STN 2014 Convention Recap by Jodie Kahan

04/14/2014
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Reflecting back on the 2014 STN convention, my eyes begin to close, and my thoughts begin to drift. After long hours, hard work, and lots of caffeine, I’m in desperate need of sleep. Despite my tiredness, I force my brain to concentrate while listening to the Her soundtrack and begin writing. 

The chaos begins at 5:30 in the morning as I spot an army of PCTV crewmembers marching slowly towards me at a slow pace, carrying armfuls of equipment across the Pine Crest Fort Lauderdale campus. Half asleep, I make my way to a pile of gear across the school to do my fair share of heavy lifting before sunrise. After finally finishing transporting the heavy monitors, an enormous double decker bus pulls up to the middle school parking lot, eagerly awaiting the entrance of 53 excited middle and high school students. Before loading the equipment onto the bus, Senior Bronsen Bloom double checks a list to ensure every piece of equipment can be located… twice. The bus quickly grows full as I take my seat towards the back, resting my head against the window. Before sleep finally wins the ongoing battle for control of my eyelids, I am able to see Sophomore Ginger Hollander slowly drift off to sleep with her pillow resting next to Freshman Max Rubinoff as they both struggle to keep their eyes open.

I awake, and after the first few seconds of blurriness give way, and my eyes adjust to the light, the giant golf ball at Epcot reveals itself through the window. Excitement washes through me before we all step off the bus and into the warm sun. Immediately before departing, a curveball was thrown our way as we were informed of a challenge. The challenge rules explain a competition between groups of three students. Using our smart phones, each group must create a six shot film using 6 different angled shots and a six-word title reflecting the culture of Epcot. Although it was later revealed that Alana Udwin, Matt Kronengold, and Roxy Ackerman won, I think each student felt that winning was a secondary goal to this competition, and ultimately we all had a lot of fun during the day getting better acquainted with the people that would become our teammates for the next five days. Following the busy day at Epcot, we arrived at the hotel for dinner. In keeping with the Pine Crest style, our entire PCTV group got a reserved banquet room for a private PC dinner where I almost fell asleep on the table from exhaustion. Following dinner, the group split up early to get some much-needed rest for the Sweet Sixteen competition the following day.

For the Sweet Sixteen competition, middle school students participated only in the broadcast division, while high school students partook in both the film and broadcast contests. For the broadcasting challenge, the crew was given the word “international drive” and was tasked with making a 10-minute news broadcast using the given word as the thread that ties the stories together. For the film contest, which I was a part of, we were given the title of our film, a prop, and 16 hours to make a short file of 5-minutes or less. Although the stories born from our Sweet Sixteen experience are endless, my final and most treasured memory is that of an entire day filled with great accomplishment and teamwork. To reiterate this point, it must be understood that there are several unbelievable stories within the competition, and this is only my own. As a great poet once said, we shall begin at the beginning…

The film team was composed of 15 crewmembers: a director, an assistant director, a cinematographer, an editor, two producers, two official actors, a few audio engineers, and a team of behind the scenes staff. Starting at 6 am, the crew gathered together in our pursuit of the insane process that is creating a short film. Sitting in a ballroom filled with film students from 145 competing schools is one of the most intimidating experiences I’ve been through, with emotion that are difficult to describe. The atmosphere is tense and focused, with a soft and unending rumbling buzzing sound created by the hushed voices of thousands of students feverishly planning throughout the large space. Suddenly, a proctor appears at a podium in the front of the room. All 15 members of our crew pay close attention as the rules of the competition are read. We all listen intently and hang on every word, even though we’ve heard the rules a million times before.  Before this point, the group felt confident. Cinematographer Justin Danzansky even expressed that he felt “cool, calm, and collected.”But when the proctor reached the end of the rules, Danzansky and the rest of us were visibly tense, with nervous energy surrounding each of us. With a deafening silence enveloping the large room, the proctor finally revealed the title and prompt. “And the title is… The Big Squeeze.” Everyone looked around at once. I thought it was a complete joke. At any moment the proctor was going to reveal the “gotcha!” and tell us the real title. But “The Big Squeeze” it was, and it only seemed fitting that an orange would be the prop we were given to back up this unbelievably whimsical heading. Perhaps the most amazing part of my entire trip happened in that very moment. Bloom whispered right away that he had an idea. With speed, we walked up to a group member’s hotel room and made ourselves comfortable as we eagerly awaited Bronsen’s big idea. His inventive mind came up with the idea of “The Big Squeeze” acting as a username to an online blogger. Although the plot changed several times throughout the writing process, the one thing that remained constant was this online persona. How someone hears three words and comes up with a creative idea such as a social media icon, I will never know, but in that moment I knew it was going to be a great day.

