'Hollywood' comes to South Delta academies
South Delta Secondary's drama teacher, Paige Hansen, has made a mental note to keep the end of February free for at least the foreseeable, short-term future.
That's traditionally red carpet time at the annual Academy Awards show in Los Angeles. And judging by the vast number of her students who over the past two years have promised to invite her to attend the Oscars with them—if they get nominated—chances are she might just be busy some day when the famous, gold statuettes are handed out.
"I get it in writing all the time, you know. 'I promise to take Mrs. Hansen to the Oscars,'" Hansen said laughing. "I tell them that they should realize I will keep those (written) promises."
Possibly improving the odds of making it to "Tinsel Town" for the big show was Tuesday night's (Feb. 14) decision by Delta school trustees to add a TV and Film Production Academy—one of three new ones getting approval—to the district's already long list of specialty programs.
The other two, Lacrosse and the environmentally focused Sustainable Earth, bring Delta's total of academies to 11—the most of any school district in B.C.
Already in place are academies for baseball, two for ice hockey, film acting, golf, softball, soccer, and dance.
Learning side by side
Plans are to combine the Film Acting Academy at SDSS—which for the past two years has been run out of the Equinox Theatre at SDSS—with the new TV and Film Production Academy under one roof. Delta Manor Education Centre in Ladner is where Hansen would like to develop a "studio" setting where both streams of talent—those in front of and behind the camera—can collaborate and create a virtual "Hollywood South."
"We felt like to do this right we needed to move out of the (SDSS) theatre," Hansen said. "I really wanted the kids to step into a space—especially when we added on the film production academy—that was legit and had everything we needed, from lights to a sound booth."
Essentially, Hansen wanted a departure from the theatre environment at SDSS that meant sharing time with a number of other demands. Then there is also the benefit of overlapping talent.
"I want the two programs to run together so the kids who are making movies will be able to go and work with the kids who are interested in being in movies," Hansen said.
Current Film Acting Academy student Kenzie Peters said the new arrangement should be "awesome."
Developing a sense of community
"It's going to help the academy come together as a community and set the students apart from the school, so that after biology or math we can come here and really focus in on acting and performing," she said.
Fellow academy student Jordan Letawsky said the studio concept being envisioned will give students a sense of place.
"The hockey academy has the rink they get to go to, and that's their place. And the Sustainable Earth Academy will have the Earthwise Garden," he said. "So, when we have this, it will mean film, rather than a theatre."
Former hockey academy student who switched over to film acting, Trevor Feehan, said placing film acting and production in one place will create a "huge advantage."
"It can be a real studio setting and the more real world experience students can get the better they can be adjusted when they go out, start auditioning and getting roles."
The two academies are expected to occupy four to five rooms in the Delta Manor building which was closed several years ago due to dwindling elementary school enrolment in the catchment area.
More space may be required as the academy grows and increases its scope.
"Eventually, we're looking at green screens and you need a place when you're editing to have all your computers," Hansen said.
Final approval for that is pending further study by district staff.
Preparing for the working world
With British Columbia enjoying a robust film and TV production industry—according to a report by the Canadian Media Production Association the volume of production rose by 20.8 per cent in 2011 to $1.71 billion—the current economic climate appears favourable to launch the new academy.
The report goes on to state that in B.C. the industry provided 15,600 full-time jobs. And training grounds such as the one being created in Delta could end up being responsible for providing some of that talent.
"A student could go on and perhaps work in the industry, but over and above that, they will learn how to create films and put down their stories in a day an age when this type of technology is so prevalent," said Hansen. "This is how our world works now—through film and visuals."
"And if they do end up getting into the film business they'll know the process on a micro level and understand what's involved, mostly because the people they will have been working with do this for a living."
Among those playing a role is Ladner actor Richard Cox who will work with students in both academies, teaching acting and script writing.
Sandra Almond, a visual effects producer who lives in Point Roberts and worked on the Will Smith sci-fi film I Robot that was shot in Vancouver is another contributor.
"These people are incredibly generous and more than happy to come out and I guess give back because they know what it's like when they started out to have a passion for this and no experience," Hansen said.
In a district that has suffered chronic enrolment declines over the past few decades, Delta's academy system was developed as a means of offering specially focused avenues of study and skills development which could also help retain Delta students, and even attract some from outside the school district.
In 1980, Delta had a high of 18,763 students. The most recent figures for this school year put the total at 15,558. And that total is projected to slide even further in the coming years before bottoming out.
With per-pupil funding from the province for 2011-12 an estimated $8,357, even a slight decrease in student numbers can add up to a substantial loss of funding, so retention can help make a difference.
Currently, the seven existing academies have around 230 students enrolled, said Teresa Phillips, District Vice Principal of Academy Programs. Sixteen are international students. And a handful are from out of the district.
Each of the three new academies has the capacity to host up to 25 students and expectations are all of the spaces will be filled, Phillips said.
To pay for any extra academy specific costs, students are charged a fee of between $150 to $250 a month, depending on the academy.
Away from the financial figures, Hansen said one of the big benefits of the overall academy program is the opportunity to offer a finely focused learning environment that can help students determine if their particular path is one they truly want to follow.
Hansen had one academy student tell her near the end of the term she wasn't sure if film acting was right for her.
Hansen's reaction was, "That's fantastic. You'll never get to 30 and say maybe I should have tried acting," she said. "And there's nothing wrong with that. That's what this (academy system) should also be about—really removing the idea, with the film acting especially, the glamour of being famous and looking at the hard work that goes into acting. And if you're not prepared to dedicate your whole self to the process, you won't make it."