How many of you have had to start a broadcast program from scratch? For seasoned broadcast industry veterans, it can be a daunting task - getting multiple equipment quotes, dealing with school bureaucracy, developing 12 and 24 month plans, space restrictions, class size. For teachers new to the broadcasting field it can be a nightmare.
One school that started from scratch and has achieved international acclaim in a short period of time is the radio-TV 'major' at Chicago Vocational Career Academy (CVCA). The program is part of the Chicago Public Schools Career and Technical Education division of the Department of Career and College Planning under the Office of High School Programs.
It is often referred to as a 'major' since students have to select the program and begin it in their sophomore year of high school. They stay in the program for three years. Students in the program have the class as one 46 minute period sophomore year and double periods their junior and senior years. Upon graduation, they receive a vocational endorsement on their diploma.
The CVCA radio-TV program began in the fall of 2000. Studios consisting of three rooms had been built two years before utilizing a small classroom. There were two small studios and one larger space.
When I was brought in to teach, there was one video camera and one video monitor, both purchased at a local consumer electronics store the year before. There were no text books. During the first two years, radio broadcast equipment was purchased and a professional ‘radio station’ was installed.
Year two saw the beginning of the TV facility build-out. Enough equipment was in place by year three that students began producing videos for competition. There is no video delivery system in the school so I made a decision to have students produce programs for competition.
By 2009, the studios are completely outfitted - one for radio broadcasting, the other two for TV studio production. A third room has been added as a regular classroom with digital video and audio production capabilities.
The highlight of the CVCA radio-TV department is the summer production mentorship program - a joint operation with IFP-Chicago. I made contact with IFP-Chicago back in 2001 to try to bring in industry experts to work with students. By 2005, our discussions flourished into a full-fledged summer production program.
THE SUMMER PROGRAM
Part of the curriculum I established for my second year students is the writing of 10 video scripts to be produced their senior year. The ten scripts are aligned with the categories for a regional high school video competition co-sponsored by Columbia College Chicago and the Chicagoland Television Educators Council (
Of those scripts, one is a comedy and the other a drama - each no longer than 5 minutes. Our discussions with IFP began to focus on those scripts. We gave about 10 scripts to IFP that first year. After review by their staff, one script - Scream At Me - was selected for production in year one.
Another advantage to the program is that it is an approved student work-study job program. With funding from the City of Chicago Mayor's Office and the Chicago Public Schools, students in the summer program are paid. Also, only students from the CVCA radio-TV program are allowed to participate. Students are required to meet job employment requirements such as need, grades, attendance and reliability.
Because the script came from the students and they are being paid for their work, the students selected for the program have a higher degree of ownership over the final product than if those incentives were not in place. The program last six weeks starting the week after school ends in June. The work day lasts from 8AM to Noon.
We select 15 students for the program – usually a mix of sophomores, juniors and seniors with about half being veterans of the program who also mentor the new students. Also keep in mind that my students have already had video production training during the regular school year, so much of what is done over the summer is already known.
During the first week, the script is reviewed with the group, film and video professionals visit the work site and discuss the different positions with the students, students list three positions they’d like to have and are interviewed for those positions by the IFP-Chicago (everyone has a responsibility in the pre, post and production phases of the program), and students are divided into three groups and allowed to outline, shoot and edit a mini-movie to get a better feel of working as a team and how to put a production together.
The students write up a log line that is used in publicity. They analyze and list character descriptions to help during the casting. They begin a web site and blog. They start developing a DVD design. They start their documentary production and still pictures. The ‘bloopers’ editor checks events filmed by the documentarian for use in the bloopers reel.
The second week is spent breaking up the students with specific professional mentors to go over equipment, lighting, sound, art department, casting, locations and producer responsibilities. We work closely with Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA and the Mayor’s Film Office. The call goes out to actors and appointments are made for the auditions which are held at the end of the second week.
Rehearsals begin the third week. The cinematographer and sound people visit Fletcher Chicago for special training on the digital HD Panasonic P2 camera and sound equipment. While we have digital prosumer and broadcast-grade equipment in the radio-TV major, Fletcher Chicago donates professional film equipment for use in the summer program. Also during the third week, final art department, costume and makeup work is completed, locations are finalized, shooting days and times are completed, mock shoots are performed by the students on specific involved scenes and everything else is nailed down in preparation for the production week.
Week four is set for shooting the film. All five days are expanded to 1PM to allow for delays, weather and site problems, production moves and other issues that might be trouble for the crew. The students continue to do everything as they shift from their pre-production responsibilities to their production jobs. The adult mentors stand by in case any serious issues arise. ‘Rushes’ are captured each afternoon to help speed up the post-production process.
Week five and six are post-production. DVD design is completed along with soundtrack composition, titles and credits, blooper reel, documentary, cast, crew and mentor ‘pages’ and other elements to be included on the DVD. Apple’s Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Soundtrack Pro and Live Type are used.
Film festivals are researched and entered. Publicity materials are put together. The end of the program finds the students watching the nearly finished film along with the finished documentary and blooper tape.
The editor and director usually come back for a few days on the seventh week along with the two program supervisors to put the finishing touches on the film. DVD duplication takes place along with finalizing plans for the ‘world premiere’ of the film. A few weeks later, the film is premiered for students, family, friends, school officials, mentors and other officials.
HARD WORK SPELLS SUCCESS
Since 2003, student video productions have been entered into local competitions with the summer short film production entered into national and international competitions starting in 2005. Here is a selective listing of honors won by our students’ work:
Roger Badesch is a broadcast industry veteran. After four years of radio-TV production work as a high school student, Badesch earned his Bachelors degree in Broadcasting from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and went on to a career in radio broadcasting working in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Bloomington-Normal, IL. He also did broadcasting work in the corporate and government sectors before going back to school to get his teaching certification in 1995. In addition to his full-time teaching responsibilities, Badesch manages the school website, advises the school newspaper and is the Friday overnight news anchor for WGN Radio.)