LAKE DALLAS — Seven audio/video students from Lake Dallas High School used scholarships to attend last week’s 20th annual Austin Film Festival and Conference.
Earlier this week, the group talked about what they learned Friday and Saturday of the weeklong conference and what they hope to incorporate into class projects.
For the students, it was their first time attending a film festival. The students said they enjoyed being in an environment with people who share many of the same interests.
Assistant Principal Molli Avelino, who served as a trip chaperone, said the experience was a unique opportunity.
“I think it was an amazing opportunity for our students to be exposed to both the business and the creative side of the screenwriting process,” she said. “Without that opportunity, that’s not something we can easily expose them to here.”
The Austin Film Festival began Oct. 24 and wraps up today. According to its website, the festival was founded in 1993 and brings together professionals and amateurs to discuss the art and business of filmmaking and screenwriting.
For two days, the students and their chaperones had a packed schedule: attending a panel discussion in which the author and screenwriter of Big Fish discussed the adaption process in taking the story from a book to a movie and now a musical; viewing young filmmakers’ shorts and other screenings; learning about the animation process; listening to Oscar-winning screenwriters; and hearing about professionals’ creative processes and industry experiences.
Though the schedule was exhausting, the students say the festival was fun and that they learned a lot.
All agreed the lesson that stuck out most was the young filmmakers’ pitch session and how to pitch story ideas to industry professionals. They said they intend to use what they learned when pitching projects this year in their principles of arts, audio/video technology and communications class.
“After watching everybody go up there and pitch it, you pick up things from each presentation where you’re like, ‘OK, do that, don’t do that,’ and then you kind of learn what the judges are looking for,” said David Rosson, a junior.
Chloe Calk, a freshman, said it was an insightful experience where she and her peers gathered more knowledge about the film industry. She plans to create a video about the weekend.
The young filmmakers say they aspire to act in, edit and animate films, and they’re interested in creating action, horror, science fiction, fantasy and comedy films. Some have already scripted projects, created music videos and shot films. One student said she’s learned steps for creating a Web series.
Eleven Lake Dallas High students were awarded Austin Film Festival Young Filmmakers Program Arts Education Scholarship grants, according to school officials, but only seven made the trip.
According to the film festival website, the scholarship grants middle and high school students access to conference panels, film screenings with priority entry, meet-and-greets and an exhibit hall.
Students were required to submit a short essay describing their interest in the filmmaking business, district officials said.
Career and technical education teacher Russ Ansley, who went on the trip as a chaperone, said he encouraged all of his classes to apply.
Students wrote their essays the week of the scholarship deadline and he screened the submissions and eventually submitted 15 for the scholarship grants, he said. Of those submitted, 11 students were awarded scholarships. Ansley said he was proud.
“I wasn’t surprised because you could see the passion in what they wrote,” he said. “And yet I was surprised because they’re 14 and we just started. I was completely pleased ... and felt like I had already seen some talent here.
“For me, it’s confirmation of what I knew would happen, but it’s also a sweet surprise.”
Freshman Polly Ohair said it was “awesome” to earn a scholarship to the conference, even though she couldn’t go because of a band competition.
“I’ve been studying film for at least five years by myself, and to be able to have the opportunity to go, it was just like a highlight because I was never able to do anything like that before,” she said. “Even though I didn’t go, it still means I had that opportunity to and I’ll have another opportunity to do it again.”
Ansley said some of the students are already asking if they can extend next year’s trip to three days and are interested in pitching their own ideas at the next festival.
“It’s a rare gift to be able to walk in as a 14-, 15-, 16-year-old student and rub elbows with the royalty of Hollywood, and they were literally, and probably didn’t even know it,” Ansley said. “Those kids that went got a very awesome — for lack of any better term — they got an awesome opportunity and I think they maximized it, and I think we’ll see the results next year, if not this year.”
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.