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MFA candidate uses HTML5 in documentary


Emily McMillion, MFA '13, with Ed Shepard, who was interviewed in Hollow. (Courtesy photo)

A Master of Fine Arts candidate is taking her visual storytelling to the next level—incorporating coding system HTML5 deep into her work to create a parallel interactive and linear story experience for the viewer.

Hollow is the result of senior projects by student filmmakers Elaine McMillion, MFA ’13, and Jeff Soyk, MFA ’13, which will be both a traditional documentary film—about an economically devastated county in West Virginia—but also an interactive website.

“I could have made a nice linear film that I would have been proud of,” McMillion said, “and he could have designed a site he would have liked. But without our skills working together, we never would have been able to do this.”

While McMillion says she has taken classes on using code and has a basic skill level, she said Soyk’s background in advertising and design, along with the work of their production team, is what brought the project together.

“I felt that if I just made a linear film it would end with the audience feeling like, ‘This is just the way it’s going to be. This place is going to die,’” said McMillion, who focuses her documentary on McDowell County.


“The idea that the stories are non-linear [is like] a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of experience.”


“The idea that the stories are non-linear [is like] a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of experience,” she said.

McMillion and her crew interviewed about 70 people for the documentary, and provided 30 of them with cameras to shoot their own footage.

McMillion said the viewers who want more than just to watch the documentary will be able to watch short videos or read about certain people or places featured in Hollow, which should be posted online by the end of this semester.

“It’s a new form of design, an HTML5 form of design, where objects are moving in and out as you’re scrolling,” she said. “You learn about characters as they pass you by.”

McMillion added that viewers can participate in as many or as few of the interactive components as they wish, and skip around the site. There will also be a portion where people can connect directly to those featured in the documentary and contribute to causes that help the residents of the county.

A West Virginia native herself, McMillion said she was compelled to focus on McDowell County, which she said has a persistent poverty issue and is often portrayed negatively in the media.

“The day I went there, there was a man painting a mural, probably one of the largest murals in the state, on an abandoned building,” she said. “I said, ‘There’s got to be some hope and stories here.’”

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