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Greenhill School: High School Filmmakers in Texas
by Mashal Noor 1 Oct 2014

Films created by high schoolers at Greenhill School are being showcased on this week’s episode of Frame of Mind. Their films have a level of sophistication you wouldn’t expect to see from high schoolers.

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This week on Frame of Mind, see a collection of films created by high schoolers at Greenhill School.

  •  Tune in to KERA TV on Thursday at 10 PM to catch this week’s episode, which includes the following films:
  • “Life Through the Lens” directed by Ryan Kline
  • “Seawolf” directed by Caila Pickett and Max Montoya
  • “Zipper” directed by Mansi Gaur, Rachel Davis, and Maya Muralidhar
  • “Boom” directed by Brian Broder, Andrew Fields, and Daniel Matyas
  • “Silent Night” directed by James Bradford
  • “Just Your Average Joe” directed by Jade and Pearl Basinski
  • “Partner” directed by James Bradford and Max Montoya
Photo:

Alex Barkley starring in “Partner.” Photo: James Bradford & Max Montoya

I went to Greenhill to interview Corbin Doyle, the video production teacher there, who also happened to be my high school video production teacher when I was at Greenhill.

Photo: Daniel Matyas, Andrew Fields, & Brian Broder

Photo: Daniel Matyas, Andrew Fields, & Brian Broder

On the beginning and growth of the Greenhill video production program:

It started 17 years ago.  When I came to Greenhill, there was no video production program at all.  I had won a DMA award that year and that is how Greenhill came to know me.  They called and said they were expanding their art department and they wanted me to figure out a way to mirror technology and arts.  We were one of the first schools to be thinking about things like that

So I pitched the idea of doing a video production class, and they thought it was more of a critical study course where we would talk about film.  And I told them no, we’re going to try and make film.  This was actually for middle school and I remember that, even for Greenhill who welcomes new ideas, I got a lot of pushback.  I remember, Ms. Carter, the previous Middle School head, finally signed off and gave me a one trimester trial with one class.  I didn’t have a classroom and I had no materials, so we literally shot on my little Handycam and edited on two little VCRs.

We had a group of seventh graders and it went really well – there was a good mood and we learned a lot of things.  So the middle school class became an everyday thing for the seventh and eighth graders, but there were no upper school classes.   After several years of middle school classes growing, I started having upper school classes and less middle school classes. That was right when Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere came out and we got to test out both of them.  We were one of the first schools to have final cut pro on one of the little hemisphere Macs, which wasn’t even fast enough to drive Final Cut Pro.

Photo: Ryan Kline

Greg Pearson starring as Private Hood in “Life Through The Lens.” Photo: Ryan Kline

The very first year that we actually had a class that we called Advanced Video Production (AVP), it was a tutorial with 4 girls.  And now, we have 60 people in Advanced Video Production right now – we literally have camp chairs for people in the room.  They’re all invited, they all have to have done the prerequisites, they have to write me a letter and then I have to sign off on people.  It’s a little crazy and a lot awesome.

It’s funny to think about, especially with the new building that is coming next year, how we’ve grown from not even having a classroom – we would meet literally in the rotunda of the middle school and walk around and ask teachers if it was okay if we could use their room – to what we have now.  The new film room is going to have 24 stations and a full fancy screening area in there.

Photo:

Photo: Mansi Gaur, Rachel Davis, & Maya Muralidhar

On the highlights of the Greenhill video production program:

There’s milestones that you see change things a lot.  There’s one, Todd Levin ‘05, he made a film in his sophomore year that we had to talk to a blues musician to get the okay to use his music, and we had to get the okay from DART, and a couple of restaurants in downtown Dallas to be able to shoot the film.  This was the first film of all this preaching of we’re only limiting ourselves and that we can make much bigger and more produced films than we’ve been talking about doing.  That film was the one that was our breakthrough film.  We shot on DART trains, we shot in restaurants, we had a lot of adult actors, we got the okay from the musician who sent back a letter saying they were happy to be involved in any high school film that looked as good as that one did.

Then there were groups like Ryan Kline ‘11, Cat Hobbs ‘11, Leah and Kara Duncan ‘11, and that whole group that got involved in film festivals.  They said they wanted to be a part of AFI Dallas (that went on to become Dallas International Film Festival).  They got to see that world and how different it is being a part of a film festival.

