Meet a talented high school student filmmaker

While I usually use this space to show my own work, I’d like to highlight the work of a high school student I met a few weeks ago. Allie Marsh is a junior at Lyme-Old Lyme High School, and one of her teachers recently invited me to advise on a project she was working on. The White House Student Film Festival is a competition for K-12 students. Young filmmakers are given an assignment and must submit a three minute film. In last year’s inaugural competition, 16 students films about the impact of technology in the classroom were selected for the festival. Allie’s film from last year did well to promote her school, and I thought it was very well done for a high school student, but it lacked the “next level” that a lot of the official selections had. Allie’s video got me interested in Lyme-Old Lyme High School, and showed me a lot of cool things I didn’t know about the school. But some of last year’s winners took the concept a step further and showed the importance and impact of technology in the classroom. They promoted the greater issue of technology as it applies to all classrooms, not just at one school. They were more focused on the “why” than the “what.”

The focus on the “why” instead of the “what” make for more interesting and engaging storytelling. When I’m working on a video journalism piece, I always make sure to ask people to tell me not just what happened, but what it means and why it’s important to them. This helps establish an emotional connection between the viewer and the subject of the story.

The assignment for Allie and all the student filmmakers this year was “The impact of giving back.” I met with Allie and her technology education teacher Bill Derry a few days before the video was due. They had collected photos and video footage shot by LOLHS students from a wide range of community service events. They were trying to figure out how to craft a creative narrative with all of the source material.

This can be a difficult spot to be in. When you can come up with a theme or structure in advance, all of the shooting can be done with that in mind. In this case, several different photographer and videographers did their shooting without a clear mandate. Allie was left with a wide range of clips and photos, some better than others, and was limited by what she had and what she didn’t. Several times in our conversation I heard “it would have been great if we had…”

I encouraged her to come up with a list of bullet points – one for each service event that she could possibly include. Each point should focus on the impact of the service being performed – the why more than the what. The next thing would be some sort of overall theme to tie all of the points together. We talked about trying to do some interviews or coming up with some voice over narration. We looked at a few examples, and then I went back to work and she went back to class.

I received an email a few days later with a link to her final piece and was very impressed. It highlights the service activities of her school without having to explicitly promote them. It also goes to the next level by inspiring others to serve. Someone watching this video from the other side of the country as someone who is familiar with the LOLHS community. I look forward to seeing how Allie’s work grows in the future.

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Don’t just stream the game, tell the story

I wrote a post last year about how The Day, a small daily newspaper here in Connecticut, produces live streaming webcasts of high school basketball games with a small crew and a smaller budget using Wirecast software and BlackMagic Design hardware. While the technical details are interesting, I think (or at least I hope) what sets us apart is the way we tell the story of the game outside of the action on the court.

For each basketball webcast, we produce at least two features on each team and a video open that sets the stage for the game. For football games, when we work with a larger, outside crew, we do even more features. The idea is to let our audience get to know the players and the coaches, establishing a connection and hopefully increasing the number of people who care about seeing the actual game action.

For a lot of high school games, it might initially seem that the potential audience is rather limited, and a limited audience could mean limited interest from potential sponsors. We’ve been lucky to have some games of statewide importance right in our backyard, including a football game and basketball game that both were decided in the final seconds. For other, less extraordinary games, students, parents and immediate communities of the two schools participating might care, but how do you get a larger audience to watch?

We run the video features during our pre-game and halftime shows, but we also publish some of them on our website before the game. We look for stories that are more about who the players are as people rather than just focusing on their athletic achievements. We’ve profiled the offensive linemen who sing in the chorus, the basketball player whose late father is the inspiration for his team. The basketball student section and the football team moms. It’s hard to say analytically if this strategy is drawing more viewers than if we just webcast the games, but I have heard anecdotally from people who said they didn’t care about either team, but the features made them feel like they had a vested interest in the success of the players who they got to know.

By posting the individual stories in addition to the full webcast and highlights, each live game means at least seven pieces of on-demand content posted to the site by the next morning.

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An Ode to Opening Day

I’ve been trying to make this video for several years. One year I was on vacation, another we were chasing UConn basketball. For some reason, things kept coming up that prevented me from working on the first day of the high school baseball season. This year, I put it on the calendar early, got in touch with the coaches in advance, and had everything ready to go. The weather worked out perfectly on both of my shooting days. I briefly thought this video was not going to happen again this year. I had asked the Montville coach to let me know when the groundskeeper would be prepping the field before the first home game. The night before, he told me to be there at 8:30 a.m. The morning of the game, as I was getting ready to take my kids to school, I saw an email from the coach saying they were already out working on the field. I thought this project was sunk for another year, but fortunately for me (unfortunately for the groundskeeper) the wet spring meant that the field needed extra work. I arrived in plenty of time to shoot the field work, do some editing, and then go back for the start of the game.

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Basketball Double Header

I shot a pair of girls basketball semifinals last night, about two hours each to capture, edit, compress and post. Got to bed by 2:30 and then it was up at 6 to make a radio appearance with Rick Koster and Lee Elci at WXLM. So sleepy… Bacon  vs. St. Bernard: NFA vs Montville

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