Their influences are varied: “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” horror films, music videos, History Channel documentaries, “Sports Center” and the modern comedy classic, “Step Brothers.” The students in Daniel Pearce’s may have different inspirations, but they’ve all honed their craft in the Buchanan educator’s videography class.
Now, some can call themselves award-winning filmakers.
Five film projects produced by four student-led teams from Pearce’s class — one of Clovis Unified School District’s Regional Occupational Program course offerings — placed in last month’s Fresno County Office of Education’s annual Picture the Valley student film festival.
The festival, open to all students in Fresno County, “provides students with a voice to share their unique perspective on life in the Central Valley.” Judged categories in junior and senior divisions include documentary, public service announcement and personal narrative. The Buchanan students’ entries represent just part of the content Pearce introduces them to in the year-long course.
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“We teach them as many aspects of video production as we can,” he said. In addition to producing a student-run newscast — Buchanan News Network — students learn how to produce and film documentaries, music videos, short films, public service announcements and more.
“They’re producing everything, from the ground up. They’re writing it, they’re doing all the visuals, they’re editing and trying to get everything done in a timely manner.”
Pearce brings 20 years of industry experience to his class. Prior to returning to school to get his teaching credential, the Fresno State graduate was a film editor in Hollywood, where he worked on hit primetime television shows like “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “That 70s Show.”
Since coming to Buchanan three years ago, he says, the videography course and associated ROP pathway have grown. He attributed its rise in popularity to technology’s growing accessibility — and its cool factor. “The word has gotten out that this is kind of a cool class to take,” he said, adding that he was only able to accept about half the students who applied to take this year’s course.
Among the accepted were best friends Evelyn Tison and Trinity Nguyen. The freshmen, who had an interest in video production, applied because they wanted to take an elective together.
“We were fortunate we both got in,” said Tison.
Working as a team, they produced the film festival’s winning public service announcement, “Stay Strong.” The minute-long PSA depicts a young teenager disengaging from her life and relationships after receiving a barrage of harassing text messages, which pop up on screen in quick succession. The film ends with an encouragement to bullied teens to seek help, along with contact information for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The duo was excited — and surprised — by their win.
“We [went] not knowing what to expect, really, because we’re freshmen,” said Tison.
“We [were] going against seniors,” Nguyen added. “We kind of just went to support them. We didn’t expect much.”
Tison and Nguyen’s short film on the solar suitcases built by another Buchanan ROP course took second place in the festival’s documentary category. The first and third place documentaries also came from Buchanan.
“I’m impressed,” said Pearce. “They’re finding out that if you do a documentary about something you care about, it shows in the documentary. They all kind of carefully picked their projects.”
Junior Camryn Dietz’s first place documentary, “My Life Within These Four Walls,” introduced viewers to her grandparents. Her grandfather, Jack Cornelius, has been disabled since 1981. In the film, her mother and grandparents discuss how their family’s life has changed since MRSA-related complications left him chronically ill and confined to a wheelchair. Threaded throughout the interviews are scenes of Dietz’s grandmother preparing her husband’s food and medications, taking him to appointments and sharing family photos from before he became ill.
“I wanted to pick a story that was unique, that nobody else really had,” Dietz said. “It talks about him and his life and what he’s been through, and how my grandma has always been there for him ... she basically had to give up her full-time job to be his caregiver.”
The win was especially meaningful, Dietz said, because Cornelius is ill again, and in a care facility. “I was really just hoping to inspire and move a lot of people with it,” she said. “I brought my whole family with me and they were all really supportive.”
“The night it won,” Pearce said, “you could hear this whole row of her family begin crying.”
In addition to Nguyen, Tison and Dietz’s winning entries, two other Buchanan teams were honored at the festival. Senior Brenden Nunn took third place for his sports documentary on the Buchanan Bears’ football team’s quest for the 2015 TRAC championship. Nunn, who said he’s interested in a career as a cameraman for ESPN, made the film with the help of fellow seniors and first-year film students Joseph Bronze, Wyatt Browning and Sage Novak.
Seniors Eric Pomaville, Garrett Hayworth and Sean Anderson received the Superintendent’s Sweepstakes Award for their documentary, “Hero of the Central Valley,” about local veteran Jesse Fabela’s experience as a drafted soldier in the Vietnam conflict.
“We have fun with it (the class),” said Hayworth. “When we make mistakes we laugh, shrug it off. Despite how fast-paced and intense this class is, we’re all able to get through it together.”
“The students are incredible,” said Pearce. “They come in [and] they’re very savvy and skilled in technology. The thing that’s changed in the last few years has been the equipment. When I started out at Technicolor in 1992, you were in a room [that] looked like the space shuttle ... all these buttons everywhere. There was just a small percentage of people in the world who could operate these edit bays.
“Now, everything can be done on here,” he continued, gesturing to an iMac computer, “and a DSLR camera with a nice lens on it and a good microphone. Everything looks like a feature film. The costs have come way down, students have gotten very savvy and [they’re] very into video, very teachable. We’ve got some talent.”
To view the winning entries in the Fresno County Office of Education’s 2016 Picture the Valley student film festival, visit www.picturethevalley.org/past-films.