CSU journalism undergrad produces video for Amazon Studios’ ‘The Report’

Many people are watching the work of Brooke Buchan, a fourth-year journalism student at Colorado State University, thanks to a connection provided by a CSU alumna.

Buchan produced a promotional video and article for the acclaimed new feature film The Report, about the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture after the 9/11 attacks that was released in 2014.

The movie, which stars Adam Driver, Annette Bening and Jon Hamm, premiered in January 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival and was released in theaters and on Amazon Prime in November.

A speech by the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), urging Congress to make sure the American people know the truth behind the CIA’s “torture report,” is featured in the film. So Amazon Studios approached Arizona State University’s McCain Institute and Institute Communications Manager Staci McDermott.  McDermott, who graduated from CSU in 2011 with a degree from the Department of Journalism and Media Communication, thought of her alma mater when it came to finding a student journalist to help promote the film to younger viewers.

“I absolutely love the journalism program at CSU,” McDermott said. “That was the best four years of my life. The CSU program produces outstanding journalists across the board.”

Brooke Buchan and Staci McDermott

Fourth-year journalism student Brooke Buchan, left, and Staci McDermott of the McCain Institute

The search

McDermott reached out to JMC department head Greg Luft, who emailed a few of his unit’s top videography students to see if they might be interested in producing a package about The Report for Amazon Studios and the McCain Institute to share on social media and other channels.

“When a former student star like Staci creates a unique and challenging opportunity like this for a current student, it’s an inspiration for all alumni and faculty, and a reminder that we need to invest in long-term connections with our graduates,” Luft said.

Buchan, from Thornton, was one of those to apply for the opportunity in early September. She submitted a resume, writing samples and a video portfolio, but after about a month, figured she didn’t get the gig.

Then she got an email from McDermott saying that she’d been selected by Amazon and would be conducting on-camera interviews with Scott Z. Burns, the film’s director, producer and screenwriter, and Daniel Jones, the Senate staffer who led the investigation.

“I was freaking out,” Buchan recalled. “Amazon saw my work and chose me? That’s crazy.”

She spent the next month conducting research on the topic, then packed her cameras, lenses, lights, mics, batteries and other gear.

“It was like playing Tetris with my backpack,” Buchan said. “I checked out like half of the department’s audiovisual equipment.”

Buchan interviewing Jones

Buchan, right, interviews Daniel Jones, the Senate staffer who led the investigation.

The interviews

Then it was off on an all-expenses-paid trip to Boston, where Buchan and McDermott would spend Nov. 8 shadowing Burns and Jones as they were interviewed by media and attended a screening of the film at Harvard University. When Buchan got her turn behind the camera, she shone.

“I was blown away by Brooke when I worked with her in Boston,” McDermott said. “She just knew what to do; I didn’t have to help at all. She knew what questions to ask, and how to set up the camera and perfect lighting. Everything just went so smoothly, she showed such initiative. She wasn’t timid or shy at all.”

For Buchan, it was about being flexible. At the last minute, her midday interviews with Burns and Jones had to be rescheduled for later in the day, to get a private room at the Boston Harbor Hotel where they were staying.

“It was run, run, run, and go with the flow, but it all worked out,” Buchan said. “I think the biggest thing for me was meeting these people I’d been researching for a month. I was just like a sponge, absorbing all I could. We were in a real-world situation; Boston Globe reporters were there interviewing the same people I was interviewing. I got to feel like a mini-professional for a bit.”

Scott Z. Burns

Scott Z. Burns, director, producer and screenwriter of The Report, speaks to an audience in Boston. Photo by Brooke Buchan

Additional shots

At one point, Buchan noticed a large American flag billowing in the wind outside the hotel, so she filmed some b-roll footage that would go on to play a significant role in her video. After the trip, she interviewed former Colorado Sen. Mark Udall (who is also portrayed in the movie) in Boulder and captured more footage on the CSU campus, including shots of The Stump on the Lory Student Center plaza.

“I wanted it to be short, highly aesthetic and pretty to look at,” Buchan said of her video. “The whole point of this was to get students to watch the film.”

American flag billowing
Photo by Brooke Buchan

The McCain Institute released Buchan’s video and accompanying story, along with several video excerpts from her interviews, on Dec. 4.

“The work she provided was outstanding,” McDermott said. “We’ve just had phenomenal feedback from people who’ve seen it.”

Buchan said the experience reaffirmed plans for her career path.

“This cemented my love for storytelling and the different ways you can do it,” she said. “Freelance is something I want to do, so this was a great opportunity. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be, but I can totally do this now if someone asked me to do it again.”

For Buchan, a big lesson was just being willing to jump in with both feet.

“Initially I wanted to say no because I was so busy, and I was nervous,” she said. “I learned to just say yes.”

The McCain Institute

The project was part of the McCain Institute’s “We Hold These Truths” campaign, which seeks to raise human rights as a central issue across parties in the 2020 elections. Its goal is to give Americans – particularly the rising generation – the motivation, tools and opportunities to engage in human rights issues. Those who join the nonpartisan interactive campaign by signing up on the We Hold These Truths hub are given tools to easily understand their First Amendment rights, get involved by engaging with fellow citizens, and take action to protect their liberties and the human rights of others.

Inspired by the leadership of McCain and his family’s legacy of public service, the McCain Institute implements programs and initiatives aimed at making a difference in people’s lives across a range of critical areas: leadership development, human rights, rule of law, national security, counterterrorism and combatting human trafficking.