At the request of AISD, we were asked to deliver a promotional film about what life is like at Austin High School. I’m very proud of the team for coming up with this creative execution that doesn’t follow the standard branding film fare that has been so played out in recent years. We put a GoPro camera on 32 students, 4 teachers and one drone to pull off this amazing concept written by Cole Villarreal. Produced by Matt Perry and Gil Garcia with Barbara Laughlin as Assistant Producer and Geoffrey King ’12 as drone operator.
A few weeks ago the team got really pumped up to devote an entire show to lampooning a guest speaker that came to AHS whose speech didn’t sit too well with faculty or staff. And while making light of current events happening around the school is not out of the ordinary, seeing as how KAHS is a satirical sketch comedy show, it WAS out of the ordinary that they were pitching a trip to a cave to get footage for the show. McCoy had a tent that he was hell bent on incorporating into the script. A tent that he wanted to destroy. Kids told me that there was a cave that we could film that would tie in perfectly to the script that they had written. I initially thought, “No way. We are not going camping just to get broll for a sketch.” (they probably just wanted to go camping) But as teacher, these are the moments you live for. Teachers don’t get paid in dollars, they get paid in moments like these. Its why I left my lucrative job in advertising and marketing, so that I could be selling dreams, motivation and inspiration instead of brand identity,loyalty and recognition! Its why I signed up for this job in the first place! Its so amazing seeing your students get inspired to be their best, to go all out, to challenge the status quo, to be filled with determination and to come correct with a script and a plan….Well how can you not support that? I mean, the guest speaker was talking about passion. And here my students were…being passionate about their craft. The guest speaker certainly inspired them! I couldn’t say no! So off we went. For a one day location shoot. In the middle of the week. IN JANUARY! (texas january tho…not the same, but still). We had a great time and even though I lost a chankla in the Frio River, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I have never been more proud of the team. Unfortunately, the speaker couldn’t laugh at himself and didn’t appreciate the writing when we shared it with him. He went on to publish false information on his blog about how a teacher wrote an opinion piece in the school newspaper about his presentation, when in fact this information was false, because it was a student who wrote it. He went on to write more false information, saying that I actually led the making of the video and had the crew act out MY script. This blog post was a great bell ringer for my broadcast journalism class to talk about ethics and journalistic integrity. We talked about fact checking and how important it is to get your facts straight before publishing your work. It was a great teachable moment.
This all made me realize how little credit some adults give my team. They think that I am the creative director of the show and don’t realize that I am just an adviser. I am just here to help bring the student’s ideas to life, (as long as there is no cussing). It’s my job to teach the KAHS students how to get eyes on the screen, not just read the morning announcements. Teaching is difficult. Leading one of the top film programs in the country is passion.
One entry. 495 competitors. 3 categories. This is the story of our first experience as UIL filmmaker competitors.
“Namaste” is a short narrative piece, which focuses on students who take a yoga class to get out of their traditional Physical Education class to get their credit. It encompasses funny and embarrassing problems that most high school kids endure at some point in their careers as students.
Our writer, Lauren Azuela, pitched her idea to Gil (Mr. Garcia) and it was close to a unanimous vote on what film we were going to create for the inaugural UIL Filmmakers Competition. The humor and idea wasn’t something that anyone could have expected from anybody but her. Farts. I was a little skeptical on how we were going to make this more “mature” than the 5th grade level, but I was on board for trying to help make it happen. When we all returned from winter break, we had a script written, designated roles, and a lot of work ahead of us.
Our production team was headed by our Producer Moe Salas, and filled out with Writer and Director Lauren Azuela, Director of Photography, Editor and Co-Director Ben Root, and actors and assistant producers Austin New and Eric Zapffe. We had a strong and devoted team, and all we needed was the rest of the class to crew it out. Once everyone was given his or her exact roles, we started on getting the project done.
I was assigned to be part of casting and social media/behind the scenes. Being a part of casting gave me the opportunity to see my classmates in a different way. Watching them transform from their everyday selves into completely different characters was one of the coolest parts of the job. Being in charge of social media and behind-the-scenes was a really fun experience for me because I love taking photos and videos of people, and getting to shoot behind-the-scenes helped me show the viewers how much fun we had as a production group. I saw the hilarious, energetic, and crazy personalities of the people I saw every day in a new light, making the bonds of us even tighter. Check out the video I made below!
