Lights, camera, education
by SEPP JANNOTTA - Ravalli Republic
Russell Spaan gets some individual instruction from instructor Mike Henderson, who points out a program feature in Adobe Photoshop during a Wednesday evening class in the MAPS after-school program. SEPP JANNOTTA - Ravalli Republic
In the afternoon, they come to learn the ropes.
They travel from up and down the Bitterroot Valley for a chance to gain the skills required to make movies and the other media consumables that are the staple of an increasingly electronic culture.
Some lessons are nuts and bolts: White balance. Pixel manipulation. Registering a Web site domain name.
Some are more creative: The use of lighting and camera angles. Script writing. Design.
It all adds up to the MAPS Media Institute's new after school program and, to be sure, this is not the audio-visual club your school's jocks and bullies used to target.
The program is about much more than what MAPS founder Peter Rosten calls "technological widgets."
"We're not trying to teach great widgeteers," Rosten said. "We're tying to teach great communicators."
Still, the MAPS classrooms are outfitted with all the gear needed to shoot and edit feature and documentary films, as well as work on the layers of information required to produce intricate and interactive Web sites.
With the help of a $575,000 grant from the 21st Century Community Learning Center aimed at providing non-school-hours educational outlets for high school aged kids, MAPS has its facilities well equipped.
Rosten said he purchased 14 iMac computers, a projection system for a Web design and film editing lab, while another 12 word-processing computers came through a grant from the state. There are cameras, studio lights and an administrative copy machine donated by Corvallis School District.
"It's all state of the art," Rosten said. "In the past we were always scrambling for gear. This year, with the support of the 21st Century grant and some other foundations, were able to start with state of the art equipment. And that will make a big difference in the experience of our students."
Those students, there are 32 of them, enrolled for a fall semester of twice-weekly classes in either a film section - fiction or documentary - or a Web design section. There are high school students and a few adults in the mix.
Kelsey Kareck, a junior at Corvallis High School, is taking the Web design class taught by Mike Henderson.
Just a couple of weeks into the class, she and the rest of the students have already registered and put up personal Web sites.
"It's pretty cool," Kareck said. "My site still needs some work - I haven't really figured out what I'm going to do with it yet."
Kareck's mother, Trisha Kareck, sits next to her in class. Trisha worked in the past as a graphic designer and when she was looking into the MAPS program for her daughter, she decided to sign up.
Tim Scott, who until recently was unemployed, had a similar experience when he took his son for the first day at MAPS.
"When I dropped him off that first night and I found out that adults could attend too, I said, ‘I'm in,'" Scott said.
While his son Dustin is in the film section, Scott said he has always been fascinated by the possibilities of working with computers.
"I'm always interested in taking classes and stuff like that and furthering my education," Scott said. "I would love to do what Mike [Henderson] does. There's a possibility you could really tweak this and get into the film end of it too. I'm just a Curious George."
In the iMac lab Wednesday evening, Henderson, a graphic and Web designer, ran through a few of the possibilities in Adobe Photoshop.
Working in the glow of their monitors and a wall-projection of Henderson's computer, in unison, his students superimposed a bicyclist onto a landscape of the Great Salt Lake.
Over in the film section, Rosten and fellow instructor Steve Slocomb worked through how the camera is used to set a scene and convey a character's emotional state.
Wide shot. Mid shot. Close-up. Over-the-shoulder shot. Cut-in.
But it wasn't all technical speak and computers. The group also gathered to read and discuss the news, as part of a media and communications literacy push.
Still, the students were keyed up to learn what the pair of film producers had to teach.
"For a while, I've wanted to be a director," said Jake Wood, a Hamilton High School junior, who expressed hopes that he'd walk away from MAPS with the skills to make a short film and travel to the Sundance Film Festival to show it.
Rosten's emphasis on communication is not lost on Wood - a gangster movie does not always have to be "about" being a gangster.
"I want people from other countries to be able to watch my movies and be able to understand it's not just about a bunch of guys shooting at each other," he said.
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Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org