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El Camino High School student Gregory McDonald filming a scene for “The Masked Robber” at Rawhide Ranch in Bonsall. Photo by Stephanie Wohlfiel
El Camino High School student Gregory McDonald filming a scene for “The Masked Robber” at Rawhide Ranch in Bonsall. Photo by Stephanie Wohlfiel
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El Camino High School students’ film wins first place at national film festival

OCEANSIDE — After traveling to New York City in early October to claim a first-place award at a national film festival, students in El Camino High School’s broadcast journalism class left inspired and motivated to explore new storytelling projects.

The broadcast journalism class is still very new to the school, having just started last year right in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teacher Sharon Strong recalled her concerns about how to teach a new, mostly hands-on class virtually, but they pivoted to make it work.

Strong’s class ended up making a short film that would later win first place in the Public Service Announcement (PSA) category at the All American High School Film Festival in New York City almost a year later.

The film was one of more than 40 other submissions in the category, and one out of 1,500 total submissions to the festival contest from around the country.

Students in El Camino High School's broadcast journalism class took a trip to New York in early October where they won first place in a national filmmaking competition for a short film they made last year. Photo by Shannon Drummond
El Camino High School’s broadcast journalism class on the red carpet in NYC. Pictured from left, Rhianna Hawley, Seth Bettis, Aaron Saldana, Logan Gibba, Anna Velazquez, Sam Rosales, Sharon Strong and Kingston Willis. Photo by Shannon Drummond

Early last school year, students brainstormed together and came up with the film, “The Masked Robber,” a short PSA film about COVID-19 mask-wearing etiquette told through a parody of an old, country-western movie.

“We were trying to entertain our students and staff during quarantine while also informing them,” said Anna Velazquez, a current senior who worked on the film last year.

The class had to receive special permission and agree to social distancing restrictions in order to physically meet on set at Rawhide Ranch kids camp in Bonsall to film their movie. For most of the students, it was their first time meeting each other.

“It was nice to finally be able to meet in person,” Velazquez said.

The movie was student-made with Strong as an advisor and another alumni student, Aaron Saldaña Cisneros, who directed and edited the movie. Each student rotated roles on set, jumping from audio production to shooting the film to acting on camera.

El Camino High School broadcast journalism students filming a short movie about mask-wearing etiquette. Courtesy photo
El Camino High School students Aaron Saldana (holding camera) and Logan Gibba filming a scene for a short movie about mask-wearing etiquette. Photo by Stephanie Wohlfiel

When students arrived at the festival in early October of this year, they were told the event would be both a humbling and inspiring experience.

“I didn’t really think about it at first, but then after I saw all of the other movies made by students I felt so humbled and so inspired,” Velazquez said.

Many of the locations where students were able to film alone impressed Strong. She noted that the pandemic gave students everywhere an opportunity to film at interesting locations that weren’t populated with visitors, like Rawhide Ranch.

“It was a creative time for students to take advantage of venues that were closed to the public,” Strong said.

Students also flexed their networking skills and made new friends while at the festival, some of which they’re looking forward to seeing again at the upcoming Student Television Network convention in February.

El Camino High School broadcast journalism students filming "The Masked Robber" at Rawhide Ranch in Bonsall. Courtesy photo
El Camino High School broadcast journalism students Fatima Manzano, Mary Boyer, August Niles and Anna Velazquez during filming at Rawhide Ranch in Bonsall. Photo by Stephanie Wohlfiel

Sam Rosales, a senior in this year’s broadcast journalism class, has a knack for networking and making connections with other student filmmakers who could be future colleagues.

“When meeting other filmmakers, you never know when there’s going to be an opportunity of me being in another city making a film, and I know someone there who maybe knows some cool spots and locations,” Rosales said.

According to Strong, nothing would have been possible without Career Technical Education, a department of the school district that provides several educational pathways like broadcast journalism through hands-on training and mentoring.

Going forward, the class hopes to make another film — or a few films — that they could submit to different competitions including the All American film festival so they can go back to New York next year.

They also want to master all of the new equipment that went unused last year in their studio on El Camino’s campus, clean up and improve their regular “ECTV” shows and ultimately set a high standard that will carry on with future broadcast journalism classes.

“Our emphasis is on storytelling,” Strong said. “We want to be storytellers.”

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