Production Values Learned Early at Connally High School
Video Technology classes teach practical skills, foster creativity
Today, a person doesn’t even need all that smart of phone to record and share a video over text message, Facebook or maybe a YouTube or Vimeo upload. Mobile video’s pervasive reach and increased affordability has taken a lot of the mystery out of capturing life’s pivotal moments.
But access to slick technology has raised expectations for students in high school, college and then when they enter the workplace. PowerPoint presentations with flying bullet points and materializing headlines don’t impress like they did 10 or 20 years ago.
But access to technology doesn’t always mean more effective use of it.
That’s changing at Pflugerville Independent School District’s John B. Connally High School, where video technology classes are becoming a model for schools exposing students to the versatility and accessibility of professional equipment and software.
The right people and the right equipment
Former theater teacher and independent filmmaker Humberto Pérez was hired in 2007 to develop the video technology program.
“Technology has really changed our ability to teach video production in schools,” he says. “With the support of Connally’s Principal Daniel Garcia and Kathryn Ives, the district technology coordinator, we put in the appropriate equipment for a strong program.”
Over the course of five years, the school acquired iMacs, professional quality video cameras, lights, sound equipment and editing software. The technology learned in high school is giving students skills and experience they can take to college or even directly onto a movie set, he says.
Through his involvement in the Austin film scene, Pérez also saw an opportunity to develop a public-private partnership with filmmakers that brought real-world experience to the classroom and introduced students to real-world expectations. In 2010, he co-founded the Cinema Du Cannes Project with Michelle Carter and Dana Glover, partners in Midian Films, an independent film company based in nearby Round Rock. The extracurricular project’s goal was to not only encourage Pflugerville students to make films for themselves in school, but to make films worthy of submission to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Several students have already had films accepted to Cannes’ Short Film Corner and traveled to France to learn more about the filmmaking business.
“This is exposing them to the world,” Glover says. “With the Internet and the global economy you are dealing with the world; how do you deal with the world if you don’t know the world?”
Develop personal skills and technical skills
Carter says filmmaking is the catalyst that she and Glover can use to help young people develop confidence in themselves and flourish as young adults.
“The film aspect grabs their passion. Then their minds open up and you start pushing everything else,” Glover adds. “It’s the collaboration, the cooperation and communication, the teamwork and the critical thinking. All of these things are necessary in everything you do. That’s the real purpose of this.”
Whether or not they participate in the Cinema du Cannes Project, the video technology program offers access to technology, decision-making processes and even trust to carefully and responsibly use valuable equipment.
Graduating senior Rachel Kail says video technology provided an opportunity to combine her love of acting, learn more technology skills, take a leadership position and work collaboratively to produce a film. She says the course encourages students to become more confident and self-assured.
“A lot of confidence is acting like you are confident,” Kail says. “In this class, you are around cameras, and people that are watching you. It is the production side of technology. You have to learn to throw caution to the wind.”
She said the opportunity to learn real world skills many people might not associate with high school coursework has tangible and varied benefits for her fellow students.
“This class is the reason that some students are coming to school,” she says. “If they were only here to take English, math, history and science, they wouldn’t be showing up.”
With Pérez’ guidance, the students learn to write a screenplay, organize their film, operate cameras, lights, and audio equipment, and select shots and sound that they’ll need to create a finished film.
Selected as class director, Kail’s job was to work with other class leaders to produce a successful film. She describes the creative freedom the students were given to execute their chosen screenplay — a serious drama dealing with a teen relationship, AIDS and suicide — as a “liberating experience,” despite the heavy subject matter.
She says doing a video production project is a whole lot cooler than doing a PowerPoint project.
“Even if we are not planning to continue with film, it’s a really good option to learn to be creative rather than just typing up a document,” Kail says. “It’s creativity and technology, which sometimes doesn’t seem to go together, but in this class it does.
Students have an opportunity to take control
“The students make the decisions,” Perez says. “I take the director, producer and director of photography under my wing and I share with them, my experiences as a filmmaker.
“I talk about editing techniques, about pacing, about audio and sound design, and how important that is to telling your story,” he says. “In the process, each student gets to actually put together their own version of the film.”
“From there, we integrate more of the social media and talk about how to get those films out there into the real world so everybody can see them,” he says.
“I really encourage them to learn to collaborate and discuss; they may not agree on a shot, but they need to work it out and come to a consensus,” Perez says. “If I see those things, they’ll earn good marks as a group and an individual.
“I am extremely proud of all my students,” he says. “I see them becoming not just passive consumers of media, but active producers of media. They are learning skills in high school that they can use in future.”
Find out more from the Texas Comptroller’s office about college, career and technical education opportunities in Texas at www.EveryChanceEveryTexan.org.