THE PROFESSORS' PROJECT
A Documentary Film by Dan Elghossain and John J. Leaver, September 30, 2014

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JJ Leaver and Dan Elghossain
Photograph by Nick Romanenko

Dan Elghossain has been involved with TV since he attended Rutgers University, where he worked at the TV station. After graduating from Rutgers in 2009, Dan has worked at the Travel Channel, Bloomberg Television, and now he works freelance for Aljazeera America and part time at Princeton University. Working freelance allows Dan to pursue his own projects, the first one being "The Professors' Project," with his friend since college, JJ Leaver.

John J. (JJ) Leaver first got involved in video production at Mercer County Community College, where he mainly directed and worked on shows for public access channel MC-TV26. He graduated with a degree in television production in 2005 before going to Rutgers, where he soon got a job at their television station. JJ worked in various degrees of production such as editing, shooting, directing and producing. This is where JJ met Dan and it wasn't long before they started working on projects together both at Rutgers and outside in the way of shooting weddings. JJ graduated with a degree in Communication in May 2010 and has been doing freelance video work ever since in different capacities, such as public interest videos, conferences, and musical performances. With endeavors such as The Professors' Project, he is hoping to expand further into creative documentary style videos.

Proposal

In October of 2013 The Professors were contacted by Dan and JJ. The two filmmakers had become fans of the band through mutual colleague Nick Romanenko and were particularly intrigued by the confluence of rock n roll music and academic life expressed in original songs such as “Untenured Blues,” “Peer Review,” and “Foucault Funk: The Michel Foucault Postmodern Blues.” There clearly must be a story behind how a faculty of successful and renowned academics could also really light the stage on fire with rocking and interesting original music. Dan and JJ decided that they wanted to tell that story.

Plan

Dan and JJ’s goal was to record, edit, and produce a mini-documentary about The Professors which would run about 15-20 minutes long. The original plan was to film a dress rehearsal for a show in a practice studio. Then they would come to the actual show itself, performed at Rutgers University in December 2013, and capture footage of the band performing on stage for an audience of graduate students from the School of Communication and Information. In between would be scenes of the band members talking about their work, the band, and what drew the two together. Dan and JJ made it clear that the band’s original music would be the heart and soul of their film.

Progress

It soon became clear that one rehearsal and one gig at Rutgers would not be enough to capture the essence of The Professors. The following month, January 2014, The Professors were scheduled to play at a national conference of library educators in Philadelphia. Now we had a band of academics playing for an audience of academics at a national academic conference in a big city. This should be the perfect combination of elements to convey what The Professors were all about. Dan and JJ filmed the concert in Philadelphia. However, they also recorded two-to-three-hour interviews with each band member, some of which also included time shadowing the band member as they went through their daily life as a university professional or a student. Though the footage was piling up, Dan and JJ planned to complete and release of the film in the early spring of 2014.

Predicament

Come March of 2014, Dan and JJ were not acting at all like their typical upbeat selves - they seemed distracted and down. When asked, they admitted to being concerned about several things: First they were overwhelmed by the amount of footage they had recorded (nearly 100 hours) plus hours of archival footage provided by the band; second they had no idea how to take all that footage and condense it into a 15-20 minute film; and, perhaps most importantly, they were unsure as to what the theme of the movie should be… what would be ‘the angle’ or the narrative arc that would capture what The Professors was all about?

Percolating

Dan and JJ were largely off the grid from spring 2014 until early August 2014, when they contacted The Professors again. The band was eagerly awaiting some news of completion, but all the filmmakers could say was, “We are getting veeeeery close. But we do need a LITTLE more footage…”

There was, safe to say, a collective sigh of disappointment and sad shaking of heads across the entire band.

What could be taking so long, they all wondered?

And will the wait be worth it?

They had no idea just how powerfully that question would be answered.

Product

On Friday, September 26th 2014, the current members of The Professors sat in a darkened, quiet classroom on the Cook Campus of Rutgers University, accompanied by past band members and a few close friends. The pizza had been eaten, the beer had been opened, and as the dusk began to fall outside the moment of truth had arrived. The tension in the room was palpable: Dan and JJ were concerned the band would be unhappy with the film and how they were portrayed. The band had no idea what to expect and were worried that after almost a full year the final product would be a letdown. Finally, the words were said: “Here we go.” The lights were dimmed, the PLAY button was pressed and thus began the premiere of:


The Professors' Project from Dan Elghossain on Vimeo.

Screenings

Since the informal screening on September 30th, 2014, The Professors' Project has been screened in a number of prestigious and juried academic venues.

The Premiere Screening of The Professors' Project took place at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, NJ, March 5, 2015.

The Professors’ Project: Where research meets riffs (juried and competitively selected) was presented at the 19th annual conference of the New Jersey Communication Association, St. Peter’s University, Jersey City, NJ, April 11, 2015.

The Professors’ Project: Exploring the connections between academic life and musical creativity (juried and competitively selected) was presented at the 106th annual conference of the Eastern Communication Association, Philadelphia, PA, April 25, 2015.

The Professors’ Project: Exploring the connections between academic life and musical creativity (juried and competitively selected) was presented at the 73rd annual conference of the New York State Communication Association, Villa Roma Resort, Callicoon, NY, October 17, 2015.

And the Big One!!

The Professors’ Project: Expressing the vicissitudes of academic life through musical creativity and performance (juried and competitively selected) was presented at the 101st annual conference of the National Communication Association, Las Vegas, NV, November 18, 2015.

Here are the reviews of the NCA referees:

Reviewer 1

This is a very passionate, creative, and well-narrated project!!! I enjoyed watching the video, hearing the comments from the scholars/musicians, and of course, those fun musical performances that were woven into the documents!

I hope the presenters could elaborate more on the larger meanings behind organizing and keeping the band. I understand that playing the rock and roll music is a great way to entertain the audience and the performers who are mostly professors having a successful and yet stressful careers. But the point is how such a band can contribute the current academic world as an important theoretical, cultural, political, or social issue, other than the fact that it challenges the stereotyped images of professors and gives performers a break from the pressure at work? I hope the panel participants can think about this question and prepare a detailed answer for it.

Reviewer 2

Hello Professors' Project people. By some odd coincidence I was chosen (oops--passive there!)to review your documentary. I say co-incidence because I'm a retired Professor who moved to Chicago to do some stand-up! The documentary is SO well put together. I enthusiastically recommend this presentation.

Reviewer 3

What a great story! I would have liked a clearer explanation/description about how you would inform "cultivating the creative spirit in academe". The peer reviewed article referenced a number of articles used to examine the experiences specific to THIS band - how the ideas and researched applied to this band's experience. What I had expected (and wanted...maybe needed?), based on the panel description and rationale was a broader discovery of just how we could enhance our own creative process within academe.





This page last updated January 14, 2016 by Gary Radford.
Many thanks to Kurt Wagner, Marie Radford, and Jon Oliver.