Homework for Chandler High School senior Natasha White, 17, includes watching television and going to the movies.
The video production student notes camera angles, lighting effects, editing techniques and any other tricks of the trade she can learn from the pros. Then she teams up with her classmates and applies the lessons in short films, public service announcements and documentaries of their own.
The hard work paid off this semester with a long list of awards for the Chandler High program from film festivals across the Valley.
White and senior Brian Pouderoyen, 18, won the curator’s choice best of show on April 19 at the Arizona State University Nelson Fine Arts Gallery Point of View Exhibition. Other Chandler High students won the juror’s choice award.
On April 5 the class also picked up two awards at the Peoria Fine Arts Student Film Festival, and in March a piece called “God and the Making of an African Explorer” won best of show at the Phoenix Film Festival 3-minute Challenge.
“We kind of get big heads from all the stuff we’ve won,” White said.
Among those impressed is their teacher, Rick Engelmann.
“They can make magic happen,” he said. “It’s just astonishing.”
The students work in a cramped storage area deep inside the school library — a condition that will change next year when the campus unveils a state-of-the-art technology building.
Until then, White said the isolated quarters have helped the class bond.
“Our class is such a family,” she said.
The students create films on a broad range of topics with only a few operating rules: No profanity, no guns, no graphic violence and no sex. But they also like to test the boundaries in creative ways that keep Engelmann on his toes.
“Because they’re kids, they’re always pushing the envelope,” he said.
The students also get creative — and sometimes desperate — when casting their films.
Engelmann plays most adult roles, and school resource officer Doug Rose of the Chandler Police Department sometimes agrees to chase a student across campus or slap handcuffs on somebody for a police scene.
Meanwhile, the star in nearly everyone’s films is Chandler High senior Brandon Woods, 18, who has earned a reputation as the best actor in the class.
“I figure if I can’t be in front of the camera, I’ll be behind it,” Woods said. “I’ll do whatever I can to be on the set.”
"Keep the Wolf from the Door," written and directed by Chandler High School students Brian Pouderoyen and Natasha White, won Curator's Choice Best of Show April 19 at the Arizona State University Nelson Fine Arts Gallery Point of View Exhibition. Time: 80 seconds
If we have space ... "Owen Otijl," written and directed by Chandler High School students Brandon Woods, Brian Pouderoyen, Troy Weissert, Natasha White and Joe Munoz, won best technical expertise in fiction category on April 5 at the Peoria Fine Arts Student Film Festival.