East Grand Rapids—It was the start of video production class on a Tuesday morning at East Grand Rapids High School. Pamela Steers was reminding her 30 students about a few things as they moved from the script stage to the filming stage on either a commercial or a public service announcement.
“Remember,” she said, “when you submit your script, I am going to ask you about your one goal. Is it to get people to buy a certain product? Or convince them why they should show school spirit? To wear a bike helmet? For a PSA you have more time, probably. For a commercial, you have to fit into a time limit. That’s real-world.”
For her students, “real world” is a big reason they signed up for the class and also why they love it.
Sophomore Maren Gregg and senior Evan Portzline were getting ready to do a commercial for the school’s drama club, of which they are members, and Maren said Steers’s class exemplifies what she has loved about her years at East.
“I really appreciate that East has lots of artistic classes like this, so kids can see if they want to pursue different careers in the arts,” she said.
Creative Freedom and Trust
A few desks away, seniors Claire Ward and Tucker White were putting the final touches on their script for a commercial for Ford and getting ready to do some filming. After checking out a video camera from the nearby AV room, they headed to the senior parking lot to get some footage with Claire’s Ford Escape, named Ruby, and then eagerly made their way back to AV to take a look at what they had captured.
Meanwhile, Maren and Evan were roaming the high school’s hallways, scouting locations for more shoots that evening and the next day, a freedom Maren said made for a nice opportunity and one she and her fellow students don’t take for granted.
“I enjoy that as students we get a lot of creative freedom within the prompt chosen for us, and that our teacher trusts us enough to go out and film around East Grand Rapids, instead of having to stay in a limited space,” she said.
“What I enjoy about the class is how much creative freedom we have with the projects,” she said. “Although everyone is given the same prompt, everyone ends up taking a different approach, and I love seeing all of the different storylines that people come up with.”
That’s music to Steers’ ears.
“I enjoy encouraging students to be creative and exploring how to send video messages,” she said. “I also enjoy seeing students take a concept or idea and run with it, and each can put their own spin on it and create something different.”
How Film Makes Meaning
Steers, a long-time teacher and drama director at East, said she taught students about many of the technical aspects of video production – different camera shots, angles and movements; the rule of thirds and framing; the impact of music (with an emphasis on using non-copyrighted music); the importance of high-quality sound and more – but she also taught her students about how film makes meaning.
She said that in today’s technological, YouTube and streaming age, students need to understand what they are viewing and how meaning is created. They need, she added, to become more critical viewers and creators.
“I want them to explore the world of technical visual communication,” she said. “By creating their own videos, they begin to learn how to be more discerning. And I feel communication is a life skill that can be applied to everyone’s career and lives.”
Steers noted that this generation of students is in a far different place than the students of a generation ago who often took the class having never used a video camera or edited.
Now, she said, she has students with their own YouTube channels, and students who have used iMovie or Adobe Rush on their computers and phones.
Complications and Challenges
But while they are more tech savvy, Steers said, many still need the basics of camera composition and planning a message, as well as further exploration of editing skills.
Claire Ward would agree.
As a senior, she had an open credit, and when she recalled her sophomore year, she said a film class with Steers remains one of her all-time favorites. So she eagerly registered for Steers’s video production class, even though she has no career goals in film or video production (she is considering becoming a teacher).
“I really appreciate that East has lots of artistic classes like this, so kids can see if they want to pursue different careers in the arts.”— Maren Gregg, East Grand Rapids sophomore
Just a month into the semester, she said the class was all she hoped it would be, though she was struck by how complicated making a short commercial could be.
“This was only our second commercial so far, so the most challenging part is definitely still learning everything,” Claire said. “But the editing, once you start to get the hang of it and putting things together is a satisfying moment.”
Maren and Evan also were struck by the many challenges of making a short commercial.
“One of the greatest challenges that we have had has been finding times when everyone is available and when we have access to the locations where we want to film,” Evan noted. “It has really made me think about how much more complicated this process would be on the set of a professional film, and how much more planning would have to go into it to ensure that everything would go smoothly.”
Maren, who hopes to perhaps work in film or video production someday, added that the class is already helping her figure out specific jobs she might like within the film industry and helping her think more deeply about her possible career.
“In class, we talked a lot about the message and the reason behind filmmaking, and when I see all of the shots start to come together, I get so excited for the message we are going to send out,” she said.