen’ is,” Mersereau says of accommodating tricky requests. They used sugar glass, which looks authentic, “but then it got super hot and humid and the next thing the ‘glass’ melted all over the floor. We got the shot, though.”
Many of the students who use the space are working on a big project for the first time, and Mersereau and the Video Studio team helps push them to produce their best work.
“It’s really hard to make a living in art or writing or music. I’ve done it for many, many years, and it’s important to help people who have that passion. To give them as much of a leg up as we can,” he says.
Mersereau released his own film in 2005, a documentary about Kensington Park’s osprey reintroduction project. He and his wife wrote, filmed and edited the movie, which won an Emmy for best cinematography. “It was very arduous and long and a lot of nail biting and spent a lot of money, but we wanted people to love the birds like we did.”
He and his wife, Christi, hope to work together on another nature documentary. Mersereau and Christi met in Ann Arbor as undergraduates; she was a Big Ten champion swimmer and he was doing sound at Rick’s American Café, where she was celebrating with friends. “Meeting her was one of the best things that ever came out of Rick’s,” Mersereau remembers, smiling.