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With a camera and a computer, you can post a homemade video to YouTube. But where do aspiring auteurs learn the skills to actually call themselves filmmakers? For a group of students in Birdville ISD, the answer is: high school.
The students in Birdville ISD’s Media Tech program weren’t all budding Spielbergs when they walked in the door.
Philip Wilmut is a senior in the program
WILMUT: “I hadn’t really had any film background at all. I was always interested in computers, but I just needed a credit. And I figured out this is what I want to do with my life.”
Of course, some students already knew they wanted to make movies.
Garrett Sullivan is also a senior in the program.
SULLIVAN: “I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since I was a little kid. Filmmaking just fascinates me – just to be able to take people on an adventure.”
The South by Southwest Film Festival begins today in Austin. Films from Birdville are regularly picked for the festival’s Texas High School shorts program. And this year, five films from Birdville made it into the student showcase, a record for a single school district.
The subjects of these shorts run the gamut. Garrett’s film, Fatal Fortune Cookie, tells the story of a fortune cookie with an ominous message.
Meanwhile, Philip and co-director Adrian Scarborough focus on an archaeological dig that awakens a long lost creature.
The class will travel to Austin to attend the festival and mingle with professional filmmakers this weekend. Seeing their movies on the big screen is the reward for months of hard work says their teacher, Karen Seimears.
SEIMEARS: “South by Southwest is the big draw for the class. We start talking about that from the first day of the year. Just because Hollywood comes to Austin. Hollywood’s here in Texas. It’s one thing for me to tell the students the type of passion and dedication they need to make a film and it’s another for Robert Rodriguez to tell them.”
Seimears came to the program in 2001 after spending eight years working on campaign films for politicians.
She teaches the Media Tech class in a retro-fitted choir room. The students dial up their videos from their personal Apple laptops for their classmates to critique.
The district began providing the computers two years ago through a deal with Apple. Since then, Seimears says productivity has skyrocketed.
SEIMEARS: “They’re going to open up a laptop and play with different programs where they won’t necessarily read a textbook because they’re bored.”
Among the programs they are free to explore is Final Cut Pro, the industry standard for video editing. Birdville is home to the only Apple Authorized Training Center for high school students in the country.
Any student may sign up for the class. Those who complete the Media Tech program will be certified in Final Cut Pro and leave with a skill others won’t acquire until college.
SEIMEARS: “You have a lot of people with a four-year degree who can’t do anything. And what’s amazing is that we’re giving kids the tools that they need while they’re still in high school to be absolutely employable. And not just that, but when they go into college, to be at the head of their class.”
That’s an advantage that’s not lost on the students, including Garrett.
SULLIVAN: “The fact that I grew up in this area and just so happened to go to this school is pretty fortunate. We have all this equipment, and Apple funds our program and our teacher is very experienced as well, so that helps. It shows through our videos.”
On Sunday, the larger film community will see those videos and understand why this Tarrant County suburb has become a hub of Texas student filmmaking. Below are some more of the Birdville Media Tech program’s SXSW films.
Be sure to check the Art&Seek blog all weekend for live coverage of the festival.
Zach, by Whitney Steele:
Performance Evaluation, by Breannah Gibson
Puppy Love, by Joseph Walsh