PCHS student film delivers an emotional message
Among the many expectations Heidi Hewitt had for the film, being moved to tears each time she watched it was not one of them.
Hewitt, a volunteer with the Park City High School parent-teacher organization, coordinates the school’s annual "docudrama," a live-accident presentation shown to seniors before graduation to demonstrate what can happen when people drive drunk. Tasked with coming up with a similar presentation for the dangers of texting while driving, she approached Kyle Fish, the school’s film teacher, about having students make a film on the subject.
Months of preparation, a couple days of filming and weeks of editing resulted in "These Memories," a short film about three students who get in a serious car accident when the driver is distracted by his phone. The film, which was made nearly entirely by students, was shown throughout the school and was screened last month at the annual Filmmaker’s Showcase.
"I was actually stunned by the final product," Hewitt said, praising Fish and the students who made the film. "Every time I show it, my favorite part is to watch the faces of the people watching it. They do get emotional. The guys try not to cry, but I tell everyone to get their tissues out. I’ve seen it I don’t know how many times now and I still get emotional."
Fish was initially intrigued by the prospect of making the film. But it presented a creative challenge: How could they make it so the message would reach each student who saw it?
"We wanted to make it applicable to each of them — not just the senior class or one segment of the students," he said. "The idea started out that we should make it very character-focused and follow one student’s journey through this event."
Once the story was hashed out, one thing became clear: Fish would have an unusual amount of resources at his disposal for a student-based film. Members of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, the Park City Fire District and Park City Medical Center agreed to participate, providing resources and appearing in the film as emergency responders. That allowed Fish and the students to aim for a realistic portrayal of the car crash.
"We decided early on that we didn’t want to pull any punches," he said. "We wanted it to really be a hard-hitting, deeply emotional movie so that it would really affect the students and cause them to make a change in their driving habits. We wanted them to be aware of the dangers of texting while driving and the reality of how quickly your life can flash before your eyes."
The movie has had a powerful effect on viewers. One day in the fall, it was shown to every class at the high school. Hewitt wandered the halls as the film played and saw teachers and students who were genuinely moved.
"The students were totally absorbed in it," she said. "We had teachers crying and leaving classrooms and students affected by it. We got a lot of really positive feedback. It did exactly what we wanted it to do. It was very emotional."
Mason Johnson, a student who plays the one teen who survives the crash, was nervous for the entire school to see the film. But, he said, it was clear that the movie left a profound impression on his peers.
"It felt like something more extreme than, like, the talent show," he said. "Everybody in my class would be seeing me do a very serious film. I was almost getting emotionally ready to handle people making fun of me for it, but the result was very positive. It seemed like it had a really strong, positive impact on everyone."
"Coming back into school after the showing felt very different from any normal school day," he added. "The whole vibe of the entire building was very serious. I think people were kind of shaken up by it."
For Jackson Merrill, a student who served as director of photography, the experience was similar. He has made films before — typically short comedies — but this one was different. He said he enjoyed being part of a film that had so many resources and one whose message is so important.
"It was really surreal to see it," he said. "When we were filming it, it was a lot of waiting and getting everything set up. Then once we started filming, it was crazy and everyone was running around everywhere. It was such a crazy experience to be around something so big."
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A district spokesperson said six students were removed from an area in the school as police conducted a search.