When it came time to shoot, we had to come up with exactly one day that all filming had to be completed, and it was requested that anybody and everybody be there to help man the production. It was a 12+ hour day. We all arrived at the PAC at 8, with half-closed eyes and a full agenda. By the time I showed up, Gil was pacing around getting our set ready, some of the crew members were setting up lights, and everyone else was helping to get the ball rolling. We had to pay the school $368 to use the PAC on a saturday. That’s where most of our budget went. The rest went to food and wardrobe.
Around the second or third hour of filming, I remember Eric walking up to me and repeating, “This is difficult… I will never do this again…” It stood out to me because he was so keen on auditioning for the role, and he was so excited when he was chosen. But throughout the course of the day, you could tell he was getting more and more acclimated to being in the spotlight. Our actors played a major role in the outcome of the competition, and nothing could have been possible without the passion and connection for the project as a team. We were so lucky to find Erica Heidepriem, to play Ms. Tanya. She is a professional actress and also teaches yoga!
Hours and hours of filming continued, getting through a scene one by one. I didn’t think we would make it through the day; we stayed 3 hours past our expected wrap time, but we did it. We were going to have to go back and finish a few takes the next school day, but we had ultimately accomplished an incredible goal. I knew that whatever the odds were, we were putting our best efforts into completing our first every short story as a team, and inside I knew we had a chance at beating out the competition. We were all doing this for the love of it. There are never any grades involved in the senior thesis film project.
We finished the film, submitted it and waited. We made the semifinals, and soon after, we made it to finals.
Competition night came a lot faster than I had expected, and I was not prepared for what the night had in store for us. While I was sitting in the historical and beautiful Paramount Theatre watching all of the entries for the Animation and Documentary portions, I thought about the success of our film. When we first showed it to the public, I was so worried that there was maybe something missing to the story or something that we did wrong and didn’t catch. My thoughts stopped as the first Narrative film began to play. I was nervous for ours to air in front on the big screen, and there were amazing submissions that I thought had us beat. But sitting in that theatre with hundreds of people coming from all around Texas, and seeing the amazing work that the producers and crew helped put together, I couldn’t help but realize how much of a chance we really had. Gil always says story is the most important thing about a film, and I felt our story was just as good as anybody’s.
After a long night of amazing films and speeches, the winners were announced. We were up against 5 other amazing short narratives. I was shaking, and I had a weird feeling in my stomach. One by one, Mr. Muñoz, the contest director announced the winners in each category, and it felt like 5 years until he reached our division. I kept speaking in my head telling myself not to be disappointed if we didn’t place. And then I heard, “Austin High School, with their film ‘Namaste!’” I looked to my right and I could hear Gil, Lauren, Ben, Moe, Austin, and Eric jump up and shout with excitement. We placed 2nd. I felt a rush of excitement and relief flow through me and I could see the perma-grin on Gil’s face as he and the other producers walked along the stage. We did it. I pushed through as much of the crowd as possible to congratulate everyone outside. And all I could think to myself was: we did it. Temple High School took first place with “VORTEX” and Edinburg High School took third with “The Dress Rehearsal”
Today, we can call ourselves UIL competitors, and UIL winners. The work that all of our crew and producers went through for the last 3 months is something that Austin High School can be proud of forever. I remember right before award night, Gil told us how proud he was of everyone and that no matter what happened, in his head, we had already won. We made an amazing film, had fun along the way, and learned a ton. Everything else is just gravy.Without the encouragement of our amazing Executive Producer and teacher, there is absolutely no way we would have made it to finals. The hard work and dedication showed through when I saw my teammates up on that stage receiving their well-deserved award, I couldn’t imagine being more proud. I couldn’t be happier with the way the night played out, and everyone, crew, cast, production team, should be proud of their contributions to inevitably creating something amazing. Congratulations friends! We did it!
ps, click here for all of our behind the scenes photos on flickr
This year the varsity class went camping to celebrate our first show of the year. We normally go camping at the end of the year, but I moved it to the beginning of the year to aid in team building. Definitely a good idea.
The Office of Academics with the Austin Independent School District is creating a summer internship program for film students across the district. They asked Austin High to pilot the program. This is what we made.
Ben Root – Lighting, Camera, Music, Writing, Editing, Color
Jane Butler – Interviewer, Writing, Music, Graphics
Ryan Pavey – Camera
Matt Perry – Interviewer
Alexa Ramirez – Interviewer