The teenagers working in a windowless subterranean classroom Wednesday at Crescenta Valley High School had hopes of being directors, camera operators or journalists.
They huddled around computers that lined the white walls of the room, clicking through advanced video-editing software as they altered their latest class projects: their own TV commercials.
Matthew Anderson, a student in the introductory cinematography course, maneuvered his mouse to rearrange sound clips on the screen in front of him.
He wore a set of large headphones that looked like silver earmuffs, taking them off to explain that he was moving an audio recording of his voice, known as a voiceover, so that it would play during a clip showing one of his classmates trying to impress a pair of girls with the group’s concept product: the iCube, an outlandish combination of an iPod and a Rubik’s Cube.
“Now you’ll see [this],” the junior said as he pointed to the video of a friend holding a pink Rubik’s Cube as he talked to the girls, “but you’ll hear my voice.”
Matthew’s video- and sound-editing skills with the computer program Final Cut Pro grew out of a series of lessons teacher Diana Brown has structured for the yearlong crash course in film production.
Brown teaches students the basics of filmmaking, from proper camera-operating techniques to special editing effects, hoping to teach the class about the qualities of good productions, she said.
“The goal of the class is to not only give students the artistic perspective of filmmaking, but also to give them job and career preparation for the film industry,” Brown said.
But even one year of instruction is not enough for developing advanced skills, so Brown tries to give the class a range of experiences with different genres of video production, she said.
Students in the introductory course make TV commercials, music videos, documentaries, horror films, news reports and more, Brown said.
The experiences not only give students a taste of the career possibilities involving film, they also ready them for advanced courses at Crescenta Valley High, which in turn prepare them for college courses, she said.
Brown’s former students have moved on to journalism and film programs at USC, Northwestern, Cal State Northridge, Glendale Community College and elsewhere and have had success, she said.
“They feel they have much better experience to work off of than some of their other peers,” she said.
Some former students have reported back to Brown about tips for tweaking her classes to better position her pupils for college courses, which is one of her major goals.
But along with the process of preparing for college comes a lot of learning through mistakes, Brown said.
One group in Wednesday’s class broke out in sighs as junior Vrej Nalbantian turned to freshman Alice Kim and waved a fist at her in friendly frustration.
Alice had been laughing in the background of their recordings as Vrej had been pouring out the group’s concept products, a line of “special sauce” condiments, junior group member Paulina Samson said.
“We can hear her laughing behind every scene,” she said.
Vrej opted to cut out the problematic audio and replace it with music.
While most groups had experienced production challenges, they weren’t all bad experiences, and some of those challenges led to the most enjoyable pieces, Matthew said.
His favorite project was a silent movie of a love story, where his group was challenged to convey the story using creative camera angles, dramatic and emotional reactions and music.
The best films are able to create moving stories without all of the gimmicks of modern movies, he said.
“It’s all about what you see,” he said.
“It’s not about what’s blowing up and what special effects. It’s just about what the viewer sees.”