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Local High School Students Compete for $18,000 in Video Awards

Anti-drinking entries in the 12th annual Courageous Persuaders contest apply course skills for local auto dealers' campaigns.

High school filmmakers throughout Macomb County and the rest of Michigan are using video cameras and editing programs to create short, strong messages about underage drinking.

Students are preparing half-minute entries for the 12th annual Courageous Persuaders contest, featuring $18,250 in scholarship money – mainly for Michigan teens. The campaign, which drew 743 entries last year, challenges students to write, shoot and produce public-service ads aimed at middle school viewers. Youngsters from that target age group help judge entries after the Feb. 9 submission deadline.

"It takes courage for high school students to produce these sorts of messages" about health, safety and legal risks of drinking alcohol before age 21, says broadcast teacher Roger Smith of Lake Orion High.

Christopher Guyor, a video production instructor at Rochester High since 1999, feels "the best part is that students have to prepare for an actual audience." Delivering a high-impact warning in 30 seconds requires a different approach "than making a video for fun or for posting on a website like YouTube or Facebook," adds Guyor, who lives in Berkley.

Area winners in 2011

Last year's winners, announced at a Troy Marriott banquet in May, include these Metro Detroiters:

  • Della Paul and Sean Mouton, Utica High ($2,000 each)
  • Morgan Lawrence, Eisenhower High in Shelby Township ($1,500)
  • Jonathan D'Ambrosio, Lake Orion High ($1,000)
  • Alexandra Eastman, Hailey Thrasher and Alex McPherson, Dearborn High ($500 shared)

Among runners-up were Ellen Daniels and Shannon McGovern of Lahser High in Bloomfield Hills, Charlie Mauer of Lake Orion High and Ashley Niemi of in Macomb Township.

At Lahser, digital filmmaking instructor Donna Learmont encourages students to enter this competition and others. "It's really good to see what their peers are doing and to get external validation by having outsiders evaluate their work," explains the veteran educator.

High school video production also is taught at , as well as in West Bloomfield, Birmingham and other Metro Detroit districts.

Winning commercials from 2011 will be on view at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in Detroit during Education Day, a Jan. 18 reduced-admission event for student field trips.

The Detroit Auto Dealers Association, based in Troy, manages Courageous Persuaders and is among six prize sponsors.    

Practical experience

Teens vying for prizes apply scriptwriting, directing and editing lessons.

," says Michael Kaufman, who has taught TV and Broadcast Media electives at L'Anse Creuse Public Schools in Macomb County for three years. "It reinforces video compression skills for uploading videos to the Internet. It also forces students to work within a strict 30-second time limit similar to broadcast television."

Kaufman, who is performing arts director at his district's Pankow Center in Clinton Township, previously taught for 13 years at the former Kimball High in Royal Oak.

At Lake Orion High in northern Oakland, producing short PSAs "is part of the curriculum in my advanced video production courses," says Smith, a teacher there since 2001. "So I offer students the chance to enter Courageous Persuaders as an outlet for their work."

'Real audience, real impact'

"Contests like Courageous Persuaders absolutely help students gain useful experience," notes Smith. "It allows them to produce pieces that have a real audience and can have a real impact. And they absolutely are portfolio and resume builders."

During the first round of Courageous Persuaders judging, a panel from the auto dealers' group picks 60 semi-finalists. Students at middle schools review those and fill out questionnaires, which are used to determine the winners.

In addition to a $3,000 scholarship, the top winner works with professional editors on a broadcast-quality version of the spot for airing by the CBS affiliate in Metro Detroit and on screens at Secretary of State branches throughout Michigan.

Shown on area cable channel

All 13 finalists also are distributed by Community Media Network of Troy for viewing on public access cable Channel 18 in Berkley, Clawson, Ferndale, Huntington Woods, Oakland Township, Pleasant Ridge, the Rochester area, Royal Oak and Troy.

That's a valuable showcase for budding filmmakers. "It is important to have their work broadcast for viewing to a general public," says Kaufman, the Macomb teacher. "Cash prizes help to motivate students, but it is the feedback they receive from their entries – as well as the sense of accomplishment when their work is recognized to be of high quality by those outside of the classroom – that help to support the curriculum."

The competition has expanded since 2000 along with the popularity of digital video cameras, editing programs and production courses.

That first year, 17 teams from Troy and Clawson were the only participants. Last year, students from 383 schools sent videos. Overall, about $90,000 in prizes have been awarded. A brochure about the competition can be downloaded here.

Career inspiration

Educators see benefits beyond scholarships. "These contests are extremely helpful for students wishing to build their portfolio and receive feedback from those in the broadcasting field," explains Kaufman of L'Anse Creuse, who has taught several winners in the anti-drinking competition and other events.

"The most important thing that my students learn from these contests," he adds, "is that they have a real opportunity to make money in this business. Quite a few of them leave my classroom to find jobs in the video field."  

Similarly, many Rochester alumni "have gone on to develop successful careers in the industry," according to instructor Guyor. From Lake Orion, Smith echoes his counterparts: "We have many amazing alumni who work in the broadcast, video and film industries, and we have many talented current students who are on those same paths."

Courageous Persuaders began as the brainstorm of Michael Martone, a former district court judge for Troy and Clawson, and John Barczyk of the McCann Erickson ad agency branch in Warren.

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