Calliope Literary and Film Society at HU shine bright on the screen

By Alyssa Alford

 “I want to take over the film industry,” said Stefano Patton, a junior English Art major from Long Beach, Calif. “I want to make the film industry exciting, no matter what major. I can help start students’ careers.”

Patton also became a member of Calliope to benefit his own future career. “I knew Calliope would make me rounded and I want to be a well-known screenwriter.”

As the president of the Hampton University Calliope Literary and Film Society for the 2009-10 school year, he is striving toward his goal by devotedly spreading awareness of his organization around campus. The students are currently working on their next documentary, short scripts and developing ideas for workshops and panels.

The Calliope Literary and Film Society has been an institution at HU since the 1960s. The advisors are Eleanor Earl, an assistant professor for the English department and cinema studies and program coordinator, and Phill Branch, also an assistant professor. Supporting staff members are Shonda Buchanan and Randolph Walker, both assistant professors.

The literary and film society prides itself on being an organization that fits any student who is interested in the producing, directing, writing, or acting aspect of the film industry.

“You get to express yourself creatively and visually even if you’re not an English major or broadcast major,” said Branch, the co-advisor. “I think a lot of people from different backgrounds like the freedom to be able to tell a story visually and work as a group.”

Students in the organization are receiving help from seasoned professionals from the entertainment industry. Earl received her Bachelor’s degree in rhetoric and communications studies from the University of Virginia, and a Masters of Fine Arts in theater writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Earl began teaching at Hampton University in 2003. According to, she is an actress, singer and poet.

From 2000-01, she worked as an associate producer for Los Angeles’s “Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam Tour.”

Branch is a Hampton University alum and member of the American Film Institute. He began teaching at HU in fall 2008. He is a former brand marketing executive for corporate firms charged with product placement in films and televisions. At Roger & Cowan he was able to get CBS’s “The Amazing Race” fifth season to hold their finale in Canada. To boast tourism for his client, Branch also convinced ABC’s “The Bachelor” to host a date on a private island in the Bahamas.

Creatively, Branch has written screenplays, television pilots, and produced the show, “Dear diary…tales of love, life pain & stupidity,” a staged reading hosted in Los Angeles. He also serves as a columnist at Written Magazine and is a co-founder of 5700 Entertainment.

Branch also hosts a Web series “Punanny Diaries,” a show on the Internet about a young woman trying to date while practicing celibacy.

Patton said Calliope benefits students in fields such as public relations and marketing. Jasmine Anderson, a senior public relations major from Long Beach, Calif., serves as the vice president and P.R. specialist for Calliope. She said that she joined the society after attending a stage reading during her sophomore year at Hampton.

“I felt very welcomed,” said Anderson. “I wasn’t even part of the club.” Her enjoyment in Calliope inspired her to become the head of their P.R. committee. Anderson has made it her mission to spread the word about the club she has grown to appreciate.

Calliope is a growing organization that already has accomplishments under its belt. Last summer two of its students won internships with Creative Minds. Patton and Chris Jones, a senior English major from Charlotte, N.C. flew to participate in the Cannes Film Festival in France.

The students were assigned to a film or television company and filmed a five-minute short film with their group members. At the end of the internship they showcased their work.

Calliope has also succeeded locally. On Sept. 16-19 the students interned at the Mid Atlantic Film Festival. Held at Hampton University, Norfolk State University, and Attucks Theater in Norfolk. the festival was a competition that showcased work from independent filmmakers worldwide. According to the official Web site,, the films, documentaries, music videos and animated shorts focus on African-American culture and African Diaspora cinema.

“There have been a few local festivals the students have participated in and I can say that they enjoy being part of it,” Branch said. “Having the opportunity to meet people from all over the country is really important for students to feel connected. When you’re in Hampton and you’re not in L.A., New York or Atlanta, you feel so far away from the industry, so those festivals bridge the gap.”

Not limited to interning, members of Calliope filmed four short films of their own last year. “Hi V (High Five)” and “That Was Easy.” Are short films made to encourage individuals to use protection during sex.

“They were public service announcements,” Patton said. “It’s the predicament America is now dealing with concerning HIV and AIDS.”

The PSAs are posted on the Calliope Facebook page.

“Not a Heels Type of Girl” was written by Patton and created with the help of Jones. “The inspiration was about how when you come to college you change naturally or you change because you want to be like everyone else,” said Patton. The duo filmed and screened the project during their internship with Creative Minds.

With Earl working as the film’s producer, the students were able to get the assistance of the Hampton Roads Film Office, a division of the Hampton Roads Partnership, a company that brings media projects to the region. The firm has worked with movies such as “Minority Report” and “Mission Impossible III.”

“It was our big-budget film,” said Patton.

Jones has also spearheaded a film of his own. Last year he took the camera around campus and filmed their (HU) students and their elation after Obama won.

The organization has faced speed bumps. “The challenge of an organization is that students are busy and usually a project takes a long time,” said Branch. “Also, resources. We are working hard to have the right editing equipment, the right camera equipment, and the right sound equipment.” Still, the professor wants it to be known that his organization is more than technology and special effects. “It’s called the Calliope Literary and Film Society. It’s about being a story teller. It’s not about having Steven Spielberg equipment. I tell my students, use your cell phone, use whatever you have.”

Patton agrees. “It’s an arts and film organization. We use what we have to make something respectable. We don’t have all the equipment so people get a little discouraged. Still, we have a solid group.”

Calliope Literary and Film Society is an organization striving forward to help its members names on or behind the big screen. According to Patton, the students are working on a film focusing on homophobia at Hampton University.

Branch said, “Calliope is a good place for students to express themselves, work with other students and have a sense of accomplishment. It’s a good way to do something, use your brain and have fun.”

The writer is a senior at Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications