Spy Hop translates kids’ creativity into results | ParkRecord.com

Spy Hop translates kids’ creativity into results

Frank Fisher, Of the Record staff

A dolphin may spy hop, or lift its upper body out of the water and look around to gain its bearings and check out an unfamiliar medium.

Something similar happens in Salt Lake City, as curious youth venture through the inauspicious glass door and climb the old stairway into the quaint, bustling studios of non-profit Spy Hop Productions, entering a world of sight, sound and imagination but not quite knowing what they may discover.

Helping youth find a cinematic voice is what Spy Hop is all about. Its also about giving potential young movie makers confidence, direction and responsibility that will accompany them as they spy hop into life. Taking their new-found knowledge and creating something special is no longer the unexpected with Spy Hop students.

To many filmmakers, the ultimate creative recognition of those in their craft is acceptance into the Sundance Film Festival.

In December of 2006, the Sundance Film Festival announced that Mother Superior, a short film produced by two Spy Hop students, had made the grade.

Alex Mack, 19, and Diana Montero,20, produced the documentary detailing Utahns’ methamphetamine use, the third highest in the nation. Mother Superior was chosen from more than 4,000 entries as one of 71 short films to be screened at the festival. Mack and Montero may be the youngest filmmakers to have earned the coveted Sundance seal of approval. That kind of recognition, especially at that age is almost unheard of.

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Spy Hop was established in 1999 by Rick Wray and Eric Dodd, to give underserved youth a voice through the rapidly evolving field of digital media. Larkin Sealy, the Spy Hop communications coordinator, said that some of the students who enroll at Spy Hop are not the most extroverted kids, but, she emphasizes, this is a venue for developing life skills, confidence and critical thinking.

Spy Hop does not actively recruit talent. "Everyone who’s here wants to be here, she said. "The kids find us." Nearly 3,000 aspiring communicators are helped by Spy Hop every year. More than 10,000 have worked with Spy Hop since its inception. Spy Hop staff say they want to provide a safe after-school learning environment for youth grades K-12. The group also has summer programs. During those summer sessions, kids as young as six may be working on Claymation videos.

Spy Hop offers training in filmmaking, audio productions, sound engineering, radio broadcast, graphic design and Web production. It has a full-time staff of 10 mentors and some of the latest professional equipment in order to help students keep up with the rapidly changing world of communication. It even has a recording studio, which students are able to book.

Jerrett Reich, a media producer and instructor at Spy Hop, teaches students ranging from six to 19. He believes Spy Hop inspires kids by not creating a classroom setting. "A school setting can be patronizing," he said. "You end up with a clear and concise structure of authority." Spy Hop allows students the freedom to create, with a mentor to guide them. And the experience can be liberating. "Kids who struggle in the classroom setting realize talents they didn’t know they had before," Reich said.

Reich said he loves his job. "One of the best things about my job is that nothing is ever stale. The content of what I do is dictated by the kids. I could be making a zombie horror movie one day, or a crazy comedy the next."

Richard Herbert, 16, was accepted as a filmmaking apprentice in July of 2006. He is studying video production, and intends to become a professional in visual effects. His final project is to produce a 20-minute video, which he hopes to do on his favorite subject, science fiction. Student films are bid on in an auction fundraiser, proceeds help fund Spy Hop.

These days, video has moved in on film’s territory, mostly because of the ease of making video, its high quality, and the expense of film. But film is still the Cadillac of motion pictures. "I don’t know if film is better, but its look is more familiar," said Sealy. According to media lab assistant, Margaret King, making a short film "costs more than a car and less than a house."

Herbert spoke of the latest craze to hit the Web, You Tube. "It’s a great opportunity, but it’s saturated," he said, adding that its easy to get lost in the overwhelming number of videos online. He did say that it’s a level playing field with the poor quality that all of them have.

Spy Hop is open to all youth, and is free. There is a cost for students entering the apprenticeship program, but students may receive financial assistance.

The success of "Mother Superior" may put Spy Hop even more prominently on the map, as a hometown success at the Sundance Film Festival, but the quiet successes are the thousands of kids who are inspired and helped on a daily basis by Spy Hop.

For more information on Spy Hop, visit http://www.spyhop.org ., or call (801) 532-7500