Steve Douglass is a role model for educators worldwide, as he develops new ways of teaching filmmaking/storytelling using mobile filmmaking as a medium for motivation and inspiration. Cirina Catania, OWC Host, spends a lively hour with him and you will certainly be entertained. How does he teach? What does he teach? And what are the results? For one, a coveted first prize at the recent All American High School Film Festival. Steve’s efforts are enthusiastically supported by several sponsors, including the folks at Other World Computing (OWC) led by Larry O’Connor, and the team at Apple. Join us. This will be fun!

In This Episode

  • 00:07 – Cirina introduces Steve Douglass, a teacher of media at the Lake Forest High School in Chicago. In this episode, Cirina and Steve put an emphasis on mobile filmmaking and why it’s making a huge buzz with Gen Zs. 
  • 06:59 – Cirina and Steve reminisce about outdated, manual techniques and processes in the media. Also, how easy kids today have it thanks to technology. 
  • 11:29 – Steve shares his class curriculum and what he likes his students to focus on when it comes to creating remarkable and meaningful films.
  • 16:31 – Steve introduces Chicago Summer Stories, what it’s about, and how it started. 
  • 26:52 – Steve summarizes a community project he worked on with his students and about how local businesses in their area were affected by COVID-19.
  • 30:44 – Steve explains how he organizes his students’ tasks from pre-production to post-production.
  • 37:00 – Steve muses about how social media plays a massive role in Gen Zs’ lives and how they can utilize it to create art and meaningful stories.
  • 39:10 – Cirina asks Steve about the changes and challenges of online homeschooling because of the pandemic.
  • 46:34 – Cirina wishes more people were like Steve, and share their knowledge with younger generations, so the art stays alive and continuously expanding.
  • 51:50 – Steve shares where people can find Chicago Summer Stories and St. Louis Summer Stories to learn more about filmmaking.

Jump to Links and Resources


Today we’re talking with Steve Douglass, who teaches on the North Shore of Chicago, at Lake Forest High School. He teaches media, and at the moment, he’s putting an emphasis on mobile filmmaking, which might be surprising to you for a media teacher at a major high school. He has a background in production at ESPN for many years. And he left ESPN and moved to St. Louis, where he began taking a lot of courses and getting qualified to teach at both high school and the college level. Steve, thank you for being here with us. You were at ESPN for many years, and I’ve heard that many, many times. I’m really curious about what you did there and what your specialty was.

Well, thank you so much, first of all, for having me. We were on a panel together in Final Cut Pro

Yeah, it was fun. 

Amazing experience, but also like being on that panel with such distinguished folks. And then, like, clearly everyone knew you. And I was like, “This is amazing. I can’t wait to have this conversation.” Because everyone respected what you do, so you were there. And thank you so much for sharing this space because this is an exciting time for education. It really is a dynamic time. And I think it’s great. Honestly, I think there’s a lot of wins and a lot of good stuff, which we’ll get to. But yeah, it all kind of starts back at ESPN. That was my dream job. I was very fortunate to get there when I was 22, just out of undergrad. I went to Bristol, Connecticut, where everything is still shot to this day, where they cut Sports Center, Baseball Tonight, all the different highlight shows, and I was one of about 150 people that applied. And they said, “Yeah, come on in, we’ll do it,” after a two-hour interview, it was insane. No benefits, and the highest cost of living state in the country, in Connecticut at the time. And it was sink or swim for six months. And so I learned from the best how to be able to cut short, quick, efficient highlights. And storytelling was the most important element. They said, “Hey, I don’t care about your formal teaching. In fact, less is more, and I don’t want you to come in with preconceived notions of film and how to do this or that. We want to train you on the most efficient model. And that’s what I took from there. And that’s what I teach now. But I did get to learn under the gauntlet like extreme pressure and lost 15-20 pounds, which was insane because of all the stress working from 6 pm to three or four in the morning. But it made me better. I was one of four people that actually got kept. It was super competitive. It was insane. But I stuck around and lasted for about a year and a half. But it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I didn’t want to just cut highlights from random sports and to be able to roll that out. Even though that was exciting and millions of people saw my work every day as a 23-year-old, I want to do something more meaningful. So I looked around, and I saw education as a space to be able to do that. And I never really thought of myself as a teacher, which I think is probably the best teachers are the ones that want to like, relive high school. Those are the ones you want to kind of avoid. It was good, but like, I think I can make it better. And that’s my entrepreneurial spirit coming out. And that’s why I became an educator. 

