Arcadia High School has a long and proud tradition of its students producing films for the big screen. In fact, arguably the most famous filmmaker of all time got his start while attending the school.
In 1964, as a junior at Arcadia, Steven Spielberg produced his first film, Firelight. The score was performed by the AHS band and the film reportedly generated $500 in revenue, just enough to break even.
This May, 55 years after Spielberg’s debut, six groups of Arcadia High students premiered short films, each 12 to 15 minutes in length, at the Harkins Shea 14 Theatres. The films were screened as part of the eighth annual Arcadia High School Film Festival.
The films are the event’s main attraction, but the festival also features award presentations for film and broadcast.
Arcadia’s broadcast students produce, write and direct a 7 to 10-minute live newscast that goes out to their 1,700 classmates each morning.
“We’re one of the big feeder schools for broadcast journalism, media communications and film,” said Media Communications Booster Club President Alex Smith. “From Arcadia, many of the graduates go on to prestigious programs at Chapman, Loyola Marymount, NYU and other programs around the country.”
Seniors Rachael Schulman, Alexa Teneyck and Brendan Weinerth each earned honors for excelling in their broadcast and film classes.
Although the bulk of the night’s awards went to seniors, the Fan Favorite Award for best short film was claimed by a group of sophomores.
The winning film, Pedro, follows a young girl’s quest to find a “Peanut Spice Latte.” The film was pitched, written and produced by sophomore Grace Woehler.
“The plot is: she’s at this school where there’s these two gangs and they both think she’s the chosen one destined to end their ongoing battle and she wants nothing to do with it,” Grace said.
In the fall, each student in the school’s four film classes pitched a movie idea and their classmates voted for the two best to produce.
Once the winning pitches were determined, those who pitched them wrote a script and their classmates applied for various roles in the film’s production. Over the course of the school year, the group turned the script into a short film.
Grace’s vision was for a comedic film that would parody the stereotypical “hero’s journey” storyline.
“The plot is supposed to progress and the main character is completely against it. They’re just sitting on the floor, refusing to do anything,” Grace said.
When Grace started at Arcadia, she had no real intentions of pursuing film. Now, thanks to her positive experiences with the program, she aspires to be a screenwriter or director.
“I only really planned on taking it just for one year to have fun, but I ended up falling in love with it,” Grace said.
“I think the programs are a very unifying thing to have on campus and kids just really look forward to it,” Alex, the club president, said.
Whether the next Spielberg is in this batch of young filmmakers remains to be seen, but for now, they are all having a great time.