By Marc Speir
University News Service
May 21, 2007
Whitney Milam (Photo by David Racino, University Star)
Texas State University-San Marcos public history graduate student Whitney Milam’s film, “Sniper ‘66,” received an award May 11 for “outstanding historical television documentary” from the 28th annual Telly Awards.
The organization received more than 13,000 entries for all categories representing 50 states and numerous countries from around the world. The awards were conceived to honor television commercials, film and video of outstanding quality.
The 42 year-old native of Austin combined his love of history and his 12 years of experience as a director and producer for sales and special projects at KTBC-Fox 7 to create the documentary. He says his studies at Texas State also helped spark his passion for telling stories.
“Around 80 percent of the books I read are history-related,” Milam said. “I’ve been able to further develop my documentary skills at Texas State.”
Milam’s examination of the 1966 Charles Whitman murders from atop the University of Texas clock tower in Austin ignited interest in the wake of its 40th anniversary last year. The tragedy held the solemn title of bloodiest school shooting in U.S. history for more than four decades with 31 injuries and 14 deaths not counting Whitman, his mother and his wife whom he had killed earlier that morning.
Some also consider the unborn child of a pregnant woman Whitman killed as another death along with a wounded man that received kidney dialysis due to Whitman’s shot who died 30 years after the incident. The disturbing record was recently eclipsed by the massacre of 32 lives at Virginia Tech in April.
Milam’s program originally aired as a 23-minute news feature on July 30, 2006, for KTBC-Fox 7.
“After the shorter version came out, I was contacted by people that saw it and had other things to say about what happened that day that gave a lot more depth to the story, so I added onto it,” Milam said. “Television is very regulated by national companies in terms of time and exposure and the 26 minutes or so of content that I got just wasn’t enough.”
The expanded one-hour “director’s cut” premiered in the Alkek teaching theatre on campus in the fall of 2006 and included a discussion with many personally involved in the assault. Those attending included Ray Martinez, one of the two officers that killed Whitman, numerous bystanders and survivors of the slaughter, and Gary Lavergne, author of A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders.
The documentary, utilizing eyewitness accounts and reenactments filmed within Whitman’s former home, shows different perspectives to the mass murder and contains never before seen footage of the shooting as it unfolded.
The film includes interviews with Martinez, Lavergne, former KTBC reporter Neal Spelce, director of KLRU Gordon Smith, Brackenridge Hospital surgeons Robert Pape and Albert Lavlonde, and former Uniersity of Texas president Larry Faulkner.
Milam has produced past documentaries on Lady Bird Johnson, the bombing of PearlHarbor and its effect on Texans, and the history of the KTBC television station as it ledup to its 50th year in Austin.
“Whitney has actually been in the field of television production for quite a while,” said Frank de la Teja, state historian and chair of the Department of History. “It shows off his dedication to the craft of combining reporting with a historical perspective. The historical weight and value he’s put into it is what we’re proudest of.”
Milam said that making any documentary requires the producer to be extremely interested in the subject matter.
“You’re going to be writing, researching, editing, re-shooting and seeing the same stuff over and over,” Milam said. “You’d better have a passion for it.”
Milam plans to enter “Sniper ‘66” for contention at next year’s Emmy Awards. He is currently working with public history graduate student Stephanie Jarvis on a short documentary examining the rich history of the French Legation Museum in Austin.
Anyone interested in obtaining a one-hour version of “Sniper ‘66” can contact Milam via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies cost $20 and are available by check or money order payable to KTBC-Fox 7.