So at ESPN, though, you learned to work in a team, you learned to work quickly and efficiently. I’m sure you learn that it’s all about the story, as you said. For all of us, it’s always about the story. You can get away with an awful lot if you mesmerize people with the story. So I’ve noticed that what you are doing now with the young people that you’re involved with. It’s all about story. It’s about telling a story and changing maybe some of the gear that they’re using. But it’s pretty awesome. So you went from Connecticut to St. Louis, right?

I did. Yeah. So I did research all across the country because you’re exactly right. They had it, and they love story. That’s why I came to ESPN, honestly, is because I love the storytelling, but it would have taken me about six years to get to the level where I could actually go out and create content for E:60 or Outside the Lines are those kinds of long-form versions. And so that’s why I love what you do here, podcasting. It’s long-form. People can sit, listen, or watch engage it and actually understand the full context of that person’s experience and learn from it. And each time you do it, just like a good book, you pick out different things. And so it’s such a nuanced, unique element. I went and tried to find a master’s program and media literacy, which is thinking critically about media, deconstructing why it works, and thinking about it. How do you build up something that makes people think, laugh, cry, a range of emotions, not just trying to entertain like Hollywood or trying to go one specific path, but really helping people understand that power that the media has. And now here in the last 20 years, my goodness, it’s taken all kinds of amazing forms and formats. And the whole process has been democratized because of technology, which we’ll get to. But just the platforms that we can now access this information. I love it. I listened to your podcast in earbuds while mowing my lawn.

two kids editing film
To take a story, understand it, and then know the power of editing, as well as the responsibilities you have as an artist, is a whole other level.

Yeah. I remember when mp3s first came out, and I was showing them to my kids. That was a long time ago. Oh, my gosh. So at ESPN, what were you cutting on? What NLE were you using? 

Great question. There were two Avids in the whole entire place. In college, undergrad, I literally learned on my own with a manual with Avid, which, by the way, completely informs how I teach, which is the opposite. Like, I don’t deal with a manual. It’s all about hands-on constructive, get in, and work it out, figure it out, focus on the story. And then, we’ll build in and understand how to be able to use the tools to its fullest extent because that was so frustrating for me. And I was like, “Ugh, but nobody was there to teach me.” And so I was like, how do you do this, then I go to ESPN, hands-off only those elite folks over there can do that. So here I am coming up with a whole highlight, discussing it with a highlight supervisor going through all these channels. So somebody else could edit it. And I’m like, “Oh, just let me do it.” Like, let me go and just put this together. It’ll happen so much quicker. But that’s how it was done. So I literally had an editor with a three quarter inch tape to then half-inch tape, like cutting these things together. And I’m like, this is insane. Like, what are we doing? And I could see that things were kind of loosening up. I had my own camera, GL2. I was editing an Avid at home. But when I go to ESPN, my hands are tied, and I’m like, “This is insane.”

Back then, we used to use media log, and we used to sit, and we go to the library. I’m telling this because this sounds like an arcane. I mean, in the distant past, I would literally walk into the network. And I would go to the library, and they would hand me the tapes that had been shot the night before. Or I don’t know if you had to do any of this. 

Yep. I’m with you.

And you have to walk down the hall with this big pile of tape, you’d put it on the desk, you’d turn on media log, and you’d start literally with the tape machine. Don’t ask me how the technology works. I just know that I’m watching things with visible timecode on them. And you’re picking the shots. So then you had to give the night editor the cuts that you wanted them to use.

