University of North Carolina School of Arts

Showing “What It Takes” to Be a Great Artist

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts was launching the largest fundraising campaign in the school’s history. It was their first in 20 years.

On the surface, the goal was simple: tell the stories of the school’s five conservatories – dance, music, design & production, filmmaking, and drama – in a way that would compel people to donate. Viewers needed to form a personal connection with the students.

“We wanted to understand the school, to live and breathe it as much as possible so we could get the point of view we needed to create something great.” – Spike Hoban, Director

We poured a lot of energy into the discovery process – proposing three “spark” ideas in our initial proposal. Once those got the attention of the UNCSA team, we planned to dive deep into their culture.

But diving right in wasn’t as easy as expected.

We wanted to align creatively with the University, so we could authentically tell their story. Matching the exciting energy around campus was important. Everyone involved with the school is passionate and talented, viewing their craft as true art.

So we made it a priority to meet with as many people as we could. We collaborated with the core team and talked strategy. There was a giant round table discussion with every dean. We sat down with the student government association and had brainstorming sessions with the internal video department.

These extensive discussions not only helped us learn what made UNCSA so special, but the collaborative sessions helped our collective team narrow down our spark ideas to the final concept of “What it Takes.”

Ultimately, we connected over a passion for great storytelling.

“We connected with them on a personal level because the things that were important to them are the same things that are important to us as artists.” – Melissa Douglas, 1st AD

Once the walls were down, our creative direction became clear. We unanimously decided to show the grit and heart it takes for an artist to get to opening night. Regardless of their interests and focus at the school, they all shared this determination.

Maneuvering the logistics of filming on an active campus is a special skill. Luckily, Producer Hillary Scott is also a master at her craft. With rehearsals and classes to consider, Hillary put together a shoot schedule that fit everyone’s needs. When a major production day had to be completely flipped, Hillary coordinated everything so seamlessly that you’d never know there was an issue.

The crew and UNCSA student volunteers brought professionalism and respect to every location Hillary secured. We captured the grit of the barre rehearsal with tennis balls on the bottom of our equipment and rubber soled shoes on our feet to protect the studio floors.

Spike Hoban methodically directed talent to pull out their passion. During the percussion shoot time, for example, Spike pushed drummer Bobby Thomas through multiple takes to capture a dynamic portrayal of his determination as an artist.

Bobby’s rendition of “Rebonds B” became the video’s foundation. Spike and editor/sound designer Daniel Cook locked themselves away to play with the track – analyzing tempos, syncing mixes, cutting rough edits, even bringing in Autumn (Daniel’s New Reveille bandmate) to add improv violin to the track.

“The arrangement of ‘Rebonds B’ Myriad created [in the video] is incredible. I’ve been asked by several people about it. They love it.” – Bobby Thomas, Percussionist

The “What it Takes” video debuted at the campaign kick-off conference to stellar reviews, and the response on social media has been just as impressive with over 46,000 impressions on Facebook alone.

None of it would have happened without passion. The passion of the students, faculty, and our own team – it was at the center of this project. In focusing on the things that were important to the school and important to us as creators, we made a video that was true to all involved.

“It was important to show the artist’s process and how they achieve greatness while they’re at school. I think they nailed it.” – Claire Machamer, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Communications, UNCSA

The project has won multiple awards, including a Gold Telly for Promotional Videos for Schools, Colleges and Universities, a Gold American Advertising Award for “Music Without Lyrics”, and a Silver Addy for “Cinematography”.

As of May 2020, the video has helped propel the school well past its fundraising goal of $65 million.


“‘What It Takes’ was an integral part of our campaign marketing strategy from day 1.”

Hannah Callaway, UNCSA Social and Digital Content Producer


Visit the school’s website for more information on Powering Creativity: The Campaign for UNCSA, which will help with the advancement and achievement of the students, faculty and staff of University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Additional Credits:

Gaffer: Terry O’Deen
Key Grip: Matt Hedt
Best Boy Electric: Ian McCay
Best Boy Grip: Clark Ivers
Sound Mixer: Taylor Paris


Sound Mixer: John Machado
H/MU: Ming-Yen Ho
Set Designer: Ashley Hutchinson
PA: Gillian Skipper
PA: Emily Burton