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Senior Year Meets Silver Screen with Shorts by High Schoolers

May 18, 2018
Shorts by High Schoolers screencap

Summer is movie season, no doubt about it. You can’t take two steps without bumping into the next big blockbuster ready to take your $12. But there are only so many action movies to see before you want to try your hand at making something different yourself.

WNIN’s Shorts by High Schoolers (SXHS) just wrapped this year’s competition and gave students in the Evansville, Indiana area a chance to show off their filmmaking prowess, along with a shot at some scholarship money.

Launched in 2015, SXHS invites high schoolers to create a narrative short film using any means available to them over the course of several months. It all culminates in a one-hour special to announce the winner on WNIN.

“It’s a nice way to invite students to create, and it’s a nice way to get the community involved,” said WNIN Grants and Communications Manager and SXHS Coordinator Michaela Tussey.

Tussey joined WNIN this past fall, but SXHS has quickly become one of her pet projects. The process goes like this: The competition begins around September, and students are given a “filmmaker’s toolkit” with materials like a to-do list and inspiration guides. They then have until January to submit a short film they write, shoot and edit on their own, with most schools’ programs providing equipment.

Once films are submitted (this year saw roughly 20 entries), the WNIN staff pares those down by about half; then, a panel of local judges comes in to select four semi-finalists, and they return for the on-air special deciding the winner. The members of the winning team are awarded $1,000 scholarships to either the University of Evansville or the University of Southern Indiana.

Tussey said making sure the judges are connected to the area is a large part of who is brought on to critique the films.

“Some people may feel like nobody else is really doing this,” Tussey said. “Then they’ll see comments from [guest judges Dete Meserve and David McFadzean of] Wind Dancer Films…and they’ll say, ‘If they can go out and do this, then I can do this too.’”

Those local judges ultimately decided on Come Home, a drama about a teenage girl at the end of her rope who decides to run away from home. It was created by Michaela Springer and Kiley Brown of Gallatin County High School in Illinois.

Lindsay Adams, who teaches both physical science and unified science (similar to a photography and film production) at GCHS, said her students have been able to create works that make them proud, despite a lack of resources.

“This is our fourth year for the class. We started with nothing, using mostly my personal equipment, but we have slowly built a small set of equipment of our own,” Adams said. “Our FFA bought us a Canon Rebel camera this past year, and this summer we went door-to-door selling eclipse glasses to purchase a Blackmagic Pocket [Cinema] camera.” Springer and Brown used the latter to create their winning film.

Last year was GCHS’s first go at SXHS, and by the time they found out, the deadline was only three weeks away. They were still able to have two groups selected for the taping at WNIN.

“This year we were ready for it,” Adams said. The class had 12 students among five groups submit projects. “It was chaos during production and postproduction, trying to share the little equipment we have and meet the deadline, but, again, they made it work.”

Now that our episode has aired we can announce that Michaela Springer and Kiley Brown are the winners of the SxHS Film Contest held by WNIN. Michaela and Kiley will receive $1,000 to either USI or U of E.

Posted by G.C. Unified Science on Monday, April 23, 2018

Adams says the contest is a great way for students to try something they never would have otherwise.

“I have a kid that I never would have thought would love to edit so much. He had never edited anything before this year,” Adams said. “I think he is seriously considering it as a college path, and he is great at it.”

She says the students also picked up plenty of experience this go-around, especially how to best manage time when setting up shoots and settling into the editing process.

Tussey says planning has already kicked off for next year. She’s hoping to do more outreach and try to pay some visits to the schools participating and perhaps put on some workshops. This year was also the first SXHS dropped its documentary category, but Tussey didn’t say whether it would be making a return.

Regardless of whether the students want to see themselves at Cannes or trending as a YouTube influencer (a more and more common goal these days), Tussey said SXHS is an opportunity for students in the area to be creative and expressive.

“Students who might be choir nerds or drama nerds like I was,” Tussey said, “this would’ve been a really cool way for me to use my talents and my interests in a more dynamic way.”

This year’s Shorts by High Schoolers is available to watch now on WNIN.