It's first period at Clark Magnet High School in La Crescenta, and Kevin Ramponi is sitting on a stool in front of a neon-green backdrop waiting for his cue. A year ago, this 16-year-old cinematography student didn't have a clue about video production, but now he is the anchor of the school's daily television bulletin.
"When you step into this class, you are learning," Kevin said. "I had never used a Mac before I came into this classroom. I didn't know how different it was. I didn't even know how to turn the computer off."
Under the leadership of teacher Matthew Stroup, the school's cinematography program takes students from media production novices to pros. One student already has a contract with Universal Music Group.
At the heart of it all is the mastering of Final Cut Suite, a professional-grade audio and video editing program used across the media industry. During the introductory class, students learn the basics of the software. In more advanced cinematography, they are responsible for producing Clark's daily bulletin, which provides school news and club activities and the cafeteria menu.
And the program culminates with students practicing more advanced techniques and preparing for the Apple certification test, which recognizes proficiency in Final Cut Suite.
"For entry-level positions at a lot of studios now, they are requiring that certification, and the way TV is going, everyone is adapting to Final Cut Suite," Stroup said.
During the production of the bulletin, everyone has a job. One student preps the teleprompter, another manages the studio space, and a third is responsible for making sure the audio is sharp.
"Everyone is knowledgeable of basic television production, hence the daily bulletin we do in the school," said Joe Delgado, 17. "That way students have the experience before they start working. A lot of students are interested now, and we are basically creating a legacy."
It took Stroup several years to build the program to where it is now, collecting donated equipment, buying more equipment and coordinating with Apple. But now it is in full swing, and interest among the student body is strong, he said.
Most of the students said they hope to pursue a career in film and music production. Coming of age in the era of YouTube, some have been tinkering with their own projects for years.
"I've always liked making movies with my friends — it is fun to use the camera, especially big cameras like this," said 16-year-old Garoneh Avedisians, gesturing to the equipment in the studio.
And students are acutely aware that completing the Apple certification could give them a one-up on the competition as they pursue academic and professional goals.
Kevin Villacis, 16, said he has loved movies since he was a child, but he never realized the work that went into producing them. He has grown increasingly serious about pursuing a career in the media industry, and about mastering Final Cut Suite.
"The ones that are Apple-certified get hired faster," he said.