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Off The Cuff: Brianna Cox

Off The Cuff: Brianna Cox

Communication and Media Assistant Professor Brianna Cox is heading to Tinseltown. 

Now in her second year at the college, the Brooklyn native has been selected as a recipient of the Alex Trebek Legacy Fellowship for the Television Academy Foundation’s 2023 Media Educators Conference in Hollywood later this month. As part of the fellowship, she will join more than 100 college educators from across the country for a multi-day immersive event that provides invaluable information on how professors can connect the classroom with the television industry.

Also an avid writer, director, and professional storyteller – best described as a multi-hyphenate artist – Professor Cox boasts an M.F.A. in Film and Media Art from Emerson College and a B.A. double concentration in Theater Arts and Performance Studies and Africana Studies from Brown University. In addition to her work in film and theater, Professor Cox also worked as a Social Video Intern for FiveThirtyEight through ABC News and in the Documentary Unit at CNN before joining the CCRI faculty in June of 2022.

She is also currently writing and developing an Afrofuturistic sci-fi television series titled Onyx and The Chronicle of the Seers, for which she has produced a proof-of-concept film titled 18 Years: A Letter to Zora, and will also be a presenter at the Imagining America National Gathering in Providence, RI, later this month. The Imagining America consortium (IA) brings together scholars, artists, designers, humanists, and organizers to imagine, study, and enact a more just and liberatory "America" and world. 

In today's "Off The Cuff," we dive deeper into Professor Cox's latest project, her expectations for the Alex Trebek Legacy Fellowship, and some of her influences as a multi-hyphenate artist.

What are you hoping to gain from this experience in Hollywood?

“For me, it’s a big honor to have that fellowship named for Alex Trebek’s legacy. I really admire him. They were searching for fellows across universities nationwide, but they wanted to try to focus on minority-serving institutions, so with CCRI being a Hispanic Serving Institution, I thought I would be a good fit for the fellowship.

“There will be panels with industry executives, people who make a lot of the decisions in Hollywood, and they also teach particular skills, such as learning how to make a pitch. That's a huge skill that we talk to our students about – if you have an idea, and you want to pitch it.  Also other topics such as directing, television ortelevision history, or the different kinds of jobs that you can get. I’m hoping to learn as much as I possibly can, straight from the industry professionals in Hollywood who are doing these jobs that are aspirational for our students. I want to come back and share what I've learned with my students. There’s so much that we don’t know about this industry unless we’re out there actually doing it.”

After studying for your Bachelor’s in Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, what made you take more of an interest in film?

“What I appreciated most about film is that it’s something that lasts forever, or at least longer than a theater production. I wanted to learn how to make a film, so I got a team together, I wrote a script, and reached out to people whose work I admired and we made a movie. It was fun. It was something I had never done before. I had directed theater, but it wasn’t the same. I learned a lot about what I didn’t know. Thankfully, I had a lot of experts around me who knew what they were doing. That film saw a few festivals, which was nice, and after teaching for a bit I went to get my MFA from Emerson, which is where I learned all the technical stuff and about screenwriting in particular – all the things that go into making a film. I really delved into that process in so many ways. That naturally brought me back to teaching where I could share my skills, plus, when you teach something, you learn it all over again.”

Who are some of your role models in the film?

“I was always an Issa Rae [actress and creator of the television series Insecure]  fan from the beginning, because she was a role model as a multi-hyphenate artist –  producing, writing, directing, acting. I did all of that on my first film and I always admired her for being able to do that and have such a strong creative vision with the stories that she's telling, specifically women-centric stories and black-led stories, about everyday things. That’s a lot of what I like to do my work on. I’ve also been inspired by Quinta Brunson [actress, writer, and comedian], who is the creator of [comedy series] Abbott Elementary on ABC.  I admire her because she is also multi-hyphenate in terms of having all of those different skills and not being afraid to use them all at once.”

What is the concept behind your series, Onyx and The Chronicle of the Seers?

“Since teaching, I’ve been trying to keep up on the projects I’ve been working on. I created that idea when I was working on my MFA thesis. Onyx and The Chronicle of the Seers is a futuristic sci-fi idea which would require an enormous budget that I don’t have access to yet, so I did an experiment where I said, ‘What if we saw our characters’ ancestors, but it’s set today in current times?’ We’re seeing the origin story of the ancestors of the characters I want us to see when we have that huge budget. It was also made during the pandemic, which was interesting. I’ve been working on things like lookbooks, scripts, and storyboards in addition to that proof-of-concept film, which went to the Roxbury International Film Festival in 2022, and we’ve had donor screenings as well. I’m still doing most of the pre-production work, like writing about it, and trying to see where it goes.”

What classes are you teaching this semester at CCRI?

“I’m teaching Foundations in Video and Audio Production (COMM 1000), Video & Media Editing (COMM 2300), and History of Film I: Early Cinema to 1950s (FILM 1204) and History of Film II: 1950s to Present (FILM 1205). Everyone has to take COMM 1000 if they want to take any other further production classes. COMM 2300 is slightly more advanced in terms of building on the skills that they learned in the foundations class, so if students are looking to have any variety of different kinds of editing jobs outside after graduation, that's the kind of class you would want to take to learn how to edit.

“The history of film courses are more about teaching the actual history and learning about different film theories, origins of film – because it wasn't always like this – and learning about all the things that led us to where we are now from more than a century ago. Many of my classes are very hands-on. We cover everything from how to operate a camera to setting up lighting. There are a lot of challenges and experiments where I give my students an actual scenario and tell them, ‘OK, take the tools you’ve learned and apply them to this new scenario,’ so that they’re actually doing it and not just being told how to do it.”

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