Lynn Tomlinson is an assistant film professor at Towson University with expertise in the areas of animation, visual effects, film and media history and theory, production, and post-production. In Summer 2018, Professor Tomlinson led the “TU Crafting Fantastic Worlds: Film, Effects, and Animation in the New Zealand Landscape” faculty-led program.
Peer Advisor (PA): Why did you decide to lead a study abroad program with Towson?
Professor Tomlinson: I enjoy traveling myself. When I was a student, I spent a semester in London. So I know how exciting it can be to be in a new culture and how much you can learn just by being exposed to different ideas in different places and how exciting it is…and how you can pack a lot into a short amount of time. I think one of the best things is that kind of focused attention you get from it. You know, the two weeks of constant learning, constant excitement, constant engagement. Everything you’re doing is learning so I think that helps.
PA: What would you say are the benefits of teaching a course in this kind of international context? What kind of different perspective are your students getting on this trip rather than you know, just being back in the classroom in Towson?
Professor Tomlinson: Our subject was visual effects in the landscape of New Zealand. It was really exciting because New Zealand is a country that is building its film industry, especially with visual effects. I would have probably go to Hollywood in order to see that kind concentrated level of production. But to be able to do it in somewhere as exciting as beautiful as New Zealand…and it was much more accessible because they were very welcoming and everybody was excited to meet us, and we had some real incredible surprises while we were there. So I think that unexpected learning that happens when you don’t really know what’s gonna happen. And everybody’s learning; I’m learning they’re learning, you know, we’re learning together. I really like that.
PA: What did you find was the most challenging part about being a faculty leader like in terms of program development or recruitment or you know just managing students abroad?
Professor Tomlinson: I would say the most difficult thing is how expensive it is, and feeling responsible that if the students are going to be spending that kind of money for this 2 week experience that I wanted to make it really valuable for them. I felt responsible for that. It’s kind of a heavy weight on you to realize that a lot of the students might have three or four jobs or they’re borrowing money to do this and you know making sure its worth it for them.
PA: Was there a specific moment during your trip that you think was particularly rewarding for you?
Professor Tomlinson: So the thing that stood out the most for me was this specific adventure that we had. So in New Zealand they have these glowworm caves, which are these insects that have this glowing mucus, and when you get into the cave it looks like a constellation and you really feel like you’re under the stars. So I knew about that and I wanted to do it, even though it doesn’t really relate to visual effects I thought, “you know, it is in the landscape of New Zealand and we’re viewing this natural illusion”. So it really did kind of relate and that ended up being a really exciting adventure for everybody.
PA: Did you have any experience in New Zealand before and was this your first time leading a faculty led trip?
Professor Tomlinson: It was my first time leading a faculty-led trip and it was my first time in New Zealand.
My husband lead a faculty-led trip to the south of France to the Cannes Film Festival and I went along when were first engaged. I would go and sort of help and go up to young filmmakers who are now all very famous, because then they were just making their first films. I would say “Will you come talk to our student group?” and get involved in that way.
PA: Can you give an example of intercultural learning that you observed your students experiencing while you were there?
Professor Tomlinson: So I would say that’s something I would want to change a little bit the next time we go. For example we didn’t get to meet any Maori people while we were there. We learned a lot about it, but I would say probably because our focus was more on the film industry, we didn’t experience as much of that as we would have liked. That’s something I’d like to push more for in the future. For example, having a Maori filmmaker speak to our students. So probably I think the best example would be we saw the film Hunt for the Wilderpeople by Taika Waititi, who is half Maori. We saw it in this theater and we didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, we thought “okay, we’ll go see this film before going on our tour”. After the man who owned the theater came and met us and started chatting with us, and it turns out he was the editor of Lord of the Rings and he let us hold his Oscar! So that was a big surprise!
PA: Would be able to to discuss a particularly unique aspect of your program from other programs offered through Towson?
Professor Tomlinson: We got to go to production houses, including some small production companies and were able to meet producers and media-makers on a one-on-one level. The students were able to learn a lot about entrepreneurship and how you can engage in the film industry. And because it’s such a growing industry a lot of my students actually expressed interest in possibility of working in New Zealand in the future.
PA: What did you learn about TU students from your interactions with them on the program?
Professor Tomlinson: I think it was great that I really got to know the students, you know we’d sit down and have meals and really get to talk to them. I’ve always known what a diverse group of students we have. I think they all formed really tight friendships. It was cool to see how all of the students had very different tastes in food, different tastes in what they wanted to do in terms of activities. Just to see some of those friendships forming over the two weeks was really interesting. I’m not sure if I learned anything new about Towson students in general, but I learned something about these particular students.