Athens film students’ public service announcements judged a cut above

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published November 19, 2019

 Madison Strachan walks the red carpet in Times Square at the Teen Indie Awards at the All-American High School Film Festival Oct. 13.

Madison Strachan walks the red carpet in Times Square at the Teen Indie Awards at the All-American High School Film Festival Oct. 13.

Photo provided by Christine Strachan

 Larry Gursten, left, and Steven Gursten, of Michigan Auto Law, congratulate Cameon Wade, center, on winning the Kelsey’s Law Distracted Driving Awareness Scholarship for her public service announcement on the dangers of texting and driving.

Larry Gursten, left, and Steven Gursten, of Michigan Auto Law, congratulate Cameon Wade, center, on winning the Kelsey’s Law Distracted Driving Awareness Scholarship for her public service announcement on the dangers of texting and driving.

Photo provided by Marx Layne & Co.

TROY — Two students — one past, one current — from Athens High School teacher Adam Burns’ writing for broadcasting class, aka Athens TV, created public service announcements that have received acclaim.

Madison Strachan, a senior at Athens High School,  filmed a PSA about gun safety. It was selected as a finalist in the 2019 Teen Indie Awards at the All-American High School Film Festival. She traveled to Times Square in New York City Oct. 13. The film didn’t proceed further in the competition, but Strachan is optimistic.

She said the 30-second video depicts a girl, played by Burns’ daughter, reaching into a jar of candy to the sound of a gunshot. The message is, if something is easily obtained, it will be obtained.

“This was the first video I ever made,” said Strachan, who created it for the National Council of Jewish Women’s Michigan video competition on gun safety. She found out in August that her video was an official selection for the 2019 Teen Indie Awards and in October that it was a finalist.

“It’s doing pretty well,” Burns said of Strachan’s film.

He explained that, for gun safety, he urged his students to convey their message without showing the actual focus of the topic — “What Does Gun Violence Prevention Mean to Me?”

“I encouraged them to come up with something that doesn’t have guns in it,” Burns said. “Then it will immediately stand out.”

“It was fun,” Strachan said of the Oct. 13 awards ceremony in New York City. She plans to study cinematography at Columbia College in Chicago after she graduates. She is currently working on a documentary and a couple of short films in Burns’ class this year.

Cameon Wade, a 2019 Athens High School graduate, won a Kelsey’s Law Distracted Driving Awareness Scholarship from Michigan Auto Law for her video submission.

The annual Kelsey’s Law Distracted Driving Awareness Scholarship is named after Kelsey Raffaele, of Sault Ste. Marie, who died in 2010 in a cellphone-related automobile crash at the age of 17. Kelsey’s mother, Bonnie Raffaele, worked with the Michigan Legislature to enact Kelsey’s Law in 2013, which prohibits Level 1 and 2 drivers from using a handheld mobile phone while driving a vehicle.

Burns said he encouraged Wade not to show actual texting.

That competition calls for the best video, tweet or graphic to convince young drivers to reduce distractions while driving.

“These are good examples of how writing is very important — it’s only 30 seconds. You have to hammer down the writing. It’s the bulk of the work,” Burns said.

Wade’s video shows a cellphone, but no actual texting.

She said she used video clips from her own life, “real moments and memories,” among other clips, but no new film and nothing depicting a crash, to convey a hundred different stories. Her message: You can end a hundred different stories with one decision.

Wade won third place in the C-Span 2019 StudentCam Documentary Competition; and two first-place awards, and second- and third-place awards in the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association Spring Awards program.

She also won four awards of excellence and one award of honor at the Michigan Student Film Festival for other videos. She was named to the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association All-State Journalist Staff list.

Wade attends Adrian College and is majoring in film.

“I urge anyone with a little bit of passion to experiment with it,”  she said, referring to filmmaking. “I fell in love.

“You are constantly learning new things,” Wade said. “To impact people, based on 30 seconds, it’s powerful.”

Brandon Hewitt, of Michigan Auto Law, said this is the third year they have partnered with Kelsey’s mother, Bonnie Raffaele, on the project. “She helped select the winners out of over 100 entries,” he said.

“The winners should really be proud of their work,” said Hewitt. “We’re shocked by the talent we see. It’s been pretty remarkable.”

He said the purpose of the scholarship competition is twofold.

“We want to help students with a financial boost. Second, we believe teens are lectured to by adults. Teens are the most affected by distracted driving. This is teens reaching out to each other, peer leadership, which will work better than parent pressure.”

“One good idea can impact a lot of people,” Burns said.