When Jerrod Niles heard about a local artist who painted a mural with pigments made from the soil, he knew someone who would dig the idea.
“The first thing I thought when I heard about the mural project was, ‘My mom would love this.’ She’s a bit on the hippie side.”
With the blessing of mom, Niles chose the work of artist Amanda Brazier for his multimedia project, “The Field Below.”
During his time as a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student, Niles—who received a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University in May—shot 35 hours of video in more than a dozen locations throughout the city.
He documented Brazier’s work on the mural at Gaining Ground Grocery, which provides local and sustainable food to the Highland Park neighborhood near downtown Chattanooga. In the four-minute video, he explored the intersection of art, food and community service.
He did it very well.
Niles won a spot in the Top 10 in the national 2021-2022 Hearst Multimedia Narrative Storytelling Competition for college students. Established in 1960 and named after long-deceased newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the competition is among the most prestigious in the country.
“I didn’t understand the gravity of it at first,” said Niles, who produced “The Field Below” for Rising Rock, a course in the UTC Department of Communication.
Combining dozens of hours of raw footage with a written script and photographs epitomized Niles’ ability to distill complex material into compelling but easy-to-understand stories, said Billy Weeks, who created and teaches the Rising Rock course.
“He’s a gifted student and a class favorite,” Weeks said. “It’s because he genuinely cares about the work he’s doing. Jerrod understands that nobody gives you anything. You’ve got to go out there and get what you want in life.”
For his nationally acclaimed video, Niles liked the idea of a nonprofit grocery store and a local artist teaming up for a mural painted by community members using soil from the local farms where the store’s produce is grown.
“It seemed really cool to me, so it made me even more invested. In life, if you’re interested in it, you become more willing to put the time into it,” he said.
Simply filming the mural being painted or unveiled at Gaining Ground would have yielded a pretty good story, but Niles did much more, filming the process of how Brazier essentially turned dirt into pigments for the mural’s earthy palette.
Once everything was in hand, the hard part began, Niles said.
“The editing was the toughest.”
Niles’ work in both film and photography is on display in his portfolio at jerrodniles.com, a combination of work from Rising Rock, an internship as social media manager at Wanderlinger Brewery Co. and freelance assignments he landed as a college student.
With a Hearst award under his belt, Niles is laser-focused on getting a job with a production company that makes luxury car commercials.
“I’m into documentary-style work and enjoy interviewing people. Journalism has never really called me, and I’m not a Hollywood filmmaker guy,” he said.
“I want to film things that I love and get close to the cars I had on the poster on my wall as a kid.”
This is an updated version of a story that first appeared in the spring 2022 issue of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine.