Above, Sun Valley Media Academy students film an interview with Mason Richard, the school’s liaison to the New York Film Academy.
The snap of clapperboards could be heard across the Sun Valley High School quad on Thursday as Media Academy students prepared to film interviews with an array of dignitaries who were there to celebrate the grand opening of a state-of-the-art production studio.
Just an hour later, after students did a quick edit, District officials and entertainment industry representatives watched a video that seamlessly wove together the individual interviews about the new project.
The student-produced work was made possible thanks to the equipment in the new studio and the cinematography, sound, lighting, directing and editing skills the kids have learned from teacher Jamal Speakes.
“The entertainment capital of the world is five minutes down the 5 Freeway,” said Speakes, who is also a filmmaker and cinematographer. “The goal of Sun Valley is to be like the NFL draft room for the next generation of filmmakers. I don’t know of any high school on this side of Local District Northeast that is doing something like this.”
Since arriving at Sun Valley from Dorsey High School three years ago, Speakes has greatly expanded the Media Academy, a career-technical education (CTE) pathway that now has 200 students. He also has fostered partnerships with Warner Bros./Ghetto Film School, StillHouse Entertainment and the New York Film Academy, giving his classes access to university-level coursework and the opportunity to work with industry professionals.
But he also wanted to give his kids the learning environment that would teach them high-tech skills and make them competitive in applying for college and college.
He applied for an $800,000 CTE Incentive Grant, which he used to convert Room 24, a nondescript space used for storage, into Studio 24. District officials held a ceremonial ribbon-cutting Thursday for the soundproof workroom, which features a green screen – used to edit a background into a video – and computers equipped with professional editing software.
In October, in a trip funded by Local District Northeast, 10 students will travel to New York City for the All-High School Film Festival. The budding filmmakers will spend three days shooting on location and then will screen their movie at a theater in Times Square.
“This is a great opportunity that no other school has,” said junior Jareth Castillo. “If I want to become a filmmaker, I’ll already know how to use all of the equipment the studios use.”
During the program, several students described their dream to become directors, cinematographers and editors. Each of them credited the Media Academy – and Speakes – for helping them find their passion.
“I’ve been drawn to editing because that’s where you learn to put the story together,” said Maria Valeirano, who will enter UCLA this fall as a film major. “I never thought I wanted to be in the film industry until I got here. It completely influenced the creative path on which I want to go.”