'What is happening at Woodchuck High?!'
A handful of Arts and Technology High School students are scattered around the room — sitting on the ground, the desks, even standing — as they collaborate on three possible versions of a scene about a cremation class teacher to figure out which combination best suits the character.
The students are working on character development and crafting scenes for a sitcom they are calling "What is Happening at Woodchuck High?!" The students are working on the project with their teacher Anastasia Conlin in the new movie-making class.
What began as a drama class, organically evolved into a movie-making class after last year's drama class scripted and filmed a trailer to advertise its play.
"Last year while we were putting on ... two one-act plays, we had some time in the class and the kids came up with this idea that we should make a trailer that was advertising the play as a way to get students to come, so we — on the fly — decided we'll do this," Conlin said. "We got cameras from the district, came up with a script, we filmed it, edited it here in the class and showed it during a community meeting to garner interest from the student body and everybody loved it."
Because of the immense success, students decided they wanted to launch a year-long sitcom project, creating eight mini episodes set in a school.
"We knew this is where we'd film, we'd have actors who would be high school kids, teachers and the set was already there for us," Conlin said. "It was kind of a riff on that trailer from last year and it turned into this project."
The students are split into smaller groups and are tasked with writing the script scene by scene. Then the entire group comes together and decides which parts to keep and which aspects of the characters to build upon.
"The gist of the episodes is there's a student who is coming to a new school; he's coming from a fancy private school to the public school and it's a fish-out-of-water story," Conlin said. "He's encountering all these quirky oddball characters who don't fit his idea of how high school's suppose to look. The kind of character arc and development is he comes to like these people, relate to them and leaves behind some of his prejudices."
Senior Jacob Thompson's favorite part about this project is being able to work collaboratively and then put the work into action.
"I'm usually writing by myself (outside of class). I'm like 'Hey, let's write something' and people go 'No, I'm not going to write anything. I'm not at school,'" Thompson said. "This is really fun — to get with a bunch of people (in class) — and bounce funny ideas off each other, like 'Hey, that made me laugh. I'm going to put that in there.'"
The students have filmed almost all of the first and second episodes, some of the third, and they have the fourth episode written. The next step is filming the last scenes and starting the editing process in hopes to have the first episode launched on YouTube by the end of January. The episodes will be shown to Art Tech students and staff during community meetings once they are completed, and they will also eventually be available to the public on YouTube.
Movie making is definitely a project Conlin wants to bring to her classroom next year.
"(The students) are completely invested; they've been a part of everything, from the conception to the drafting to the editing process to the filming, the acting and just seeing that is amazing," Conlin said. "I think that it's in many ways a more authentic experience, learning experience and working experience because it mirrors the real world and what it's like to work collaboratively on a real project in real time with other people. I think it's preparing them for their future."