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Film students hone their skills and help a local nonprofit
20170227-Lighthouse
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High schoolers James Hill (far left), Zach Beck (middle) and Nathan Ridings (right) organize a shot Saturday while shooting a public service announcement for the Sexual Assault Resource Agency
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Aaron Richardson | Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 8:14 p.m.

Two teenage boys stood in a shaded yard in Crozet, messing with the settings on a digital camera while their actor leaned patiently against a tree a few yards away.

Another four boys, about the same age, stood quietly in the background, some taking notes, others just waiting.

Turning from the camera, Zach Beck, a junior at Louisa County High School, explained the delay.

“We’re just waiting for the sun to come out a little bit,” he said, then turned back to the shot.

Beck was taking his turn Saturday directing a public service announcement he and the others conceived, wrote and shot to benefit the nonprofit Sexual Assault Resource Agency.

Working with Light House Studio, a nonprofit that teaches filmmaking, the boys had come together from across Central Virginia to shoot the spot. They had begun the process three weeks earlier by selecting SARA’s application from more than a dozen they vetted.

SARA’s application, and their mission, stood out to the group of 10th- and 11th-graders.

“We chose it because we felt that it would be a good topic to do a PSA about, it was something that was maybe more deserving because of how serious the topic is,” said Western Albemarle High School junior Nathaniel Clauss.

Afton Christian School sophomore Drew Heilman agreed.

“We decided that it’s a message that really needs to be heard,” he said. “We wanted to just try and portray that in film.”

For Sheri Owen, director of outreach for SARA, the fact that six high school boys chose her or-ganization is inspiring news.

“We were just so honored and thrilled to be chosen,” Owen said. “To see that we were chosen by six young men, I was even more blown away.”

Light House Studio has been gathering Virginia high school students for the PSA workshop for seven years, said program director Zoe Cohen.

The students volunteer for the project based on their interest in film, and every step of the process is up to them, she said.

The students evaluate the applications, vote for the winner, then do set design, script writing and storyboarding with input from Cohen and Light House staff.

On shoot day, Cohen takes a back seat.

“Production is actually my favorite because that is when you see a lot of students really light up,” she said. “They are in charge of everything, and I kind of step back and act as a producer, just making sure things run smoothly.”

On Saturday, that meant everything from instructions on loading up a fresh camera battery and guidance on shot framing to coordinating the lunch break pizza order.

On set, the boys rotated roles from shot to shot, giving each some time and experience direct-ing, shooting, assisting production and doing sound and set design. Skill and experience varied across the group.

“I came here to broaden what I already know,” Heilman said. “This is my first video that would be classified as a PSA, and I haven’t worked on anything of this scale before.”

For Beck, shooting live-action subjects is a new world. His background is still photography, he said.

Renaissance School junior Clark McGuire is most comfortable with animation but took on the project to test his skills in live action.

The final product, which will be ready sometime in March, will feature five actors, all of whom worked as volunteers on the project.

TJ Ferguson, a Central Virginia native whose acting has taken him as far as New York City, played a male victim calling the SARA hotline.

“It is difficult, because with males there is this machismo, so, like, admitting that something like this happened, I think it would be tough, personally,” he said.

Preparing for the role was challenging, Ferguson said.

“You just have to try and put yourself in that person’s shoes. Just go to that dark place,” he said.

Clauss said he felt good about working on a topic he thinks is important.

“It’s a message that really needs to be heard,” he said.

 

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