Entertainment design graduate tells stories through videography and script

Porter, hired by Eau Claire company, believes ‘film can bring us together’
Abbey Goers | January 19, 2021

Even as a kid, Zach Porter loved stories of adventure and fantasy with darker elements. But he often spent more time watching documentaries on how his favorite films were made rather than watching the actual movies, fascinated by the processes of set-building, make-up and costume design.

Growing up in Appleton, Porter attended an art-related charter school and explored film theory and film studies in his classes.

“That’s kind of what really jump-started my love for film and narrative storytelling. I got to learn how to tell unique stories in visually interesting ways,” Porter said. “I did a lot of research on colleges and found that UW-Stout had one of the best narrative film programs in Wisconsin.

Porter enrolled in the entertainment design program with a concentration in digital cinema. He believes films are platforms to show “new realities or how things can be done or changed or explored. Digital cinema allows multiple people to experience something together.

Zach Porter, entertainment design graduate, in the grand stairwell at Memorial Student Center.
Zach Porter, entertainment design graduate / UW-Stout

“Visual storytelling is important in this new age because we have grown to be much more visual as people. In a world as divided as it is, film can bring us together.”

Seeing his ideas come to life

Porter, who has a minor in English writing and literature, feels he’s grown as a filmmaker and writer because of the support of his classmates and faculty like Michael Heagle and Kevin Drzakowski.

“Michael pushed me to my limits and challenges me to work and think harder about my craft. Kevin helped me hone my writing skills. I wouldn’t have great stories to tell if it weren’t for them,” Porter said.

“The professors want you to succeed and put your heart into whatever it is you are trying to make. They really push you and help you to succeed even when you don’t think you can. I don’t know if I would have been as motivated or as energetic in the things I did if it weren’t for them to guide me.”

One of Porter’s challenges in filmmaking and writing is remaining faithful to his vision. This was true especially while working on his senior film project. His original idea was significantly cut and reworked and many times Porter “found solutions by trial and error” to reach his final product.

“I took leaps of faith that opened themselves up for new ideas and other solutions. Instead of panicking, I threw things at the wall hoping something would stick. I found more and more objects to throw than I started with,” he said. “It was tough sometimes, but I absolutely loved being able to put my writing and directorial knowledge to use.”

 

Picture of Michael Heagle
Michael Heagle / UW-Stout

Heagle, assistant professor in entertainment design, helped Porter approach and reapproach his project from different angles, “making sure no stone was left unturned. Zach is an artist who knows that it isn't over with the first draft.”

Like Porter, Heagle also appreciates stories with darker elements. He understands that fantasy and horror genres ask the audience to take that leap of faith with the writer into the unknown. “You have to build that ‘crypt’ extra strong when you have to overcome people's tendency for logic and things that connect neatly,” he said.

Drzakowski, professor of English and philosophy, mentored Porter through his Honors College contract and independent study. “Zach is a witty storyteller with boundless imagination and great ideas, and I'm sure his creativity is going to take him far,” Drzakowski said.

Drzakowski thought Porter’s honors contract project “The Clock Tower,” a full-length play, was unique because “the fantasy genre is one you don't see very often on stage. I was very impressed by Zach's innovative approach to find ways to portray people freezing time, rewinding it and even ripping apart time itself.”

For his independent study, Porter wrote the first act of a musical comedy called “Vaudevillians,” in which a small group of villains uses a variety show as a front for stealing from its unsuspecting audience.

“I looked forward to reading Zach's updates to the script every week, as I was often genuinely laughing out loud,” Drzakowski said. “This was a good script to be reading – and writing, I'm sure – in the otherwise troubled year of 2020. A little laughter goes a long way right now, and Zach's musical has plenty of it.”

 

Kevin Drzakowski, professor of English and philosophy.
Kevin Drzakowski / UW-Stout

Porter’s projects are the visual proof of what he’s learned. “It was so much fun to see my ideas come to life. They have shown me how far I have come and how far I can go. I’m just very proud that I’ve come so far from where I started and how many ideas I feel confident about now,” he said.

Creating powerful media

Porter’s two internships were the highlights of his college career. He worked as an assistant videographer for UW-Stout’s Marketing Communications department for two years and then for the Post House, a full-service video and virtual tour production company in Eau Claire.

During his internship with UW-Stout, Porter was responsible for filming events and interviews to support the university’s undergraduate programs.

Sue Pischke was Porter’s mentor during his university internship. “Filmmaking is a combination of many different art forms, and Zach excels in bringing a video story to life,” she said. “His degree gave him core fundamental videography skills, and the internship helped to hone and refine his creative process."

Porter graduated on Dec. 19. He was hired by the Post House before graduation. With the Post House, he creates promotional material for different clients and companies.

“I learned that my work does matter and that I can make much more powerful media than I often give myself credit for, even when I make mistakes. I learned that people do like my work and that I have all the tools I need to make something great,” he said.

Don Byrne, owner of the Post House, was pleased Porter already had many of the skills needed for his internship when he started with the company in the fall of 2019. 

 

Zach Porter, entertainment design graduate, in the grand stairwell at Memorial Student Center.
Porter is ready to begin his career in videography / UW-Stout

“Zach’s ability to stay on task and work independently are some of his best qualities,” Byrne said. “As the business owner, to have confidence in someone to the extent that I literally don't have to worry about overseeing his every move and can give him general directions on a Monday and know that he'll finish the multitude of jobs that we're working on by the end of the week is extremely valuable.

His ability to stay focused and not let little roadblocks slow him down – and come up with solutions, even if they're not perfect – are a start in the right direction and can keep a project moving forward."

Act Two: What’s next?

Along with working at the Post House, Porter plans to finish “Vaudevillians” and wants to design costumes and create short films with his friends to keep his skills fresh.

“My degree helped prepare me for my career by really giving me more than simple tools I will need to succeed. It’s given me opportunities to connect with people I never knew I could meet and allowed me to see what I can do in real-time. I’ve grown so much more confident in myself and have honed my skills because of my time at Stout,” he said.

The School of Art and Design offers seven fine arts programs, including a master’s in design.


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