by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Senior Director of Visual Media Joe O’Neill knows a great story when he encounters one. And as soon as he heard about Dickinson’s biogas project, his news sense was on alert. “From the start, this project checked off a lot of boxes,” O’Neill explains. “I knew a video about it would have wide and broad appeal.”
Sure enough, O’Neill’s “Beer to Biogas” video was a hit. And this month, it garnered an Emmy Award. The honor brings fresh attention to a distinctively Dickinson program and marks the 10th Emmy and 25th Emmy nomination of O’Neill’s career.
O’Neill came to Dickinson in 2014 after a decade in the news industry, covering breaking news, elections and national debates. While he occasionally misses the adrenaline rush of his former profession, he appreciates the more strategic approach his current post brings. Rather than going where the news leads him, he now assesses potential video and photography subjects and methods in terms of whether and how they might help the college advance its goals. And he’s always thinking about the best possible approaches he can take.
“I love analyzing videos—what works, or doesn’t work—and figuring out why,” O’Neill explains.
The “Beer to Biogas” video took root about a year ago, as O’Neill chatted with the College Farm’s assistant director and energy projects manager, Matt Steiman. Steiman mentioned that he was about to pick up barrels of spent grain at downtown Carlisle’s Molly Pitcher Brewing Company. The brewery waste, otherwise destined for a landfill, would then be converted into a green-energy source via the farm’s recently upgraded biodigester system.
Here was an opportunity to communicate key messages about the college’s identity and values. O’Neill also knew that a video about this program could attract local, national and international interest, hold an audience’s attention and spark an emotional response.
“This project is uniquely tied to both Dickinson and Carlisle, it has a lot of visual elements in a variety of locations, and, perhaps most important, it has a problem/solution storyline,” he explains.
Shoehorning the work in between more time-sensitive, quick-turnaround projects, O’Neill shot sequences in several locations and fashioned those clips into a compelling storyline. It took about six months to complete.
“It’s like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with many more pieces than needed,” he says, “and it was a fun challenge to figure out the order of elements and how to transition from location to location. The visuals had to move between the brewery, bar, farm and laboratory in a way that wasn’t jarring to the audience.”
During an Oct. 9, black-tie ceremony, the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences named O’Neill’s “Beer to Biogas” video the 2023 winner in the “Health/Environment/Science—Short Form Content” category. O’Neill’s Emmy will be displayed, on rotation, at the College Farm and at Molly Pitcher.
While he’s honored by the accolade, O’Neill’s attention is focused squarely on the Dickinson stories yet to be told. He looks forward to partnering with members of the Dickinson community in the days and months ahead.
“In news, you never know if you are going to be welcomed when you show up to a scene or event. But I have experienced an overwhelming amount of kindness and cooperation from our faculty, staff, alumni and, especially, students, and a willingness to work with me on telling the Dickinson story,” he says.
Published October 24, 2023