Choffin Career Center now features its own production studio.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Unlike many movie and television buffs, Natasha Clark and Chenice Gilbert want to go beyond watching and discussing their favorite films, shows and stars.
The two teenagers are more interested in learning about what most people never see, what takes place behind the set after the director yells "Cut!" and what occurs when the cameras aren't rolling. The two juniors want to know more about digital filmmaking and editing and what else is required for a successful finished entertainment product.
"I want to be a producer and plan to go to Kent State University to get a degree in multimedia," Gilbert said.
For a while, junior Derrick Logan was in Choffin Career and Technical Center's precision machine class and was part of an after-school program there. After changing his mind about what he wanted to pursue and consulting with his guidance counselor, he decided the center's new Interactive Multi Media Production class was for him.
"I'd like to be a music video director and this is a good place to start," he added.
The TV and video production class recently made its debut at Choffin. The 21/2-hour course is offered twice a day, and standard classroom lectures play a small part in this set of daily operations.
The bigger mainstay, both in terms of class time and space, is a new 480-square-foot TV studio that signed on earlier this year in the center's basement. The high school students spend a lot of time in the room operating a pair of mounted cameras, adjusting lighting and looking the professional parts.
The studio gives the eight juniors and two seniors in Jeff Alberini's morning and afternoon classes opportunities to develop their skills and practice the multifaceted techniques needed to run a smooth and successful newsroom. They also have ample chances to get a sense of how live TV works and to refine their editing skills.
The 24-foot-by-24-foot room is equipped with sound-proof padding to reduce echoes and is complemented by a high ceiling, which provides the necessary space for an overhead lighting grid. Students adjust the angle and intensity of the lights and can manipulate them by adding color to fit the mood and tone of whatever production they're working on.
On the screen
While some students perform the camera work, others stand or sit in front of one of two backdrops -- either a neon green or a neutral gray. The bright green was chosen because it's a color "no one wears" and the students won't accidentally blend in too much with the background, Alberini explained. A desk will soon be put in front of the gray background for the students to conduct their own talk show, he added.
"Most studios start with gray and build from there," Alberini said.
Such solid colored backdrops are similar to those TV weather anchors stand in front of as they track the movements of cold fronts across a map of the United States and tick off predicted high and low temperatures, precipitation chances and humidity and dew-point readings for their area.
Other positions and skills available to students include using a teleprompter and an audio mixer. The computerized mixing device is connected to a separate computer; it controls microphone levels and can be used to mix commercials and music into the production.
Tools of the trade
Across the hall from the studio is a computer lab where students edit what they shoot using state-of-the-art Final Cut Pro HD software, the same technology many Hollywood film companies use, Alberini explained. It includes color-coded keyboards next to each computer, which makes it easier for the students to associate a color with a particular editing function.
Along with mastery of the high-tech equipment, the students need to adopt the language of the industry to make sense of their roles in the pre-production, production and post-production processes. The students learn to be referred to by position such as director or assistant director, and begin to feel comfortable with words and phrases such as "pan," "truck" and "left and right dolly."
(Panning is moving a camera left or right; trucking means moving the camera and mount to the left or right; and left or right dolly refers to sliding the camera mount in or out.)
Success in the class and the production business, however, means more than becoming adept at zooming a camera or editing a segment. Two other vital ingredients are good communication and listening skills, Alberini noted.
"The director is a nonstop talker and you can't have a sense of doubt in your voice. If you do, no one will follow you," he said.
Alberini stressed that his course is part of an integrated academics approach. English, math and other basics are incorporated into the production class.
To that end, the class is part of a three-tier education that focuses on transferable skills, integrated academics and specific job skills, he added. In addition to having good technical abilities, students must have personal responsibility and professionalism in attitude and language to be successful in the job market.
Alberini stressed that teamwork and safety are always at the forefront of his course. The two-year Choffin teacher said he hopes his course will give the 11th- and 12th-graders tools to be independent and to solve problems.
"I try to teach them to think outside the box and expand their abstract skills. They tell me, 'You really love to do this stuff, huh?'" he said. "[They need to] have skills to get that job, but [also] need a drive and strong academic background. It's not about knowing everything, but having that hunger and desire to know."