STATE COLLEGE - 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 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 p.m. Thursday on WPSU-TV (PBS, Channel 3) and will be shown on Public Television Network stations across the state, though times may vary. The documentary trailer can be seen online at wpsu.org/makingtheblueband. A schedule of showings also is available on the Web site.
Kristen Stufft, of Lewistown, was featured in ‘Making the Blue Band,’ a documentary produced by WPSU-TV. Stufft, a freshman at Penn State, will perform at the Rose Bowl with the rest of the band. The film will be shown at 8 p.m. Thursday on WPSU-TV. Film producers Jeff Hughes and Cole Cullen are Mifflin County natives.
Hughes said the film will air nationally beginning next year.
"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 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. 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."
Along with its producers, band auditioner Kristen Stufft also is a native of Mifflin County.
A PSU freshman, Stufft said she was inspired to join the band because of her grandfather.
"My grandparents are PSU alumni. Though my grandpa did not play in the Blue Band ... he thought very highly of them," Stufft said. "When we'd come over the mountain (to a football game), grandpa would say, 'Hey, look, Kristen, you've got to be in the Blue Band.'"
Stufft, who plays mellophone, described the whole experience as "amazing."
"When we walked out (into the stadium), I thought it looked like a picture with the grass so green and the hundreds of thousands of fans cheering," she said.
Stufft will join the band to play at the Rose Bowl, an experience she finds exciting as a freshman in the band.
The documentary also features 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.
During these segments, a fourth Mifflin County individual is featured: Lewistown Area High School band director Art Belfiore, who also is a Blue Band alumnus.
Blue Band Director Richard Bundy said of the band, "These aren't scholarship athletes. They're doing this for the love of the experience - and that generally makes for a pretty good story."
Sentinel reporter Micaiah Wise Bilger contributed to this story.