Student’s eye for storytelling earns Cannes Film Fest screening
CLEMSON, South Carolina — When Madison Williams graduates from Clemson University with a graphic communications degree in May, she’ll be walking the red carpet while her classmates are crossing the stage at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The Newbury, Massachusetts, native will be representing Clemson at the Cannes Film Festival in France, where her five-minute documentary on a passionate Tigers football fan will be screened alongside work from the world’s most renowned filmmakers.
“It’s a dream come true, and I have the opportunities presented to me at Clemson University and many of the talented people here to thank for it,” the College of Business senior said. “Without the internships and mentoring by some gifted professionals who truly wanted me to succeed, I wouldn’t be experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Williams’ documentary, “136,” is a story about lifelong Clemson football fan Bryson Carter of Anderson who lost his sight when he was a Clemson student. Despite that, he attended 136 consecutive (now 150) games. She produced the documentary to compete in Campus Movie Fest at Clemson last February. Her work advanced to the national competition in Atlanta, and though she was not the top award recipient, it caught the eye of Movie Fest judges.
“An email came out of the blue from Campus Movie Fest in Cannes stating that my documentary exhibited ‘extraordinary achievement in storytelling, technical excellence, and creativity’ and that it was going to be screened at the festival in May,” she said. “’136’ will be one of 30 films produced by college students that will be screened as part of Cannes’ Short Film Corner.”
Williams is receiving College of Business and departmental funding to cover her costs for the May 8-19 festival, but she will still be missing a milestone event in her life.
“Missing graduation is difficult, but this is an opportunity of a lifetime. I owe it to myself and to all those who helped me on this journey to make it to this event.”
The humble 22-year-old is quick to praise others inside and outside the classroom for her achievement. The list includes parents, Dale and Robin; the subject of her film, Carter; campus mentors; and the internship requirement in graphic communications, to name a few.
“I have been blessed to have so many people who nurtured me on my journey to becoming a professional videographer,” she said. “There are too many to mention, but some of the most influential were people like Nik Conklin, Jeff Kallin and Jonathan Gantt in the Athletic Department; Craig Mahaffey and Jesse Godfrey in Creative Services; and Erica Walker, one of my graphic communications instructors. Their mentorships and expertise have inspired me to excel as a visual storyteller.”
Inspiration for the documentary on Carter came from their chance meeting at the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.
“Bryson and I shared a ride to the train station in Arizona and he started talking about his passion for football. He told me he visualizes the game through the picture the announcers and the energy of the fans paint in his mind. His story nearly brought me to tears,” Williams said. “Meeting one of Clemson’s greatest ambassadors and hearing his love of Clemson football inspired me to tell others about what a special person Bryson is and his devotion to never missing a game.”
Telling stories comes naturally to Williams, but she worked from an early age to develop the talent to visually communicate them.
“My parents met as flight attendants at Delta Airlines and their stories from over the years are legendary. In fact, our whole family, including my sister, Grace, a marketing major here, has been coined as storytellers. So people probably saw this coming with me.”
But her eye for telling visual stories doesn’t appear to be DNA-related.
“At a very early age, I wanted to be behind the lens. It’s something I enjoyed and practiced. In elementary school, I made music videos and filmed plays in our basement with my very patient sister,” she added. “Then, in high school, I took it to another level by filming the football team’s highlight reels. I knew then this was something I wanted as a lifelong pursuit.”
A year later, she was at Clemson to pursue a major in graphic communications. The required internships, digital media courses and business curriculum met her desire for an education that combined the arts with business.
“Eventually, I’d like to produce feature-length documentaries and start my own business,” she said. “The internships my major requires for graduation have put me on a course to develop the skills I need to make my career aspirations happen.”
Internships with the Creative Services office at Clemson and with a Massachusetts production company primed her for her current internship with the Clemson Athletic Department’s social media team. Her first assignment was to be a videographer for the rebuilding volleyball team. It was there she cut her teeth as a communicator.
“It’s easier to tell a positive story when a team, like football, is always winning. But it challenges your creativity to tell a good story about a team that is struggling in the win-loss column,” she said. “We were able to get beyond the wins and losses by telling the deeper stories about the faces behind the scenes. And we had some success as our social media following more than doubled.”
With graduation and a trip to the French Riviera looming, Williams remains focused on finding opportunities that will help springboard her into a rewarding career. One of those opportunities came at the recent Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards where she was hired by Fresh Tape Media and Twitter to edit videos.
“Right now, I’m looking for visual storytelling roles similar to what I do at Clemson. Wherever I land, I know my education here, inside and outside of the classroom, has put me in a great position to succeed. I’m very excited to see where my Clemson experience will take me next.”