MAP juniors aim to create unique project

June 6, 2017 — by Kitty Huang

Warm orange light glows through the window, illuminating the silhouette of Lee Harvey Oswald, played by junior Alex Metz, as Oswald gets drunk and fires his rifle aimlessly into the bushes during the U.S. Marine Corps Birthday Ball. A camera captures his every perilous movement.

To create this scene, Metz played Oswald while his team members stood inside and outside of the house to capture the moment in the perfect angles.

The group was working on the American Story Project, a 5-minute fictional film that junior Media Arts students work on for most of second semester. In doing so, they incorporate all of the previous film techniques and editing skills that they have mastered during their time in MAP, according to English 11 MAP teacher Natasha Ritchie.

“The main goal is to synthesize various film skills and create polished films that reveal emotional and historical truths,” Ritchie said.

For their “American Story” project, the juniors are expected to create a visual representation of an event in U.S. history with topics varying from the Vietnam War to the gay rights movements.

Metz’s group has three other members:  Kelly Long, Laura Chaland and John Noralahi. The group split the work into different roles, with Metz acting and Long and Noralahi and Chaland filming and editing.  

The group’s film revolves around Oswald, the man who was blamed for the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Their interpretation showed Oswald’s troubled childhood and explained possible motives that led to his decision kill the president of the U.S.

“Most groups relate to a theme or event from their chosen era but this group chose more of a biographical approach to his life,”  Ritchie said.

After they chose their topic, the group planned the storyline very thoroughly prior to creating a storyboard, which was mainly done by Chaland, a talented artist.

Chaland helped with some specific scenes to create a more artistic approach, such as a scene of blood in a bathtub. Using a full tub of bathwater, the group dropped red food coloring and got footage of the faux blood spreading through the clear water, in order to signify Oswald’s suicide attempt.

“I just had a vision of what I wanted the effect to be and we did a couple trials to see how the dye would react in the water,” Chaland said. “It was a very experimental process until you find something that seems to fit and sometimes exceeds your expectations.”

The group filmed both on and off campus, shooting most of their scenes at school but also some at Noralahi’s, Chaland’s and Metz’s houses. The members also created a set and found props that matched the time period, since junior MAP history teacher Matt Torrens encouraged students to have historical accuracy.

“We wanted to have one of our scenes to look like a warehouse because we knew Oswald had been in one during the assassination of Kennedy,” Metz said.

The group ran into a problem when they couldn’t bring a prop gun to school, so they solved this by filming indoors and using a green screen to mimic the outdoor setting. Using one of the two house settings in the MAP lab, the group hung a green screen behind the faux window. Using Adobe Premiere Pro, the once-green backdrop transformed into the same Dallas city street where Kennedy was shot and killed.  

The crew also had to find actors for their film. They needed a Russian woman for for one of their scenes, so Chaland reached out to the community and asked her friend’s dad colleague to meet the team at where they were filming that scene.

There were plenty of challenges and mistakes, but they finished the film in six weeks.  

“I think this is the most productive group I’ve worked with in high school,” Metz said, “All of us are actually so much different from each other that we all work on improving each other’s negative qualities.”

For Chaland, the most satisfying part of the entire project was being able to present the end result to fellow classmates and teachers on screen during the final revision viewings of each project the last day before spring break.

“It was rewarding to see the final product after many hours of editing and revising,” Chaland said. “The amount of work and energy we put in really paid off at the end when everything came together.”