High School Prepares Students for Careers in TV and Film
Minutes away from Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, Queens, is a new high school that will graduate its first class this May. At The Academy for Careers in Television and Film, students are not only learning the traditional high school curriculum, but have the chance to write, produce, direct and edit their own films. At the end of the year, the students see what their peers have created in film festivals that take place in the school.
Mark Dunetz, the principal of ACTvF, stands in the doorway to the high school at 9 a.m., greeting students with a handshake as they walk in the building. The students here show pride in their work, and are engaged by the unique chance to work on film projects and often obtain high-profile internships while still in high school.
The school is nonselective, meaning any student who applies in the eighth grade and lives in New York City is eligible for admission. Students travel far distances to attend ACTvF, and their commitment shows. The Academy for Television and Film outperforms other nonselective schools in its peer group and is one of the most popular schools in the area. The school is on track to have a 95 percent graduation rate for the class of 2012.
One reason for this is that Dunetz pays close attention to absenteeism among the 425 students enrolled, and says he has seen a drastic drop from the chronic absenteeism seen in the eighth grade to the attendance rate seen in the ninth grade. He attributes this to streamlining the process of administration to allow more time for the staff to concentrate on the important work of designing curriculum, mentoring students and focusing on teaching. Dunetz devised a simple method of keeping track of attendance using the free Google Docs Web tool, which gave every staff member with an Internet connection access to grade reports, attendance records and teacher logs. All of the Google apps are cost-free for the school. The results speak for themselves: ACTvF had a higher daily attendance rate than students at any other nonselective school in the city, according to statistics available for the 2009-10 academic year.
The school is unique in its focus of “below-the-line” work, which consists of the production-side of putting together a movie or TV show. In the three years since the school has been open, professionals in the field have shown incredible good will to the school and its students, offering their time to come into the classrooms to talk about what they do. The speakers “come in from careers no one knows exist,” but they garner “rapt attention from students,” he says.
Winnie Ng, a full-time illustrator, teaches title illustration one day a week at ACTvF. In a classroom filled with Mac Pros, students are learning to use AfterEffects, the software used by professionals for title design, special effects and animation. A group of sophomores were working on creating a snow effect in the program.
“None of the snow you see in movies is real,” Ng says. “It’s all done using AfterEffects.” Ng works one-on-one with the small class of less than 10 students, answering their questions and helping them master the software.
One of Dunetz’s strengths is being able to harness the knowledge and know-how of his staff to garner impressive results. A large locker room in the school had been boarded up for years, and the faculty decided to transform that space into a sound stage and carpentry shop. The students design, build and decorate their own sets in this space. The school even boasts its own production company, Next Step Pictures, which Dunetz hopes will eventually be able to bring revenue to the program. By the time students at ACTvF are in the 10th grade, they are using professional equipment, and building sets in the 11th grade.
The hope is that these students will be able to get real jobs in the field once they graduate, or go on to college. New York is second only to Hollywood in the movie and television industry, bringing in $5 billion annually to the city’s economy, according to the mayor’s office of Film, Theater and Broadcast. #