George Stranahan documentary, produced by a Colorado Mountain College class, to debut on Rocky Mountain PBS |

George Stranahan documentary, produced by a Colorado Mountain College class, to debut on Rocky Mountain PBS

Carla Jean Whitley

Lessons Learned

Students said the documentary filmmaking class influenced them in ways that extended beyond the classroom. Those interviewed identified things they learned from the film’s subject, George Stranahan.

“I think one of the biggest things was how he talked about teaching and the kind of teacher he wanted to be and the kind of role model he wanted to be, and living life from that perspective. When a teacher is a teacher, not an instructor, it makes a huge difference.” –Rachel Mayoral

Daniel Workman grew up with an interest in photography and film, but he had never experienced a dark room. Instead, he would take film to a lab. That changed during the course of filming.

“In that scene when we take (George) in the studio and I shoot him and we develop the film … I hadn’t had anybody do that with me who grew up in that era and had that knowledge of the craft. I spent so much time failing in the dark room. … George was amazing. His age is an advantage where he’s been around and he’s seen more work.” –Daniel Workman

“What I took away the most from George was how to speak up for my community. Back in the day George saw how Aspen was bubbling up into what it is today and not only spoke up, but took measures to keep his community of Woody Creek from being evaporated by that surge of growth. George’s actions have inspired me, and now with the documentary’s release, I feel, at the very least, I need to speak up. Right now my hometown is showing tell tale signs that mirror what was happening in Aspen. Paonia, only 70 miles away, is a small farming town. When a good majority of the mines shut down four years ago, land and real estate developments have unexpectedly started to pop up. The Average Sale Price - Residential Properties Delta County Sales (as reported to the MLS) jumped from $146,522 in 2011 to $216,390 in 2017. Although I no longer live in Paonia, it is my hometown, and I still have family and friends there. I have the same wretched dread for Paonia and its residents as George Stranahan, Hunter S. Thompson and Bob Braudis must have felt when Aspen was ballooning to an exclusive 1 percent nightclub. My greatest fear is that my family and friends will be forced out of Paonia to surrounding communities and have to commute to work every day, as so many former Aspen natives have to now, solely allowed back only to work in a place that was their rightful home.” –Mathew Pinckard

Rachel Mayoral was enrolled in Colorado Mountain College’s professional photography program, a department of the Isaacson School of Communication, Arts and Media. Her class assignments occasionally ventured into video, and Mayoral found she enjoyed it.

When she heard about a class in documentary filmmaking, it was a natural next step.

The 12 students in that spring 2016 class created the documentary “George Stranahan: The Other Side of the Photo.”

The 26-minute film will premiere at 7 p.m. today on Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting Service.

The Isaacson School faculty began to explore the idea after Stranahan donated his photo collection to the college. Stranahan is a familiar name in the Roaring Fork Valley, as he is a photographer, educator, philanthropist, physicist and Renaissance man. He and wife Patty also founded Woody Creek Tavern.

“When the collection was located at the Spring Valley campus, our faculty went to lunch with George, and after that we discussed what a compelling character he is and that he would make a great subject for a documentary,” said Isaacson School Dean Robert Martin.

When the Colorado Film Commission offered its support for a documentary filmmaking class, Stranahan was the obvious subject.

The course was a pilot program for CMC, and it brought together three instructors with a range of film experience. Gretchen Hayduk and Joni Busby both offered writing and producing knowledge. Corbett Anderson’s strength is in videography.

It’s unusual for a trio of teachers to be thrown together in a classroom setting. But Hayduk said that’s the norm in film production, and so the trio embraced the situation.

The teachers worked through preproduction before the class began, meeting with George to develop an idea of what direction the film might take. When class began, they were off to a quick start — even though many of the students came from photography, not video, backgrounds.

“I just like to tell stories, and it didn’t matter what the format was,” said Daniel Workman, one of the 12 students. Workman ran a camera and also interviewed Stranahan on camera.

The course curriculum largely focused on film production, though the teachers also screened several documentaries for the students to highlight storytelling elements. The three are passionate storytellers and wanted to ensure the film would focus on narrative, rather than becoming a string of facts.

Some students served as production apprentices to Busby and Hayduk. Producing involves a lot of logistics, Hayduk explained, such as securing permission for shooting on location.

Students also contributed questions and other ideas in the writing process. The narrative could have gone in several directions, thanks to Stranahan’s diverse background.

“I think with all the footage we shot, as well as the numerous entrepreneurial endeavors George has manifested over the years, we could have made a feature length documentary,” said Mathew Pinckard, who was a camera operator and helped with the film’s early-stage editing.

“With George, there’s always more and more and more,” Hayduk said.

The school will begin another documentary film project this summer, and the effort will implement lessons learned through producing the Stranahan documentary. This time, the college will engage with a resident director who will help faculty see students through the process. Students can enroll in a writing class in the summer and a production class in the fall. The resulting film will be edited in the spring.

Because of the time spent in post-production, most of the class has moved on from CMC. The documentary has shaped their paths: Workman is now an anthropology student at the University of Colorado, and his minor is documentary film. Pinckard is a graphic designer in the Roaring Fork Valley.

And Mayoral? She saw a direct correlation between the class and her future. CMC helped her snag an internship with a sports action production company, where she worked as a production assistant during the X Games in her senior year. The company hired her the same semester. She’s now been working in film in Los Angeles for almost a year.

“That class was huge for me because I started to rethink what I wanted to do,” she said with a laugh. “I still like photography, but I found something I was really passionate about.”

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