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Finding the right vision: High-schoolers create commercials for area businesses

Cedar Springs students learn the ropes of advertising

Junior Jordan Vu runs through the editing process for his Quickwater Coffee Roasters commercial

Cedar Springs — A bubbling pizza emerging from an oven. Friends engaging in high-octane workout sessions. Baristas crowning their coffee creations with foam designs. These are some of the images brought to life in student-produced commercials for area businesses.

Teacher Justin Harnden tasked his CedarSpringsTV advanced video production class with the assignment, which required students to get out in their communities and either make use of existing contacts or form some new ones. 

Students like junior Levi Grifhost are learning new things about media — and about themselves — in the process.

“The more I create my own pieces by myself and go out and actually film the shots, the more I fall in love with actually creating the videos,” said Levi, who filmed an ad for his employer, Momma’s Boy Pizza in Rockford. “I like seeing what I can do and how the video turns out.”

Harnden said the project is helping students learn important lessons and getting them invaluable hands-on experience in the field of media production.

“At the end of the class I want kids to have a portfolio of what they’ve done that’s either applicable to college or stepping into the real world, because as long as you’ve got a good demo reel, you can do this stuff pretty quick,” he said.

Some students are still finishing up their clips while others, like Levi, junior Jordan Vu and senior Bryce Leuvano, have already completed the assignment. They’re enthusiastic about their work, just as Harnden intended, and they’re already thinking about how they might use their new skills in the future. 

‘The more I create my own pieces by myself and go out and actually film the shots, the more I fall in love with actually creating the videos, because I like seeing what I can do and how the video turns out.’

— Cedar Springs junior Levi Grifhorst

Real-world Experience

Levi’s commercial for Momma’s Boy uses close-up shots and slow motion to capture the satisfying feeling of pizza preparation.

“I started off with the process of making a pizza — so, the dough toss, the sauce roll, putting cheese on it  — and I did a little slow motion of the cheese falling down onto the pizza,” he said.

Bubbling sound effects were added to boost the senses.

Momma’s Boy approved of the clip and shared it on Facebook, where it caught the attention of a representative from Central Michigan University who urged Levi to check out the school’s advertising program.

Levi is interested. He said the commercial assignment has helped him realize a passion he has for this kind of work.

Jordan used a family connection to help with the assignment. His aunt and uncle own Quickwater Coffee Roasters in Rockford, and Jordan said it was “kind of easy to just get in and promote his business.”

“My first thought was just to go straight to family because it’s usually easy and they’re not going to say no,” he said. 

Quickwater had never done a commercial before, so Jordan had to do some sleuthing to pick a style for the ad. After seeing some close-up shots of coffee being prepared in the cafe’s social media feeds, Jordan looked at some other coffee shop commercials on YouTube for inspiration.

“Then I went there and talked to (the owners),” he said. “I was like, ‘What are you feeling for the vibe? Did you want something upbeat? Something slow?’”

For the final product, Jordan said he zeroed in on a “chill” style with a lot of slow-motion shots of coffee being prepared, packaged and poured. 

“I tried to give it a smooth feeling,” he said.

Quickwater loved the clip, said Stephen Curtis, Jordan’s uncle.

“Jordan made it quite easy and painless, and had good ideas,” said Curtis, adding that the business plans to make use of the ad on social media.

“We love that Cedar Springs does this assignment,” Curtis said. “It encourages students to get out in the community and get some experience and exposure they might not have otherwise.”

Bryce Leuvano’s commercial was for Fresh Start Fitness. Bryce is a member of the gym, but he isn’t closely connected with the people who work there, so he pitched an idea for a commercial using footage of himself and his friends.

His vision was for something reminiscent of a Gatorade or Nike ad, “like a high-intensity film,” he said.

“I used my friends as my actors, and it was them using the gym space,” said Bryce. “All the free weights, cable machines, the sled pushes, everything, basically. I just used my friends for the whole video.”

At first it was a bit too long to be practical, clocking in at about 1 minute, 45 seconds. He had to re-edit and condense it, and he said he’s feeling good about the result.

“Now that I’ve made it high-intensity, and a lot quicker and faster, I think that will drive a path for me to have them post it online,” he said.

Junior Jordan Vu used Final Cut software to edit his ad for Quickwater Coffee Roasters

The Joy of Creation

The benefits of the assignment were manifold, students said. 

“It felt good doing something different,” Jordan Vu said. “I kind of found challenges that came with it (and) I think it might have sparked something that I might want to do after high school, with videography or something.”

For Bryce, the project led to a sense of community pride and camaraderie.

“Not only did I get to serve the community, but I also had fun because I was with all my friends doing all of it,” said Bryce, adding that he has some interest in working in marketing after he graduates.

Senior Bryce Leuvano looks over the video clip he filmed for Fresh Start Fitness for his CedarSpringsTV project

Harnden is proud of the students’ work, and delighted to see that it’s paying off. 

The assignment is meant, in part, to get students out of their comfort zones and into a customer-first mindset that might have them changing the way they look at and perceive community businesses.

“I think, to see those places from a different perspective is important. You might be there all the time, or have the family aspect of it, but when you’re out producing and planning and doing something to showcase that business, I think your perspective changes,” Harnden said. “You want to represent them well, and try to get interested in it.”

The finished commercials are offered up freely to businesses because, said Harnden, “it’s not about charging, it’s about learning and growing and figuring stuff out.”

Read more from Cedar Springs: 
Connection via Mario Kart? New podcast pairs superintendent with students
Putting in the work: Eighth-graders get involved through student ‘jobs’

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Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley
Riley Kelley is a reporter covering Cedar Springs, Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids and Sparta school districts. An award-winning journalist, Riley spent eight years with the Ludington Daily News, reporting, copy editing, paginating and acting as editor for its weekly entertainment section. He also contributed to LDN’s sister publications, Oceana’s Herald-Journal and the White Lake Beacon. His reporting on issues in education and government has earned accolades from the Michigan Press Association and Michigan Associated Press Media Editors. Riley’s early work in journalism included a stint as an on-air news reporter for WMOM Radio, and work on the editorial staff of various student publications. Riley is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He originally hails from western Washington.


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