HIGHLIFE / A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : Video Kid Is Taping His Way to the Top : Hobby: At 15, David Smith already shows promise of building a career in TV production. His enthusiasm is paying off in employment and recognition.

Picture this.

If you can't, you can bet David Smith can.

David is what you might call a videophile.

"Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I have been into gadgets and electronics," he said. "I got started with the audio end of it, and that naturally progressed into video."

David had the curiosity and ambition to learn, but until last year, no formal training. Through a friend, he learned of a class in video production offered by the Regional Occupation Program of North Orange County. What neither David nor his friend knew, however, was that students needed to be at least 16 to enroll in the class.

"It took them two weeks before they found out about my age," said David, who is just now 15 and a sophomore at Los Alamitos High School. "By that time, I was already established in the class. So, technically, I'm not in ROP. I basically attend the class and have all the privileges of everyone in the class; I just don't get credit for attending."

The ROP class operates after school at the Los Alamitos Television studio on the campus of Los Alamitos High, although it is independent from the school.

"We are an independent agency, a nonprofit organization that is funded by the city. We just happen to rent on the campus," David said.

In addition to being the site of ROP classes, LATV is a community-access station that broadcasts on Los Alamitos-Rossmore Cable.

Suzan Grab, who worked in commercial TV in Boston, has taught the ROP video production class at LATV for about a year. She praises David.

"He's very easy to work with," she said. "I think he's very talented, and he shows a great deal of promise in video production."

Grab believes in letting her students get involved in their educations.

"I take a hands-off approach to teaching, because I want the student to get hands-on training," she said.

David said he was amazed at the way the class was conducted.

"The first day of class--they'd never seen me before--they slapped a camcorder in my hands and told me to go out in the community and tape some Christmas scenes. A week later, we had produced a Christmas video that was airing on LATV. That blew my mind. I had been there a half an hour, and they threw a $3,000 camera in my hands and said, 'Go out with this and have fun.' "

Once David had sufficient training, he started a project that had been on his mind for a long time.

"I had an idea for a production for my dad. He had these books of Vietnam pictures that were really good. So, I had this idea of putting those pictures to song, creating a musical montage."

He began the tedious process of making his video, "Vietnam," in early December, 1989, hoping to finish it in time to give to his father, Bob, as a Christmas present.

"First, I went through and listened to the song (Billy Joel's 'Good Night, Saigon') with my stopwatch and wrote down all of the lyrics, timing it all out. I then went through the books (selecting photographs). This took 2 1/2 weeks. The editing process took nine hours, and the entire production lasts 6 minutes 51 seconds."

"Awesome," said Bob Smith, a Vietnam veteran, of his son's video. "I sat there watching it with my mouth hanging open. I didn't realize he had the capability or equipment to do it. I'm proud of it and proud of him. It carried quite an impact for me."

After the video had been shown by LATV, it was eligible for a number of contests.

"I entered mine in the California Media Library Educators Assn. awards, which is a statewide competition," David said. "I tied for fourth in the category of Musical Montage. I also entered it in the local Audio/Visual Arts Festival and tied for third."

LATV entered "Vietnam" in the annual Hometown, U.S.A. Video Awards, which is sponsored by the Hometown Video Assn., a nationwide association for community access channels. It received an honorable mention, competing against 2,000 entries from 41 states.

"That was a big honor," David said, "and all off of my first production. It's hard because now I've got to live up to it."

David has since completed a number of videos, including one of O. Henry's "Hearts and Hands," and he is currently working on another titled "Mama," which, he said, is based on one of his dreams.

David, who was spending four to five hours a day at LATV, was recently hired by the station. "They're paying me now to broadcast," he said. "I put the shows on the air, kind of like a video disc jockey."

David, along with his brother Gregg and uncle Max Kamakani, is also starting a business called Nu-Mo Technic Video Productions. "It's a video production service where we will videotape anything," David said. "It's a learning experience for us."

David's hectic schedule, which includes school, cross-country practice and his time at LATV, means sticking to a demanding timetable.

"Scheduling my time last year was my shortcoming," he said. "At one point, I let myself slip for about a two-week period. I said, 'OK, I'm going to do video. And that's all I'm going to do.' And for that period of time, my grades just went downhill. I finally managed to pull myself out of it and budget my time better."

As for long-term goals, David doesn't hesitate to say he would like a career in video production.

"Who wouldn't like to? I mean, sure, I'd love to go on and win Oscars and Emmys and whatever else there may be. That would be great," he said. "If I can get a monetary gain from doing what I love to do, then great. If not, then, hey, I've got a great hobby and I can do something else for a living."

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