Bart Weiss was the person that I went to when I was at Jesuit in high school and I didn’t know who to talk to.  I would send this guy letters and questions and he would always respond to me.  We lied early on and said that we were a college group so that we could be a part of the 24 Hour Video Race.  He knew that we weren’t, but that’s how the high school thing began – from us being squeaky wheels and saying we wanted to be a part of this.  Bart is integral to all of this, in terms of us having questions and this outlet to be able to do these things  I think people take the Dallas Video Festival a little for granted these days, because it’s this major film festival that’s been going on for so long and it’s so unlike the other film festival.

Todd’s film was opening doors in terms of scale of our projects; the involvement in SXSW and Dallas International Film Festival and Dallas Video Fest was the next big leap.

A still from the stopmotion film "Just Your Average Joe." Photo: Pearl & Jade Basinski

A still from the stopmotion film “Just Your Average Joe.” Photo: Pearl & Jade Basinski

On the state of Indie filmmaking  in Texas:

I think it’s great.  I mean there is a little money.  For instance, Jade and Pearl Basinski (Just Your Average Joe) just got a Women in Film grant.  I mean how cool is that, that a group like that in this town would see these high school student’s films and give them money to make more films.  That just doesn’t happen in Los Angeles.  There’s an infrastructure now that is easier for me to navigate than it was 20 years ago when we moved back to Dallas.  I think the Dallas Film Society, because of the film festival, has become a lot more of a player than it was before.  It’s something that people know to go to now.  I think before, people would come here and not know what to do.  The biggest things are these film festivals.  Compared to California and New York, it’s so much easier to get things done here than anywhere else.  The students that I had that are now in California, they remind me how blessed we are to have the ease of that here, compared to what they have to go through over there.

Being able to sit in a room filled with 200 people with William Friedkin, who turned the air conditioning down to 67 degrees, and watch his final edit of The Exorcist and then talk to him afterwards is a gift.  It’s a gift that gives every year.

Photo: Caila Pickett & Max Montoya

Photo: Caila Pickett & Max Montoya

On the biggest challenge working with high school students:

Let’s answer it the good way first – the good thing is that, even with middle school students, they’re not self conscious.  My joke is, when I write my middle school book, that any seventh or eighth grade boy will dress like a girl if you ask him to.  I don’t know why that is.  For upper school, they’re dreamers and that comes across in the stuff that they make.  They’re uninhibited, and they watch things and they take them in and are able to make stuff without worrying about what other people think of them or how it’ll affect their career — they’re just makers.

At Greenhill, everyone is very involved.  The biggest hurdle is probably that you have a person who’s a football player, in AVP, and is also taking AP and honors classes.  For these kids, trying to get 5 hours on a Saturday to shoot their film that they’re doing up at Lake Texoma which will take 2 hours to drive to, that comes to be very difficult.

Photo: Caila Pickett & Max Montoya

Photo: Caila Pickett & Max Montoya

I talk about how Greenhill has frictionless creativity.  For instance, the films that are due today, their pitch is “super human feats.”  We’re going to watch the first round of them and I can’t wait.  It’s going to be idiocy.  I have themes every year and this year’s theme is “Fight the Meh.”  I tell them that  I don’t care what it is, but if I have “meh” I’m going to be more mad at that, than if I have idiocy.  I have watched so many high school films in the last 17 years, that I think that “Fight the Meh” is an okay place to start.

On being included in Frame of Mind:

I’ve known Frame of Mind and I’ve known that it was kind of sporadic.  Then you hear from Bart that he’s going to make it more of a consistent show, and that’s awesome.  And then the joke is, you get phone call a few months later that is saying they want to do a whole episode on Greenhill films.  At first, you think it’s one of your friends that’s trying to trick you and then you realize that it’s something that’s actually happening.

It’s ridiculous, but it’s an unbelievable gift, and I can’t wait to hear what people think about the films.

I gave Bart and the group like 40 films to watch and I didn’t hear back for a while so I thought that it wasn’t going to happen anymore.  But they came back with very specific films that they had grabbed and liked.  It’s a little nostalgic, but a little awesome, and a little humbling, and scary, and pretty great.

Rather than looking back, it just seems like I can’t wait to see what we make next.

 

You can find more work by Greenhill’s Advanced Video Production classes on vimeo.

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