Claremont High School Used Avid Media Composer to Emphasize Dangers of Drinking and Driving

By in Education

We had less than a day to turn it around. But with an 18-student production team, Avid Media Composer and a whole lot of preparation, collaboration and heart, we pulled off an incredibly moving film documenting the consequences of drinking and driving as a part of Claremont High School’s “Every Fifteen Minutes Program.” It’s funded by the California Highway Patrol and the California Office of Traffic Safety, with additional support from the Claremont Police Department.

Ryan Bush filming Davion Smith

This is my second year as the video production teacher at CHS, and I was asked to oversee the making of the EFM video. It was described to me as something of a myth or legend. To begin with, the project was completely top secret. We were not able to find out what students are involved in the staged car accident until the day of. Claremont PD closed down Indian Hill Blvd., flipped two cars and staged a mock accident to which local authorities responded in front of the entire junior and senior class while my video production students filmmed everything. Then they worked though the night editing, and as the morning sun rose, they emerged from the depths of the editing bay (or, in my case, Room 103), chests high, eyes bloodshot and coffee in hand, with a completed film to be screened at an assembly with their peers.

Isabella Cisneros and Eileen McNair editing

All I heard was, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Or, more appropriately: police cars, fire trucks, a helicopter, multiple cameras (GoPros, Canon DSLRs, Sony PXW-X70s), multiple frame rates (60fps, 30fps, 24fps), Avid Media Composer, varying ages of iMacs and teenagers, less than 24 hours, oh my! Are you completely insane? Well, maybe just a little.

Mahmoud Maarouf Editing_Cory Smith and Andrew Brands on Screen

Now, I’ll admit I was a bit nervous for such a large undertaking, but I was not afraid because of the wonderful team assembled. First, we had the complete support of students, staff and local authorities. Second, we had an amazing student director, Ira Clark, who shepherded the vision alongside some very talented and dedicated student filmmakers. Last, but certainly not least, we had Varun Viswanath (whom I still owe dinner), my phone-an-editor. He helped me problem solve and advised how to set up the projects in Avid Media Composer as well as transcode and export in a lab setting that is not exactly ideal—but what one is? We eventually consolidated to one iMac and had a hard drive attached to every port. It’s a wonder the computer didn’t explode.

CHS Advanced Video Production Class

What I loved most about this project was the complete collaboration using the tools of the industry and the real-world experience the students gained. We hammered out the story as a class prior to EFM so that everybody was on the same page and understood his or her part in the process. We created production teams for the day of so there was no confusion. I told them that when they held the camera in their hands, well, they had superpowers. Then each team went out and filmed their part and edited together their sequence. There were healthy creative conversations taking place absent of ego. They were so much in sync that they would take turns editing. I even remember Ira taking a nap around 3 a.m., and when he woke up, Johnny, Christian and Hunter had come up with the opening sequence, to which he responded, “Cool.”  Cool indeed to see these kids put their hearts into something.

The reward was screening the film only a few hours after completion with more than 1200 students, staff, parents, and community members. I used to think the prize was experiencing the audience’s reaction to something I had created, but I’ve learned that feeling doesn’t even compare to experiencing something that your students have created. The Wolfpack ROCKS!

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Sara Hills is the Video Production teacher at Claremont High. She has earned an MFA in Producing from the American Film Institute, an MA in Education from Claremont Graduate, and a BA in Film Studies from UCSB.