A horn blares. Metal is crushed. Glass shatters. The emergency call comes in, and first responders roll to a head-on collision between an SUV and a pickup. Paramedics work to stabilize the drivers. The SUV's passenger is pronounced dead at the scene. All the while, the cameras are rolling.
Though the incident above is true enough throughout Colorado, this crash is fictional, a scene from a short film, “Eyes on the Road,” produced by members of the Elizabeth High School Film Club and winner of the Audience Choice Award at the Colorful Colorado Film Festival for Youth on May 21.
The Colorful Colorado Film Festival for Youth is the largest in the state for schools and is sponsored by the Colorado Film School. In addition to the Audience Choice Award, it honors films in the categories of best animation, commercial, comedy, drama, horror, experimental, documentary, and music video.
“I was thrilled that the kids made it,” said Dan Marcus, math teacher and the film club's faculty adviser. “There were so many films that didn't even make it.”
Elizabeth High School freshman Ben Humphrey and six fellow filmmakers produced the one-minute, 29-second public-service announcement about texting and driving. Humphrey enlisted help from the Elizabeth Fire Department, where his father volunteers.
“He took it upon himself to go in there and meet with Chief (T.J.) Steck to go over his idea for a story, and he had the fire department on board,” said Marcus. “I was really impressed that this freshman took the lead on that.”
“Eyes on the Road” was one of eight films made this spring by the fledgling film club, which began its existence last winter. Before January, most of the students had no formal filmmaking experience other than creating videos on their own.
Marcus, who has been an educator for 38 years, is officially retired, but teaches college prep algebra II at the school part time. He was the adviser to the film club at Aspen Academy, where a public-service announcement produced by two of his students about eating disorders, “You are Beautiful,” caught the attention of producers from NBC's “Today” show, which ran a three-minute segment featuring the film and its message in December 2013.
After becoming aware of Marcus' film club experience and television appearance, students at Elizabeth High School approached him about starting a film club there.
Marcus took the fall semester to become better acquainted with his new school, but agreed to advise the club as a volunteer beginning with the winter semester.
“I was thrilled with their interest level,” Marcus said. “They were all gung-ho about it. I had 20 kids that signed up and committed to 12 straight Saturdays. They came in every Saturday morning from 9 to noon and soaked up anything I could teach them.”
One of the biggest hurdles the club faced early was a lack of resources. The new program was lacking basic filmmaking equipment such as cameras, tripods and editing software, but on their own, the students came up with enough equipment to work on their films.
Marcus divided the students into individual groups and transitioned to the role of mentor as they went on to produce public-service announcements.
“I wanted their first piece to be a PSA,” he said. “I've always been a big believer in that. You have to make a film that is going to help society, that has a message, that's going to impact people.”
“Eyes on the Road” appears to have done just that, receiving 2,061 online votes for the Audience Choice Award, and focusing attention on the issue of texting and driving, the leading cause of teen deaths in the United States.
There has already been a lot of interest in keeping the film club going in the coming school year, and in addition to his returning members, 30 students from the incoming freshman class have signed up for the club. Marcus has big plans for them.
“My goal for them next year is NFFTY, the National Film Festival for Talented Youth. It's phenomenal, one of the best film festivals for high school students from all over the world. It's the premier festival,” he said.
The National Film Festival for Talented Youth is a 501(c)(3) and the world's largest and most influential film festival for emerging directors, showcasing work by filmmakers aged 24 and younger.
All eight films produced by the Elizabeth High School Film Club this year are available online at www.elizabeth.k12.co.us/FilmClub.aspx.