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Vol. IV No. 3   · Week of 11 August 2000   

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Summer program puts high school students in the studio and spotlight

By Eric McHenry

It’s an oppressively wet and muggy Wednesday, but a bunch of teenagers in a COM television studio have found a way to have fun with the weather. Ray Capi telli, wearing a tie over a T-shirt, is delivering a mock forecast in Spanish – in mock-Spanish, rather – while his classmates operate cameras, microphones, and a teleprompter.

This year's ITRP students

Young filmmakers in thie summer's Institute for Television, Film, and Radio Production include (from lower left) Nathan Fishlyn, Nick Cuff, Elizabeth Kowitt, Zack Robbins, and Andrea Lysy. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky  

Standing before an electronic map of New England, he moves seamlessly from the news to the non sequitur to the nonsensical. Tammi Kim, the young woman who’s directing the segment, watches him on a bank of monitors in the adjacent control room. When he announces that it’s raining "gatos y perros," someone makes a dozen cartoon cats and dogs appear on the map. Capitelli steps aside so as not to obscure the graphic.

"Tell your stage manager he can’t drift," Chris Cavalieri says to Kim. "He’s going out of the frame." Through the microphone on her headset, Kim passes it along.

In a studio across the hall, the other half of the class – a workshop that’s part of BU’s five-week summer Institute for Television, Film, and Radio Production (ITRP) – is busy sending up MTV’s The Real World. On a set convincingly decorated with secondhand furniture, Lisa Marie Tomaino berates Ben Shapiro for being such a slob. Between takes, the actors revert from twenty-something to something-teen, laughing and tossing pillows at each other.

"Please don’t throw pillows – we can pick ’em up on the booms!" booms Courtney Powers, the student director.

Some of their projects may be, in Cavalieri’s words, "a little on the lighthearted side," but the students dedicate many hours to the development of serious, issue- oriented pieces as well. And both sorts of activity help ITRP advance its goal: to acquaint talented teenagers with the disciplines and techniques of production. The students are constantly learning – even when they are having too much fun to notice. "By and large, these students don’t look at TV or film the same way after spending five weeks here," says Cavalieri, an adjunct faculty member at COM who has taught ITRP workshops every summer since 1996. "They’re far more discriminating in their evaluations." As he finishes his sentence, the cast finishes its scene.

"Okay," he says. "If we’re done, let’s lock cameras and strike the set."

Established in 1989, ITRP was the second program of its kind in the country and the first on the East Coast. It gives high-schoolers an introduction to television, film, and radio work in professional-quality facilities, as well as a feel for what college life will be like: participants live in BU residence halls under the supervision of RAs, eat University food, and enjoy access to University facilities.

ITRP draws applications from all over the country, and some from overseas. It had 80 students this summer, and could have admitted many more were it not for space constraints and the need to preserve a low faculty-student ratio.

"The program has really burgeoned, with word of mouth," says Lew Barlow, a COM associate professor of film and television, who is one of ITRP’s founders. "We used to spend a tremendous amount of money having information sent to high schools. Now we’re getting applications from friends of the kids who came years ago. It’s really become a self-propelling thing."

Last year, ITRP’s administrators saw some even more tangible evidence of their program’s success. Cavalieri sent four student-produced films to the HBO Family Channel’s 30x30: Kid Flicks, a televised forum for the work of children and teenagers. All four were accepted and aired.

"These were projects produced in a matter of 16 to 20 hours – about 3 days of work," Cavalieri says. "And yet they held up. And because the folks at the show thought enough of them to say, ‘Yeah, this is great work and we’d like to present it,’ two or three dozen kids left our program with a national screen credit."

ITRP taps local media professionals to teach its workshops – film, television studio, television field, radio, and multimedia. Cavalieri added this last subject in 1999, when he inherited the academic directorship of the program from Barlow. Students choose three of the four workshops they’ll take, Cavalieri says, but the multimedia course is mandatory. Held in a lab filled with Macintosh G3 computers, it offers instruction in Web-based design and nonlinear editing that’s tailored to each student’s experience.

"This is where the industry is going to lead a lot of these students," says Cavalieri, "and we want to make sure they have at least the basic orientation."

Along with the four workshops, each student takes a directed seminar in one of three specialized areas – screenwriting, directing, or producing. These are more discussion-oriented than the studio and fieldwork-heavy workshops, but they do entail a large-scale project. In the producing seminar, led by Cavalieri, students are spending several weeks planning their own graduation ceremony and putting together an elaborate documentary of their ITRP experience, which they will premiere for their parents at the August 11 event.

"They are creating, from top to bottom, the graduation ceremony for the entire ITRP program," Cavalieri says. "They’re hosting it. They’re responsible for putting together and presenting videotape inserts that give a behind-the-scenes look at program, as well as some select finished proj- ects from the various workshops. They’re even in charge of decorating and getting the festive mood of the venue ready. We’ll have balloons, stanchions, red carpets. We’ll do some type of stage lighting, to give it that premiere look. We’ll probably even have fresh hot popcorn. This is part of the training that they’re receiving. These students are learning how to produce, and the art of presentation, in the context of their own graduation."

For more information, visit the ITRP website.


14 August 2000
Boston University
Office of University Relations