Seniors explore creativity through MAP Capstone project

November 15, 2019 — by Anna Novoselov

While most group projects for classes last only a few weeks, the Media Arts Program senior Capstone project spans the entire year and requires students to integrate what they have learned throughout their MAP experience. 

“We’ve spent three years in the MAP program doing all the different films they tell us to do,” senior Natalie Tarbox said. “We’ve explored lots of different genres, and I think the MAP teachers want us to express our own genres and explore different areas, which leads to personal growth.”

She will play the lead role in her group’s dark horror rom-com, which tells the story of a girl who accidentally kills her brother and then falls in love with a burglar who breaks into her house as she is hiding the body.  

Along with Natalie, her group consists of seniors Matilda Hickman-Smith, Veda Sethuramen, Sarah Smails and Ranna Zahabi. Smail’s brother, senior Chris Smails, will play the love interest while senior Gordon Schwabe will play the main character’s brother.

For the first three weeks of the project, the group brainstormed ideas but “nothing was clicking,” Natalie said. But when the proposal of a rom-com with a horror twist came up, the group members all approved of it and ideas began rolling off immediately.

“We knew we wanted to combine comedy and horror,” Natalie said. “We were just thinking: wouldn’t it be super funny if you took something like ‘Home Alone’ and added in an element of a love story and made it dark? We wanted to do something no one had ever tried before.”

The capstone project began with students choosing their groups of two to five people in August and will conclude with a final judging in April when students will present their final projects and discuss what they learned from the process. The first semester focuses more on planning, such as writing and approving the script, while the second semester is production-based, including shooting and editing. In total, there are 11 project groups and 53 students in MAP 12.

Although MAP students spend a significant portion of the year working on their capstone projects, there are also daily curricular projects that align with history and English classes. 

The most common option for the project is a 10-minute fiction film, but students can also complete a service project or documentary. In the past, there have also been projects dealing with video game design and animation. Some even end up being chosen for the All American Film Festival, including three groups from last year’s MAP class.

 While working on the project, students have a lot of creative freedom, which gives them the ability to explore their interests and strengthen skills that they would like to build a solid foundation for, such as editing.

Students are responsible for planning the project and producing it and do not receive much guidance for when, where or how to film. But they do have “deliverables” that include a story pitch, outlines, storyboards, script drafts and rough cuts of the films. 

“Mr. (Jason) Friend (the MAP English 12 teacher) and I are here to support, guide, and assess teams during the process,” Media Arts Teacher Joel Tarbox said. “Ultimately, we want to see each project succeed to the best of the team’s ability.”

Smails said that the project has already improved her screenwriting and taught her the steps to begin major projects. she loves that the project gives students so much freedom.

“It gives us an opportunity to explore our creativity with few limitations,” she said. “It also forces us to be independent, which is especially important for college.”

She encourages people to stay in MAP in order to have the chance to work on a project that is completely theirs. 

“Teams have to use all of the freedoms, supports, and resources to make something of value,” Mr. Tarbox said. “Students receive the benefit of really being able to sink their teeth into something and having a sustained effort.” 

He said that while students learn or sharpen skills such as writing stories or screenplays, video editing, animation, audio integration and design, they also improve soft skills like collaboration and project management.

“The project teaches you to work around issues that will invariably arise, from things like weather to communication with your team,” Mr. Tarbox said. “Collaboration sounds like a great thing and it is, but the drawbacks are that sometimes it doesn’t work well. You have people who don’t do what they’re supposed to do; it can cause stress in friendships and relationships.” 

He acknowledged that students may struggle to balance the different perspectives of group members and stay motivated to see the project to fruition. An effort of this magnitude inevitably results in students learning to “compromise, pick up the slack, and stick with something they’re tired of,” he said. 

While Natalie Tarbox (Mr. Toxbox’s niece) said that her group has had some difficulties finding a balance between spins on the basic idea of the film, all the members are passionate about the project.

“The best part is the team aspect,” she said. “I’m working with people I love to work with while the new perspectives are hard, they are super helpful and are the reason why we have such a cool idea.”

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