Jillian Olson is a rising fourth-year majoring in Radio, Television and Film. She plans to produce short films based on her poems. She is also a peer mentor for first-year SURG recipients.

Tell me about your SURG topic.

Olson: My SURG [last summer] was really fun. I studied pirates, specifically female pirates, to write a novel about an all-female crew. I’m a peer mentor this summer. What that means is I have about seven or eight mentees who are all doing their SURG for the first time. I’m a check-in person for them. I’m a sounding board and a cheerleader. I have to meet with them three times. I also am doing an Advanced SURG, which is SURG round two. This one I’m doing an entirely different thing. I’m writing a collection of eight poems and then adapting those poems into short films.

Tell me about turning poems into short films.

Olson: I’ve been thinking about it like a music video for my poetry. That’s the easiest way for me to think about it. It won’t be narrative adaptations. My goal is to enhance the tone and energy of the poems with some visuals. I’m going to be exploring the grief and loss of COVID and how it took away the few rites of passage that American teenagers have of prom and that last summer job and all the things that we got taken away from us. I wanted to explore that and how that’s affecting us going into adulthood because our childhood was ended and we didn’t get closure.

Is this something you’re familiar with?

Olson: I had the idea and I was like, ‘Oh, I wonder if other people have done this.’ With a SURG, you have to prove that no one’s done it or, if someone has, why you should do it too. I had this idea because I’m a film student and I’ve also been writing poetry since I was 10. In my research with the grant, I found out that there is a subgenre of film called poetry film, which is adaptations of poetry. That could be a lot of stuff. That could be like adapting The Odyssey or Gilgamesh’s epic or shorter poems. I wasn’t able to find an instance where the poet and the filmmaker were the same person. That snagged my attention.

Where are you in the process right now?

Olson: I’ve been beginning to noodle with it in the back of my brain. I worked on a script for one of my poems, which was really weird because it’s only six lines long. I was like, ‘How would I make a video for this? How would I play with that?’ All of a sudden, my brain is turned on in that way and I’ve started to look at other poems of mine. How would I like to film this? What implications would there be for this film? Would I want to show the faces of the people or not? What’s the vibe if I don’t? How can I play with color? How can I play with the clearness of the picture? It’s all of these things that play with the tone and the energy of the poem that I hadn’t considered before, but it was super exciting to me.

Meet the other SURG Recipients!