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Meade students premiere class acts

The Baltimore Sun

Hollywood Night at Meade High School tried to have the feel of red carpet glitz. Then again, it was in the school auditorium.

The student filmmakers and actors glided down a red carpet made of vinyl. Instead of tippling champagne after the premiere of their films, students felt the effervescence of ginger ale coming from their plastic champagne cups.

About 100 people -- students, friends and family members -- seemed to enjoy the Tuesday-night debuts from the Media Productions class. As a final project, the teacher challenged seven teams of students to film different interpretations of the same script. Each film had to be less than 15 minutes.

In Enigma, the students manipulated the text to make it sound like the characters were covering up a murder. The film opened with blood red credits, eerie music and a shot of junior Tom Million dragging what looked like a body bag. At the end, the subjects reveal that they were planning a surprise party.

The audience voted the film best picture at the end of the evening. The students won books on directing and filmmaking, and copies of Filmmaker magazine.

Denil Shah, an 18-year-old senior, said he stayed at school until 6:30 p.m. May 25 to finish editing Enigma. He called his teacher, Amy Weissenburger, a true star because she stayed with him until he finished.

"She is simply awesome," Shah said. "She'd stay there and give us full support."

Project Meade Light was a takeoff of Project Greenlight, a national contest and reality TV show that gave aspiring directors and screenwriters the chance to make a movie. Winners had their films shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

Alisia Muir, who teaches senior British literature at Meade, came to see what had preoccupied some of her students over the past few weeks. The Media Productions students kept asking Muir whether they could skip her class to finish their films. Looking more amused than perturbed, Muir said she had forgiven her students.

"I guess I can't be as mad because they made a good product," she said.

In Media Productions, students gain experience in acting, directing and producing, and in audio and video techniques. The first six weeks of their class focuses on a survey of great films and directors, such as Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock. The rest of the course is devoted to filmmaking.

"They all say they can't go into movies anymore and look at them the same way because they know too much," said Weissenburger, chairwoman of Meade's English department.

Weissenburger, who was a film major at the University of Delaware, decided to add Media Productions as an English elective four years ago. She said Meade had offered the course at one time but had dropped it.

To restart the course, Weissenburger had to buy equipment. She helped a professor at her alma mater with a research project and received $1,500, which she used to pay for four video cameras and the editing software..

The Board of Education has invited Weissenburger to select an official textbook. She is hoping the board will provide more funding for equipment and treat the class as a school publication.

Weissenburger's husband, Jeremy Weissenburger, who is chairman of the school's math department, wrote the script the class used for the film. Students were allowed to change the order of the dialogue to suit their themes.

Weissenburger said she noticed a transformation as her students learned industry jargon and tapped into their creativity. She thinks the course showed some students career options.

"They find they have an affinity for this that they didn't even know that they had," she said.

Tiffany Collins' team won second place for the film The Hook-up. The film follows a teenage love triangle that ends in a pregnancy. Tiffany, a 16-year-old from Hanover, did the storyboard, directed the actors and operated the video camera.

"It's interesting as a hobby," she said. "I make movies now on weekends."

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