Chicago Summer Stories is a collaborative filmmaking experience for high school-aged creators. This year, Hollywood star Vince Vaughn not only instructed but became a co-teacher with program director Steve Douglass. By pairing students with professional mentors, they learned the ins and outs of filmmaking, but more importantly how to craft a personal story.
Steve Douglass is the co-founder of Summer Stories and teaches New Media at Lake Forest High School, in Lake Forest, IL. Steve first met and collaborated with Vaughn during a 50-year celebration of the program, where Vaughn is an alum. Vaughn reached out to Steve with ideas on how to expand the Summer Stories program and get involved and Steve was thrilled to have him on board.
Vaughn, the actor behind hits like Wedding Crashers, True Detective, and Brawl in Cell Block 99, wanted to take the Summer Stories program and adapt it into a new format: a camp program for students enrolled in high school or junior high.
Vaughn credits his early exposure in Lake Forest’s communications course as being influential in his career as an actor. “This was the class where I was hands-on and learned a lot,” says Vaughn. The process was “such a lightbulb moment for me. Getting to make choices. And then when I go back to the classroom, I’m watching others. I learned so much by being exposed to what their process was.”
“I called Steven and said…Is there a way to do something with junior high kids? To get them a little bit exposed to some of the film practical stuff?” Using Summer Stories and We Make Movies as a blueprint, the team brought together a greater age range of participants, as well as some A-list talent to crew up behind the scenes.
Director of Photography Patrick Jones broke down how he staged a music video he shot for Billie Eilish, commenting that just a few years ago Billie was a regular 15-year-old high schooler herself. Showcasing how different projects are staged, Vince adds, “you start to like a magician, show the magic tricks. This is how the hand is hidden.”
Chicago area Directors of Photography O’Connor Hartnett, Jordan Balderas, as well as Myles and Drew Beeson also lent their talents running cinematography workshops, as did many alumni of the Chicago Summer Stories program.
Media literacy is an important skill to develop, and not just for those who are hoping to start a career in the film and television industry. “These kids are using their iPhones, they’re making videos and editing at such a young age,” says Vince. “A girl came to me and said, ‘oh the push-in shot, I watched a movie and that’s what they were doing.’ So they start to become aware of the craftsmanship that goes on.”
As more businesses and organizations are tweeting and posting their way to success, a critical understanding of communication and structure will continue to be a highly employable skill. Visual communication will continue to be an important component of the modern workforce.
By learning how to collaborate with others, develop an idea, execute that idea, and submit a completed project for peer review, students obtain a special sense of accomplishment. “There’s nothing quite like actually executing it and doing it. It’s a great skill to have in life, but also in the workforce,” says Vince. “The composition of creating a short story as well as experience acting and learning, editing and shooting and framing and really soup to nuts the whole process.” Especially working with individuals outside of your own social circle.
The camp operated for two weeks and produced a range of projects. Starting with a 30-second short to familiarize the students with story structure; to a personal narrative project that was presented to friends and family of the group at Gorton Theater, a 300 seat movie theater that serves as a creative gathering spot in the community.
“It’s incredibly powerful.” says Douglass, “The parents are so proud and so incredibly thankful to be able to see what their child is actually doing. And then you can also show it to the community. It’s awesome.” Steve adds that often students will collaborate with local businesses, a process that is reflective and productive for everyone.
The duo of Steve Douglass and Vince Vaughn was a success and both agree. “Mr. Douglass has always done a terrific job. There is a shared viewpoint on kids giving them that opportunity, exposing them to storytelling,” raves Vince.
The two are discussing ways on how the program can be expanded further, reaching even more participants. By establishing what a curriculum looks like and continuing to roll out the Summer Stories in more areas like St. Louis, the road ahead is promising: “Vince validated what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years. That is to build a dynamic, personalized learning community focused on audience-based storytelling that is meaningful and life-changing.”
OWC participated in Summer Stories by providing each student with a Thunderbolt dock, Envoy Pros SSDs, and the Thunderbay 4 mini, and even a Jellyfish network-attached storage to assist with backups and video editing. “We are so thankful and blessed to have them on board again this year,” says Steve Douglass, “To provide the tools we need to make meaningful media that makes people think, laugh or cry.”
“For the second year, OWC is proud to play a significant role in the Chicago Summer project,” said Larry O’Connor, CEO and Founder of OWC. “It’s amazing to see our products being used for such a great cause. That’s what OWC is all about giving back to the community and innovative programs like Chicago Summer Stories.”
Vince is humbled by his experience working with junior filmmakers. He feels that finding alternatives to traditional classroom learning is a crucial way to keep students with different learning styles engaged, and that the results speak for themselves.
“You might end up discovering talent and helping talent, they’re going to have a really big head start at getting the confidence to play around with these ideas and these tools.” Many students who have completed the Summer Stories program in previous years have gone on to work in filmmaking professionally, and volunteer their time to keep the program moving forward on a mission.”