The hardest part of the entire process was definitely coming up with the story. At a competition grounded so tightly in a school’s ability to tell a story on screen, we knew the script had to be perfect. Seth Kelman, master editor, seemed jokingly convinced that with such a crazy prop, our crew should do a stop-motion film with the orange as the main character. With a laugh, we all shut him down and quickly returned to the ongoing debate over more possible ideas. We quickly settled on a script that was advanced enough to begin the next stage of our long day. And then the day’s shooting schedule became our next adventure. In anticipation of a shooting schedule all over Orlando, our group had rented a huge bus in advance, knowing full well that we would need transportation for our group and equipment. With chaperone Barney Danzansky in tow, we hopped on the bus and headed to the home of an old friend of Mr. Danzansky to film some scenes. I learned a few things along the way…

1. You can never go wrong renting a bus; we shot my personal favorite scene of the film on our bus!
2. Christian Hyatt and Erik Haig (juniors) have the most bizarre bromance, and no amount of carefully chosen and descriptive words will ever be sufficient to describe their coordinated hand motions and lots of laughing.
3. Lastly, never go to a town named Celebration.

Celebration is a town about 20 minutes outside of Orlando. In need of a location to shoot different scenes around an area with people, Alexis Kesselman and myself, given the title of producers, found a quaint town that looked beautiful in pictures. As we pulled into the general area of Celebration, each student began looking out the window in confusion. Not only were there no signs of inhabitance, but the entire town looked like it was built that day. New houses with no signs of personal additions, untouched parks with brand new swings, and open fields with random holes in the ground that looked like unmarked graves surrounded us. Erik even exclaimed, “It looks like day 7 of a zombie apocalypse.” The eerie atmosphere didn’t improve. As if on a timed schedule, three cars drove by the same location, followed by an old man wearing a particularly unattractive and cropped top would jog in the same circle over and over again. I’m still unsure if the sketchy atmosphere was an illusion caused by our tired brains, or whether Celebration really is a ghost town. But we can all agree it was an interesting experience that will be with us forever.

After a hectic day of shooting and an un-ending and continual re-supply of highly caffeinated drinks, the editing began around 7 PM. I found the perfect music to compliment the other aspects of the film, and then I joined the editing room where the rest of our crew watched Seth Kelman do his magic. As Seth begin to edit rapidly sitting on the desk, everyone else was left to stress out about the submission of the film. To say this anxiety was a bonding exercise is an understatement. In a short span, not only did I learn that Alexis Kesselman has the perfect voice for any and all voiceover roles, but also that Huey O’Neil, known around school as a high school pilot, is particularly good at editing sound effects. We all also quickly learned of Bronsen Bloom’s tremendous leadership skills. His vision and opinions were very strong, yet he understood that this exercise was a group project. Incorporating everyone’s ideas into one 4 minute film is no easy task, but with a level head, and a clear talent for putting ideas on the big screen, Bloom was able to keep most everyone calm during this stressful period. Well… with the exception of a few of us… myself really.

With only thirty minutes left until our final exporting time, which was originally 10 pm, Seth Kelman announces that Premiere Pro, our editing software, crashed in the middle of sound edits. Biting my nails waiting to hear that hopefully everything was saved before the crash, I am filled with horror as he informs everyone that, in fact, it did not. My heart sunk and the panic started to set in. The walk to turn in the final flash drive was about 10 minutes, and we needed time to spare depending on how long the export would take. At this point, our entire crew was basically freaking out, except for Seth and Justin Danzansky, who somehow do not have a care in the world. Christian Hyatt comes up with the wonderful idea to blast the Her soundtrack in Erik’s speakers as we shut off the lights in an attempt to hold on to any sanity remaining. Moments later, Seth finished editing, and we all gathered around to watch as our film being exported to the flash drive that would hold our fate until the winners were announced during the closing ceremonies on Sunday morning. Everyone cheered loudly as the finish line was in sight. And then we finally reached the last step. The all out sprint to turn in our unbelievable film at the submission desk. And although this final step may seem to be the easiest, when a group of unathletic film nerds are running across a hotel to turn in one single flash drive, there is bound to be a few pulled hamstrings and other assorted problems. Luckily, we all made in one piece, although I was out of breath by the time we reached the booth. We all bid our precious film “adieu,” as Bronsen dropped the flash drive in the designated bag we were given. It took around 15 and a half ours of each of our lives to complete, but as we parted ways with our baby, we equally felt that this film was the most collaborative project any of us had competed to date. I personally will always be extremely proud of the work that went into those 4 minutes of film, and the unbelievable effort by everyone in the crew to put together the most amazing short film I have ever seen. Clearly my opinion is biased, considering I was a part of the process, but I stand by my claim and am forever in love with “The Big Squeeze.”

That night we did a screening of both high school Broadcast and Film submissions, glowing with excitement for the content we produced in only 16 hours. The highlight of the screening was definitely Christian Hyatt’s entrance wearing jean short cut offs also known as “jorts,” and a vintage button up t-shirt. Our accomplishment was certainly something to celebrate although we were all way too tired to do so.

