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(Pictured from left to right) Curran, Eli, Josh, and Samia hold the group's California Student Media Festival award for their film “Planets Got Talent.” Photo by Kaila Mellos
(Pictured from left to right) Curran, Eli, Josh, and Samia hold the group's California Student Media Festival award for their film “Planets Got Talent.” Photo by Kaila Mellos
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La Costa Heights sixth graders win award for animated film

CARLSBAD — Four sixth-grade students at La Costa Heights Elementary School took home an award at the California Student Media Festival for their animated film, “Planets Got Talent.”

The four students — Joshua Butson, Curran Galati, Eli Hirshberg and Samia Misbah — are members of La Costa Heights’ Film Guild, a districtwide program launched in 2015 by the Encinitas Union School District.

The program is intended for fourth through sixth-grade students to learn and engage in camera work, scriptwriting, production, and storyboarding to build career-ready skills. Students must apply to the program and once accepted into the Film Guild, they are expected to attend weekly meetings and work toward creating thought-provoking, inspiring films that cover subject matters appropriate for school and community distribution.

“What I love about the program is seeing them with this creativity,” said Shannon Schenkhuizen, a Film Guild mentor at La Costa Heights. “It’s very different from teaching math or teaching reading and the opportunities that they have. I’ve done this for seven years now, and I can’t get enough of the program because being with them and hearing creativity flow is just priceless.”

Schenkhuizen, who has helped direct Film Guild students over the past seven years, said this group jumped at the opportunity to create a new thought-provoking film.

“This group was focused, and they did not waste any time,” Schenkhuizen said. “They took on a huge project, a big skit. It had seven minutes; I’ve never had a film be seven minutes in length. So, they had a lot of work, not only the amount of animation they had to put into it, but the script they had to write for it, and they worked so collaboratively.”

The opening shot of “Planets Got Talent” with the host of the game show the four La Costa Heights Elementary School students created
The opening shot of “Planets Got Talent,” a film created by four La Costa Heights Elementary students. Courtesy photo

For this year’s media submission, the four students came up with the idea of creating a talent show of planets competing to be the new Earth because the current planet is getting too sick to support humans.

“It’s a comedic short film about a bunch of years in the future when humanity needs to pick a new home because Earth is dying,” Butson said. “In this universe, the planets have different personalities, and they’re part of a game show called ‘Planet’s Got Talent’ where each planet can come and show their talents, and then they pick who will be the new Earth.”

The seven-minute film took the entire school year until the deadline to submit the film in April to imagine and create all the planets. Each student in the group had a different role to complete. Stemming from the drawings of their minds of various planets, Butson, Hirshberg, and Galati were all responsible for making the animation in Procreate, and Misbah and Butson edited it together.

“I just remember we were editing the night before the deadline, which was crazy,” Misbah said. “It was really fun to make the entire year, and I think I haven’t had more fun ever in an after-school curriculum program.”

“It was like originally, wasn’t it, like eight and a half minutes, and we had to edit it down,” Butson said. “I remember I had it in iMovie editing it, and I’d cut it, then cut it again, and then take out little bits where it was paused in the conversation.”

Once it was finished and submitted to the California Student Media Festival, the group waited until the festival-style screening over Zoom to hear if they had won in any of the categories. The La Costa Heights Elementary film group was pitted against other middle and high schools since the students were all in sixth grade.

“The category that they put us against, we were in an academic category,” Hirshberg said. “We were put up against like a film about depression and anxiety, and then a film about racism and like Breonna Taylor. I didn’t think that was the category for us because it goes into these deep films, and then it plays our clip, and it’s like, ‘Stop picking your nose.’”

The group won an award for best use of humor.

“I was in my car on the way to a concert, and when I heard, I fell out of my chair, which is hard since I was wearing a seatbelt,” Butson said.

The group also won best art direction at the Encinitas Union School District’s Film Competition.

“I knew they had a special thing going,” Schenkhuizen said. “I pushed them so hard at the very end because they worked so hard that there was no way we would let these opportunities go by.”