Photos by Owen Zhang

Editor’s Note: This story was written by Owen Zhang, former Ithaca Voice intern and editor of the Ithaca High School newspaper “The Tattler.”


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Ithaca, N.Y. — Walking into IHS’s television studio is like walking into some high-tech mission control center. Soundboards and switchboards line the desk, large flat-screen monitors display an assortment of camera views and image backdrops, and monitor speakers hanging from the ceiling relay sound from within the green-walled studio.

It’s halfway through sixth period, and the atmosphere is one of intense productivity.

Good morning IHS. My name is Danny, and this is A Lil’ Red in the Morning, begins Danny Stagliano ’15 on the other side of the glass.

Photos by Owen Zhang

The action has begun. Students are busy tweaking the imposingly professional-looking video cameras, scrolling the teleprompter feed, balancing the input levels of the broadcasters’ lapel microphones.

“Music on clip one,” calls someone back in the control room.

“Oh crap, I hit the wrong one!”

“Cut—we’re restarting!”

So goes the process of filming IHS’s A Lil Red in the Morning morning announcement videos. The daily videos, designed to complement the intercom announcements with news, weather, and sports reports, have steadily increased in popularity. A television now displays the videos in the cafeteria, and many teachers have begun showing the videos at the start of their morning classes.

“You just have to work really, really hard.”

The five-minute length of the videos belies the amount of production work they require. In fact, a whole for-credit class—English–Digital Media—is dedicated to scripting and filming the clips.

“It’s not an easy class,” says sports broadcaster Salko Camo ’15. “There is this huge workload, and you have to get your projects in on time, you have to be in class on time, you can’t miss a lot of class—you just have to work really really hard.”

Producing each clip has become a streamlined process complete with division of labor and specialization. With the exception of school announcements, which are received from Ms. Linton in Activities, each section broadcaster must write his own script. These scripts are transferred to the teleprompter, from which the broadcasters will be able to read while looking at the camera. Google spreadsheets indicate the image backdrops required, which the graphics engineer then sources from the Internet. Playlists are prepared and preloaded by the sound engineer.

Some jobs are challenging for psychological reasons.

“Not messing up people’s names would be the biggest [challenge] for me,” says James Slusar ’15. “Just getting over your nerves.” Last semester, Slusar worked behind the scenes as a camera operator. This semester, he is on the other side, broadcasting news to the entire student body.

Other jobs are challenging because of the technical expertise they require.

“I get all the camera shots ready—make sure there’s enough room and space for graphics on the side, make sure it’s focused, white-balanced, locked in so it doesn’t slide up and down or sideways,” says Zachary Rice ’15, who succeeded Slusar as camera operator.

Due to time constraints, the videos are typically filmed in one continuous shot, with minimal splicing and post-production editing: in the control room, the switching of music and image backgrounds is timed manually by the graphics and sound engineers while the cameras are rolling, as is the scrolling of the teleprompter reel by the teleprompter operator.

Each take is thus an exercise in careful coordination.

“We had the equipment; why not use it?”

IHS has been offering technology classes in its studio for two years now. The concept of the half-million-dollar studio was proposed in 2012 and enthusiastically received by the BoE and tech-savvy superintendent Luvelle Brown. The district received funds from the state, and assembly of the studio was completed two summers ago.

This year, IHS digital media classes are producing a variety of programs, from A Lil’ Red in the Morning to full-length programs broadcasted on local television (Time Warner Cable 16 on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.—past broadcasts can be viewed on IHS WRED’s YouTube channel.)

One figure at the center of all this is Steve Cass, a man with a passion for technology.

“It was my idea to do the morning announcements [on video], because we had the equipment; why not use it?” he says. “Then we got the students on board, and they seem to be enjoying it too.”

Cass, a technology education major, co-teaches English–Digital Media with Michael Reiff, an English and film studies teacher. Cass also teaches Digital Media 1 and 2, courses that explore the studio’s equipment as well as filming and editing techniques. Thanks to Cass, students taking Digital Media at IHS can earn ten broadcast journalism and video production credits at Cayuga Community College.

On the whole, television production is no stranger to Cass.

“I started doing television production in my own high school, but I’m mostly self-taught, and I’ve taken college classes for it,” he says. “The training is just reading up on the equipment itself or bringing in trainers to train you on the new equipment, but mostly, it’s just training yourself how to use it.”

Cass’s Digital Media students learn in a similar way, with emphasis on both collaborative learning and independent exploration.

“I actually learned the cameras from James [news broadcaster and former camera operator] because he did it last semester,” says Rice, the camera operator. “So he taught me most of the things.”

Another student in a new role is Owen Hartman ’15, last semester’s beloved news anchor (whose tenure was marked by vigilant updates on Kanye and Kim as well as talking pumpkins, among other things). This semester, Hartman is exploring the technical side of production as sound engineer.

“I came in last week during my free periods to fiddle with [the soundboard],” he says. “I watched a YouTube video; there’s a tutorial for this thing, but the only good one was in German, so I had to listen to it in German. I speak some German, but it’s pretty bad so I had to watch it a couple of times. And now I’m actually pretty good at German.”

“Being in the same class two periods every day with the same people, you grow like a family.”

“The biggest thing is being able to work with each other,” Cass says, when asked what he hopes his students will learn from his classes, “but also realizing they can use the equipment that the professionals are using and that they can have those skills to translate over to the real world.”

Indeed, the digital media students, above all, seem to truly enjoy working with each other and the equipment.

“It’s a really good class—I think it’s been a lot more fun than a standard English class,” says graphics engineer Rowan Box ’15. “We learn skills that we may or may not use in the future, but they’re good to have.”

Even while production is in progress, the atmosphere in the class is fun and lively; students somehow manage to strike a balance between focusing on production and finding time to chuckle at their mistakes and poke fun at each other. During off-times, pop music blares through the monitor speakers and students banter and crack jokes like old friends.

“Being in the same class two periods every day with the same people, you grow like a family,” says Stagliano. “Even the kids who I had no clue who they were when I first joined the class, I love now and all—give them a nice little bro hug in the hallway.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.