In Alumni, Media Arts

Videographer and media arts alum Scott Cook shares his experience with dance film, collaboration and mentoring

Scott Cook hadn’t planned on a career in film. But after a happy accident introduced him to the field, one thing led to another, and the Department of Theatre and Media Arts alum now has countless films under his belt, including award-winning projects for the BYU Department of Dance. And he’s just getting started. 

As a freshman at BYU, Cook was trying to find a religion class and stumbled upon an envelope of classes that included Book of Mormon, Writing 150 and an honors film class taught by media arts professor Dean Duncan. Thinking it might be fun, and oblivious to the impact it would have on his career, Cook signed up for the class. In one of Duncan’s lectures, he had an epiphany.

“He talked about how film is a combination of so many different things,” said Cook. “It’s a combination of music, theater, literature, art, photography, dance, business — all those things wrapped up into one art form. I thought, ‘Wait. I like music. I like literature. I like theater and movement. This is something I could do. Maybe film is what I want to study.’”

Much like his introduction to film, Cook’s entry into the world of screendance was unplanned. After returning from a mission in Japan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cook decided to make a film about the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. He talked with Kira Barker, a friend and contemporary dance student, about how he might use dance to tell the story. Barker encouraged him to take the dance department’s film course, taught by professor Karen Jensen.

“I really enjoyed that class,” said Cook. “Karen became a mentor for me.”

He was hooked. The next semester, Cook assisted with a film for Theatre Ballet, and became a teaching assistant for the dance and film class. Soon, students and faculty were seeking him out for film collaboration and advice.

Four years and numerous screendance projects later, Cook is still drawn to the storytelling power that comes from blending the two arts. 

“I love collaboration, specifically with dance,” he said. “I love talking with people who see things differently — finding out the way that they want to express their vision, then thinking about how I want to do it and finding the common ground.”

The work of merging genres and voices through film provides rich rewards, but not without a cost.

“They say that preparing to shoot a movie is like preparing to go off to war,” said Cook. “It’s a big undertaking, and every film is a struggle. Like any kind of struggle in life, there’s a point where you’re sick of it, there’s a point where you don’t want to do it. There’s a point where you think it’s going to be terrible, or where it is terrible. But there’s also a point where you succeed, and you feel a certain sense of accomplishment when you finish a film that you’re proud of.”

In addition to designing, filming and editing projects for the Department of Dance, Cook finds fulfilment in mentoring students who are interested in dance film. 

“I love that they just go for things,” Cook said of students. “I love their ambition and their big ideas. It’s always exciting, being there for their moments of discovery.”

The role has also given him a chance to reflect on his own time as a student at BYU and the teachers that inspired him.

Cook credits Dean Duncan — the professor of that first film class —  with teaching him to synthesize secular learning and gospel truths. 

“He taught me that we shouldn’t only make films about Christian topics,” said Cook. “If we want to make content that relates to religious themes that’s great, but more important is that we do so in a Christlike manner — that we’re Christlike in the way that we work, and in the way we interact with others.”

Cook is grateful for the resources and opportunities his time at BYU gave him to grow.

“One thing I wish I could convey to students is to make sure they’re putting their time and effort into the right opportunities,” he said. “I see students who don’t quite grasp how good their opportunities are. That’s something you don’t realize until you’re not connected to a university, and you’re on your own. So take advantage of all your opportunities — just go out there and do it.”

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