As a former member of the Penn State Blue Band, it wasn't hard for producer Jeff Hughes to sink his filmmaking teeth into a feature-length documentary about the storied marching band.
"This is something my friend, Cole Cullen, and I have wanted to to produce since the day he joined me at the station," said Hughes, a producer at Penn State Public Broadcasting, WPSU-TV. "We both grew up in Mifflin County, and both ended up going to Penn State and playing in the Blue Band. We weren't in the band at the same time, but each of us look back on the experience as the highlight of our college days."
The film, "Making the Blue Band," is a one-hour documentary that follows behind-the-scenes moments of eight incoming Penn State freshmen through auditions, cuts and the grueling days of band camp as they pursue their goal of playing in the Blue Band, according to a press release. It airs locally at 8.pm. Wednesday on WPSU-TV (PBS, Channel 3) and will be shown on Public Television Network stations across the state, though times may vary. Those who miss the first round of showings can see the documentary on the Big Ten Network at 8 p.m. Dec. 4. The documentary trailer can be seen online at wpsu.org/makingtheblueband.
"The idea behind the documentary is two-fold: One, what it takes to make it into the band; and two, once they do make it, what it takes to make it a band - learning how to march and learning the music," Hughes, 41, of State College said. "I think people will be interested to see what goes into this show that leads up to that big event at Beaver Stadium. It's a lot of work in a small amount of time."
And that's a real challenge, he said, adding the Blue Band staff has no idea who will audition until the day prospective band members arrive for tryouts - a mere 10 days before the first Penn State game.
Hughes noted he and his production team have been working on the film for a little more than a year, and were in the post-production editing phase last week. The team shot nearly 80 hours of footage that was condensed into the one-hour program.
"Basically, we just had to put the word out to high school band directors around the state, asking them if they knew of anyone who planned to try out for the Blue Band," he said.
Ten kids were chosen statewide to audition, he said, but not all kids who were featured in the film made it into the band.
"And that's a credit to the kids who didn't make it," he said. "Because they're going after their dream, and if they didn't make it, they knew it would be out there for everyone to see."
Penn State sophomore and Blue Band Majorette Michele Sassano was once one of those kids.
"I didn't make it my first year, so I used that as inspiration for my second year," the 19-year-old from Altoona said. "I'm not sure who did or didn't make it, but for the people who didn't, hopefully they'll use that as an incentive to come back like I did and try again."
Chris Garguilo, a first-year trombonist with the band, said he's excited to see Hughes' final product.
"A lot of people have been coming up to me asking about it," he said. "Even kids in the Blue Band who aren't in (the film) are excited to see what it's like."
Hughes described Garguilo, 18, of Altoona as a "hardcore Blue Band Member."
"You can see it in his eyes," Hughes said. "The first couple of weeks he was a little bit tentative as to whether or not he'd make it, but as soon as he was in you could tell that the Blue Band was going to be the highlight of his college career."
Both Sassano and Garguilo are featured in the documentary.
The documentary also will feature interviews with older Blue Band alumni, who serve as what Hughes likened to a ''Greek Chorus,'' commenting on the experiences the prospective ''rookies'' are going through and, later on, reflecting on how the experience impacted their own lives.
Two of those alums are now leaders of the Altoona Area High School marching band: Director Larry Detwiler, and Low Bass Instructor Drew Yingling.
"It was really exciting to be a part of this production," Detwiler said. "It was really special for me because it was something I was once involved in. To see kids you once directed moving through was something special, too. It was neat on both sides."
It is noteworthy and that of the 310 current Blue Band members, 12 are from Altoona, Yingling said.
"That is an unusual feat, and I think it's just great," he said. "It speaks volumes for what Larry Detwiler has been able to do with the music program here in Altoona. I think it's wonderful that we've been able to instill in our kids the inspiration it takes to take this to the next level."
Both hope the film enlightens people on the dedication and effort it takes to be a Blue Band member.
"This will give those kids the public recognition they deserve, and hopefully a newfound respect for the Blue Band," Yingling said.
Blue Band Director Richard Bundy also hopes that realization comes to light.
"These aren't scholarship athletes," he said. "They're doing this for the love of the experience - and that generally makes for a pretty good story."
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.