As the School of Data Science’s Multimedia Producer, Cody Huff creates the videos constantly shared with the school’s larger data science community. Drawing from a childhood passion for film and years of experience in the industry, Cody produces content to support the study of data science across a wide variety of backgrounds.
“Whenever I saw the opportunity at the School of Data Science, it was this new school at a good university,” Cody said. “I felt like that would be a really great thing to be a part of, to get in on the ground floor of seeing something new.” After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and Film, Cody gained industry experience working freelance and with Vanderbilt University. He honed his skill for developing documentary and non-fiction videos, and he knew his experience telling interconnecting stories would translate to the School of Data Science. “The interdisciplinary nature of [the School] is what is exciting to me because it means there’s going to be all of these different stories to tell,” Cody said. “Showcasing those stories and the diversity of those stories will help build a stronger, more interesting, more diverse community.”
Whether he is working on an interview series, recording speeches, or anything in between, Cody runs much of what goes on behind the camera. For a normal shoot, he will manage the lighting, sound, camera, and more. “A lot of times I’m doing all those things simultaneously where I’ll be running the camera, directing a film, conducting interviews,” Cody shared. “It’s sort of all of those things wrapped into one.” A tricky element to recording documentary-style subject matter – the kind with which Cody so often works – is that you are at the will of the event. Cody can’t control an ill-timed audience member leaving the room or a loud truck passing by outside. “You have to adapt which is a thing that really just comes through time and practice,” Cody said.
“Showcasing those stories and the diversity of those stories will help build a stronger, more interesting, more diverse community.”
Collecting the required footage is only the beginning of Cody’s work. The editing process is where the product truly comes together. “Whenever you’re in the editing room, it’s trying to build a narrative and to create a rhythm out of the material that you’ve gathered,” Cody said. “The things that you leave in or you leave out, that’s sort of what shapes the narrative.” Not only does Cody have to think about the best way to tell a given story, but he has to adjust the finer elements such as lighting and sound to produce a professional video. Cody often starts to think ahead to the editing process in the midst of shooting. “You build up a sixth-sense over time,” he said. “You can start to edit things in your mind, you can start to see a film coming together with what they’re saying.”
Growing up, Cody always remembers having an interest in not only watching movies but making them too. In fact, the only other vocation towards which Cody felt inclined to pursue was professional skateboarding as a younger boy. “I can’t think of a time that I didn’t want to be a filmmaker,” Cody said. Earlier on, he was primarily interested in avant-garde cinema and was inspired by the tone and style of David Lynch’s works, such as the iconic Eraserhead. Cody’s thesis film, Sweet Sweet Gravy, drew from this inspiration and combined it with the newfound skills he developed at VCU.
Learning new and interesting techniques, he moved closer and closer to non-fiction storytelling. Cody recalls a project he directed involving actors who improvised phone calls. “I realized that that was sort of a comfortable thing – people talk on the phone all the time, so I could get all these non-actors. I’d just give them the phone and say, ‘pretend you’re talking to somebody.’” Partially due to interest, partially due to the resources available to him, Cody gravitated towards these unscripted narratives. “The skills I was building up then [during film school] are becoming more refined and, I think, even more intentional.”
“I can’t think of a time that I didn’t want to be a filmmaker."
Academia presented itself as a somewhat natural – if not accidental – intersection of Cody’s background in film and penchant for documentary storytelling. While at VCU, Cody began to wonder what he would do next. “I was trying to find a way that I could use my skillset to apply it to large organizations,” Cody said. He began working for Dr. Russell Jamison with the VCU Biomedical Engineering Department. The role required Cody to create academic development content, but he also traveled internationally to film the department’s different programs. If film making is Cody’s first love, travel comes in at a close second, and Cody has visited Rwanda, Cuba, Belize, and other places for different projects. One of the trips involved Cody going to Nicaragua to film a VCU Biomed engineering program.
Cody’s work within academia at VCU ultimately led him to a job with Vanderbilt University where he was the Director of Photography on a documentary series in collaboration with the Vanderbilt Medical Center. During his time at Vanderbilt, Cody worked on several feature-length documentaries. Two focused on the Medical Center’s palliative care unit, which concentrates on minimizing pain specifically for patients with serious illnesses such as cancer. “[The documentaries] were dealing with how artists continue to create art and use their art as a mode of healing,” Cody explained. The first documentary, Intentional Healing, followed Jesse Boyce throughout the final years of his life as he dealt with recurrent prostate cancer. Boyce, a Nashville-based bassist who played with the Temptations and Little Richard, became an inspiration to Cody as the two worked together. “I think death is not necessarily a conversation that people like to have a lot,” Cody said of his work with Boyce. "It was also one of the most enriching, life-changing, and inspiring experiences.” Boyce’s awareness of his mortality allowed the musician to add a unique perspective to the film.
The same was true for the second documentary, which followed photographer and war veteran Fred Dusel. “Everything they said was a moment of grace,” Cody affirmed. “They were legacy pieces.” Both films went on to be received well critically and played at multiple film festivals. Intentional Healing was an official selection at the Nashville Film Festival and the International Black Film Festival. As for A Modicum of Joy, about Fred Dusel, the documentary was an official selection at the Nashville Film Festival and the American Documentary Festival. “Those two films, in particular, were a merge of being in academia and dealing with more complex medical concepts and then applying them to a genuine story.” This has become the essence of Cody’s work: merging art and academia.