Action! Palm Springs High School students are stars behind the scene while producing commercials

Students from the Futures in Leading Media (FILM) academic pathway get real-world practical training. They put it to use on Tuesday. 
Students from the Palm Springs High School Futures in Leading Media (FILM) program spent Tuesday shooting commercials. They were involved in all aspects of production.

About a dozen students from Palm Springs High School (PSHS) participated in the writing, storyboarding, acting, and shooting of commercials for a new city restaurant on Tuesday.

The students are a part of the Futures in Leading Media (FILM) academic pathway at PSHS. Other pathways offered at PSHS include the Welding and Advanced Manufacturing Pathway and the Palm Springs Academy for Learning Medicine. Each pathway is designed to give students real-world practical training in whichever field they choose. 

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There are about 190 students from ninth through 12th grade in the FILM program and they produce everything from short films to daily news broadcasts.

For this project, all of the students pitched a script idea for a holiday commercial for I Heart Mac & Cheese. The students narrowed down the ideas to the top three and then started work on pre-production. They had to write a storyboard, fine-tune the script, plan out camera shots, lighting, audio, and even scheduling. 

On Tuesday, the students were filming the three commercials at the midcentury modern Tiki House, restored by Tracy Turco on Cardillo Avenue. Starring in the spots were other PSHS students from the theater department, parents, siblings, a grandma who saves the the day, and the Spirit of Mac & Cheese.

Miss Bea Haven, who played the grandmother, was impressed with the students right away. “I was so thrilled at how prepared and professional they are,” she said. “They’re much more professional than some adults I’ve worked with.”

Blu Bryan, the owner of the Palm Springs I Heart Mac & Cheese franchise agreed.

“It’s a whole new era from when I was in school,” he said. “They’re just so mature and humble and kind. And their scripts are amazing. They’re not afraid to think outside the box.”

Sophomore Henley Hemstreet was in charge of filming the behind the scenes process that she’s eventually hoping to make into a documentary.

“The program is so collaborative with the students,” Hemstreet said. “Ms. G (Donnie Gerrell) gives us the free rein to do anything. We can be so creative thanks to her.”

A script and storyboard for a commercial being filmed by Palm Springs High School students on Tuesday.

Hemstreet is also appreciative that she and her classmates get to use industry standard mics, cameras, and editing software like Final Cut Pro.

While writing and pitching scripts for the commercial, the students worked with Bryan as if he was a real client. They researched the company and Bryan told them about the house they were going to be shooting in, and gave them some ideas for themes like the TV show Bewitched. He also brought in mac and cheese samples.

“They sent us a ton of pictures of this house, which really helped give us an idea of what we want to write about,” Hemstreet said. “We even watched an episode of Bewitched which helped us write how they talk on the show.”

Gerrell is no stranger to a program like this. She came to PSHS about four years ago soon after graduating from Cathedral City High School’s Digital Arts Technology Academy (DATA). 

Students also had to deal with the real-world problems that arise when filming, like what happens when you record a scene without audio? What if a shot you storyboarded doesn’t end up looking the way you thought once you’re on set?

The all-day shoot in the cramped house with the air-conditioning off didn’t phase the students because they were so enthusiastic about the project.

“This makes me so excited for the future. I want to be an editor someday,” Hemstreet said.

Students aren’t just getting on-the-job experience and building a portfolio, they’re also building relationships with their classmates. “I’ve met some of my best friends through this program,” said Hemstreet.


More information: Once the students are done editing each of the three commercials, they will all be posted on the class’s website here, where the community can vote for their favorite. Whichever commercial wins will start airing on local TV sometime in November. 

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