Video shoot brings together community, school

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Dec. 6, 2011
Columbia resident and ACT student Pheylin Prue mans the boom mike for ACT paraprofessional Elizabeth Verrill during a scene for the video. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Columbia resident and ACT student Pheylin Prue mans the boom mike for ACT paraprofessional Elizabeth Verrill during a scene for the video. Photos by Melanie Savage.

For three years in a row, ACT (Arts at the Capitol Theater) Magnet High School has finished within the top 10 in the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles’ teen safe driving contest. According to the DMV website, it is one of only two schools that have made it into the final round of judging since the contest’s inception (for which the school was awarded $500).

Requiring the production of a 25-second public service announcement, the contest is designed to spread the word about safe driving in a unique manner. Speaking about last year’s contest, DMV Commissioner Melody Currey said, “Promoting safe driving is so important, and these videos show that students across the state understand the responsibility that comes with driving and are willing to help spread the message of teens talking to teens.”

This year, Jessica Haney’s goal is to win the top prize of $5,000. Haney, an ACT senior, served as the cinematographer/camera operator for one of the four videos the school plans to submit for 2011/12. Focused on the dangers of texting while driving (the teen driver breaks two laws by driving with another teen in the car as well), the spot was filmed in Jillson Square on Dec. 2.

“We haven’t done anything this big before,” said Haney, chatting while she simultaneously made adjustments to cameras and monitors. “This is the biggest production we have done.” Last year’s top vote-getting entry, while innovative and technically challenging, only involved one actor. The texting piece, overseen by senior director Kristen Corriveau, enlisted the assistance of school staff, students and town emergency personnel. “This is a big project,” said Haney, “and I’d like to see it get us the $5,000 prize.” With the prize, Haney said, she’d love to see something purchased for the video program. Last year’s purchase was a camera crane, which was utilized during the Jillson Square shoot.

Students were responsible for every aspect of the production, from writing the script to making contact with community actors. “These are really original student productions,” said ACT video teacher Dan Boisvert. The community came together around the effort. Acting Fire Chief Marc Scrivener, in particular, “was a fantastic facilitator of this project,” said Boisvert.

Volunteering to appear in the production were Capt. Peter Smat and Dan Garrett, from the Willimantic Fire Department, Patrolman Matthew Cunningham, from the Willimantic Police Department, and Windham Hospital Paramedic Paul Pedchenko. “They called us and said they needed someone to come out and I volunteered,” said Pedchenko.

All three men said they see plenty of accidents caused by distracted driving, including texting. “There’s so much technology now,” said Smat. “Texting while driving, it’s just not worth it. You have other people’s lives in your hands.”

“These kids are learning about driving before they even have their licenses,” said Boisvert. They are also gaining valuable experience in their fields of interest, which include acting, videography, directing and cinematography. And the awards ceremony for the contest, held in the spring at Travelers University (Travelers is a big supporter), is “first-class all the way,” said Boisvert. Students receive gift baskets upon arrival, are treated to a tour of the Travelers facility, have dinner in the banquet hall, and attend a screening of the top 10 videos. “It’s a great opportunity for the students,” said Boisvert. “They get a chance to talk to kids from other schools about their videos and their experiences.”

The production brought students, school staff and members of the outside community together for a common cause. Paraprofessional Elizabeth Verrill played the part of a reporter, and math teacher Kim Kane was enlisted to play the part of the mom of the law-breaking driver. Kane, a Hebron resident, said that she hadn’t acted before. “My students asked me to participate,” she said. “They said, ‘Just pretend it’s your own son.’ I said, ‘I can’t even go there, I’ll be sobbing,’” said Kane.

But Kane and the rest of the team performed well, and the shoot wrapped up quickly. Students will take their footage back to the school for editing and other post-production work. “We hope to have it ready by maybe Jan. 10,” said Boisvert.

Visit the DMV website at to see videos submitted for the contest. There is a prize awarded for the video with the most views.

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