Friday morning was kicked off with opening ceremonies where yours truly was privileged enough to sing the National Anthem in front of about 2,300 people cheering loudly. To understand STN fully, one must understand that this event is likely the most competitive event most of us participate in all year. I would equate it to a high school football team in the state championship game, where thousands of people cheering and screaming in excitement is not only allowed, but one hundred percent required and encouraged. With “Turn Down for What” blasting through enormous speakers, we all cheered loudly as the opening ceremonies concluded. The ceremony included guest speaker Cameron Quom, previous STN participant, who spoke about the importance of having someone or something motivating you, and Andrew Jenks, creator of the hit MTV show, World of Jenks, who spoke about his life experience in the industry.

Almost immediately following the conclusion of the opening ceremonies, and with only few precious ounces of energy left in our bodies, Brittany Paris, Brett Weiss, Lindsey Bornstein and I had an individual anchoring competition. We were assigned to write and deliver a script from a wire copy regarding the 2014 STN convention. With Brittany and Brett being pros at on camera chemistry, and Lindsey behind the scenes, I was able to help write the script, and we turned in an amazing final product. The team worked really well together, and we completed the deadline with no problems at all. Other groups had competitions Friday as well, although Saturday seemed to be more popular for individual categories.

Friday night’s activity included a showing of pieces submitted from various places in the United States from the fall national competition. Having a sugar craving, right before the screening started, I ran to the convenience store in the hotel and bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Brownie ice cream that Seth Kelman and I shared throughout the duration of the show. Although I take full credit for eating three quarters of the pint, I’m allowing Seth to take some of the credit so I’m not judged too harshly from my peers…

Saturday started with my most memorable session with CBS producer Les Rose, who taught us how to get the best quality interview. After using PCTV’s very own Brittany Paris as the sample reporter and getting unbelievable results, Rachel Hackman, Audrey Louden, Lindsey Bornstein and I were ready to put some of these new tips into practice. We circled the hotel premises, asking random strangers interview questions. Our adventure proved to be successful, as we got a handful of really awesome stories from some truly amazing people. Saturday night consisted of a group dinner at Copper Canyon Grill where the Groupme chat room with all members of the STN field trip went crazy. Selfies were posted, Scott Shanbom became increasingly worried about overages on his data plan, and Mrs. Kennedy’s awesome cowboy boots were showcased as the funniest group chat of teachers and students kept dinner conversation quite entertaining.  Following dinner, there was another showcase at the main ballroom, but this time a handful of picks from the day’s competitions were shown. Not all were winners, but each had something that stood out to the judges, good or bad.  The Wobble came on as the girls in the group went crazy, and we all began to dance. After our outstanding impromptu performance, underrated dancer Alexis Kesselman said, “I mean, when you do the wobble with people, you just have this special connection.” And that remains true, as us Wobble girls remain closer than ever.

Sunday morning was a ball full of nerves. After four days of serious competition and lots of fun, it was finally time to hear the much-anticipated results. Pine Crest sat in the first three rows of the ballroom, eagerly awaiting the first awards to be announced. Below are the six awards Pine Crest School took home for the 5-day convention. Although the Sweet 16 submissions from our three teams did not place, it was universally agreed among our entire PCTV group that the two broadcasts and the film submissions are three of the best overall products PCTV and PCNN have ever produced.

High School – First Place Anchor
High School – Honorable Mention Social Media App
High School – Broadcast Excellence Award
High School – Best Sound Design
High School – Best Live Event
Middle School – Honorable Mention Movie Trailer

In addition, Brittany Paris won a DVD for correctly guessing the closest number of total people at the convention. Great job, Britt!

Looking back on the convention, I see nothing but great memories and an unbelievable bonding experience. There were 53 students, and I knew close to nothing about any of them, yet I left with 53 of my closest friends. I am proud of each and every member of this trip, and am still blown away at the talent shown and possessed by each of our students. Not only did the students give every ounce of energy and creativity in Orlando, but the chaperones who accompanied us on our trip were also some of the most remarkable and supportive in our group. An interesting thought continues to play through my mind as I think about all of the different personalities combining into one to form Pine Crest. This trip was truly a Pine Crest Trip. It included Middle School students, High School students, Boca campus students, Ft. Lauderdale campus students, and parents who jointed together with a common goal and who all care immensely and equally about one thing: the power of journalism. I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to surround myself with people as passionate about this field as I am, and look forward to the 2015 STN convention in San Diego, California, where all 2,300 of the STN faithful will congregate once again to have the best 5 days of a lifetime.

Reflecting back on the 2014 STN convention, my eyes begin to close, and my thoughts begin to drift. After long hours, hard work, and lots of caffeine, I’m in desperate need of sleep. Forcing my brain to now relax, the Her soundtrack plays as I float off to sleep.

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