Take a talented person with 14 years of background in TV production, add in a large dash of enthusiasm, blend in 30 or so dedicated 7th and 8th graders and what do you have?
Quality programming in the form of OMS UnPlugged, a broadcast feature from Ocoee Middle School in Florida.
Misty Lee Gentle brings her own professional television production experience and skills to teaching both beginning- and advanced-level television production classes to 7th and 8th grade students at Ocoee. Beginning her television career as a freelancer for Nickelodeon, Animal Planet and Disney she can easily relate to the needs of kids and what they like to watch. She worked her way up the chain from Production Assistant to Producer covering all aspects of the industry from pre-production through post. She has stage experience as well as in the control room. Her BA is in Television and Radio Production.
Being a middle school, Gentle only has the students for two years. Assuming they are interested and sufficiently motivated, a student has to take the 7th grade Beginning class as a prerequisite for advancing on.
Gentle's 7th graders start out learning about different TV and tape formats, the video camera, digital-video editing, audio "sweetening," graphics, and script writing. Using these skills, students are required to create short films, with a provided script to shoot and edit. They also use a green screen and learn a little about special effects. They write a commercial in proper screen format and are also challenged to integrate advertising and marketing skills into that unit. In addition, each student develops a news story and a public service announcement which they write, shoot, and edit.
8th grade classes operate on a professional level, with a daily live news broadcast (the morning announcements) and a half-hour show about their school. The half-hour show they produce, "OMS Unplugged," is then broadcast each month from the local government TV channel.
At the end of the semester, each student creates a DVD with his or her projects on it, complete with a main menu and customized pictures and fonts. Ocoee Middle School is a state demonstration site for technology, and features cutting-edge technology not only in their television production class but throughout the school. However, that shouldn't deter teachers who want to start a program like Gentle's in their schools, she says.
We were able to snag a few minutes of Misty’s precious time for a short off-air interview:
SVN: Misty, how many kids in the beginners class and advanced class?
Gentle: I have 18 8th grade students in my advanced class all year long. They had to have taken my class in 7th grade. My other classes have between 25 and 30 students.
SVN: Tell us a little more about the two sessions: How long are the classes?
Gentle: One period or 55 min/5 days a week. They go all year.
SVN: What jobs do the kids do?
Gentle: All of the students get the opportunity to experience each crew position: Anchor, camera, teleprompter, audio mixer, technical director, computer/tape op, stage manager and director.
SVN: How many kids to do the morning news broadcast?
Gentle: It rotates through my 18 advanced students and we have some students who come in just to anchor. They auditioned at the beginning of the year. But 10 each morning.
SVN: Do they write the content?
Gentle: No, announcements have to be written and approved before they come to us. However, sometimes the special feature videos are written and produced by students. They do, however, write their own segments for our OMS Unplugged show.
SVN: I assume that OMS Unplugged is created during the month then aired on community access.
Gentle: Yes, my advanced class comes up with topics and scripts for small segments. After approval, they video tape and edit. We assemble the show with studio anchors doing wrap-arounds for each segment. Then we deliver it to our local TV channel.
SVN: How long does the show run?
Gentle: They are currently airing it more than once a week until we deliver a new one. OMS Unplugged repeats weekly.
In addition to the class and productions, Ms. Gentle is able to take her students on field trips to broadcast facilities around the area. They recently visited Universal Studios in neighboring Orlando where they were able to participate in the studio audience for NBC’s iVillage. This was followed by a backstage tour. Ocoee was also featured on FOX 35 news “Cool School of the Week”. Broadcasting from the school for four hours, Fox highlighted many of the school’s programs, clubs and activities. Gentle’s students were allowed to help during the entire broadcast.
Gentle advises educators interested in integrating TV production into their curricula to start with small classes. "I have also found that the Internet is a great resource for lesson plans," she said. "I have gotten many ideas from the educators who share their programs, lesson plans, activities, and experience on the Web. Networking with other TV production teachers is 100 percent rewarding. As different as each program may be, we can all learn from each other and we all seem to be more than happy to share."
She suggests having one or two consumer-grade mini digital video cameras with FireWire and a few computers with extra memory capacity or external hard drives for video storage and digital editing software. "You could grow from there," she says.
Ocoee’s television production classes use Dell PCs with Windows XP (80 GB hard drives and FireWire), as well as Adobe Premiere for digital editing and Adobe Photoshop to create graphics. Her students shoot on mini digital-video cameras but also use two Panasonic professional cameras in the studio for the morning news broadcast. “Our switcher is just a simple Digital AV Mixer WJ-MXX20 but it does what we need it to do. Our audio mixer is a small Makie 1402-VLZ Pro 14 Channel and it is great. Our studio lights are just track lighting at present. I am hoping to get a small light kit next year. But first I have to replace our microphones. We have had some trouble with audio this year but I'm not complaining because we just got 6 new mini DV players for capturing...one thing at a time,” she adds.
With exposure to opportunities that Misty Lee Gentle can provide, and the backing of Ocoee Middle School administration, especially the principal, Dr. Katherine Clark - we may see many of these kids in broadcast over the coming years. To view more information about Gentle's classes and access links to her television production page and numerous additional resources, visit www.oms.ocps.net/THD/gentlem.