The list of edits. And then what we would do at ESPN because we had to turn around things really quickly, is then we would have to go in, and I would write out every single set up like play pay off. And I would write all that, give that to Dan Patrick Stewarts, we got all the folks there. And so my handwriting had been really good, but also the editor next to me was under a time crunch. And here we are, like watching ESPN, we’re in the commercial break, and I have to like get this guy to move. So I’ve got to be super chill, like as a producer, make sure he can actually do it. But I’m writing out every single piece. And if you messed up one single thing, you put two outs instead of one out, and they would literally write up an email every single night. And they would mark out the things that you messed up. And it was like pure terror as you’re under this incredible stress. That’s why I lost 15 pounds. I was like a college athlete coming into this. And I was like so spent every single night because of the stress. And it’s like, why? Like what? It’s crazy.

I think a lot of people who don’t even know about how we used to do it back then, they take for granted how easy it is.

Long ago given up on that dream of telling kids how hard it was because you’re like, “Okay, all right.”

You should make a grainy movie, like a super 8 style movie with grain everywhere on how you digitize. Remember? Because you have to digitize.

A hundred percent. And honestly, I lost a lot of kids when I started teaching back and even like, 05′ because of that process. How do you capture, right? And I would do it in the old Final Cut, I would do Premiere, and it was like such a ridiculous process that I would lose creative kids because they’re like, “I’m done. Step eight, I don’t even know what I’m doing wrong.” So I was like, “Okay, you’re right.” As soon as Final Cut X came out, I’m like, I’m in because I just want to put all of this on the side and be able to jump in really quickly and help kids, particularly girls, get to that place of storytelling, and then that’s where then everything kind of flowed from there. Then we could go through the drafting process and really build a story as it happens. You get all of the needless elements of how things used to be done out of the way. And you let kids particularly, and this is where I saw, when Final Cut X came out, it was like a complete game-changer. Because what took students, particularly girls, like a day or two to put something together was within like, 10 to 20 minutes. It was like, they got it, and they did it. Not only girls but boys as well. And these were kids in high school, and they started then being able to create stories that mattered. And that really meant something. And it wasn’t their first, second, fifth, or seventh, but it was like after that, then they started to get it. And that’s the beauty of this. It’s become so easy and accessible. And as hard as it used to be, it’s a beautiful thing now.

It really is exciting, isn’t it? We’ve taken away a lot of the barriers, and the important thing is that you’re teaching the kids, and I’m allowed to call them kids because I’m a lot older than they are.

I call them kids too.

The really amazing thing is that you are opening them up to allowing these stories to come to them. And this is just me gleaning from watching the videos, and it was so heartwarming to see them telling personal stories. So in order to get there, you have to teach. So can you talk about what your curriculum is? What kind of things do you focus on when you’re teaching your classes?

Even before you teach, you have to trust, and you have to build that trust. And I think every good teacher knows that. And every good educator, but also anybody who you’re interacting with, you need to earn their trust to be able for them to tell real stories and things that they genuinely care about. You need to give them access, and you need to open that opportunity. And so, the biggest challenge that I typically see with students is that they’re afraid to fail. And so that’s what I attack right away is getting over that fear. And that’s something that I grew up within education. And that’s the biggest problem within education as a whole is kind of the test, the fear-mongering, the “Okay, what do I need to do? You tell me what to do.” And it’s antithetical to creating really meaningful content. And so you have to kind of go there, you have to kind of figure that out before, I believe you can really teach creative storytelling and real meanings. So there has to be trust, which means you know what, we’re on the same page here, we want to do this, we want to go through this process, we want this to be effective for our audience. And that’s a significant difference as well. So there’s a difference between me creating for me and any kid who can do that with YouTube. Any kid can do that on their phone, and they do it every single day with TikTok with all of these apps they’ve been creating for a while, but they’re not telling meaningful stories, even though Snapchat very smartly called Stories, right? And then Instagram stole that and Facebook as well. That’s not real great storytelling, and it’s just kind of replicating or just seeing somebody else and just copying them, right? So how I see it, it’s very constructive. You have to build that trust, build that confidence through repetition, and if and when they do, they do it quickly. And then you come alongside them and go, “Hey, we’re all trying to figure this out.” And I tell them all the time, and I’ve produced over 15,000 projects, I’ve never made a perfect one. And I never will. But you have to have a growth mindset to go, “This is what I learned from the last one. And I’m gonna make it better.”

girl shooting a movie on an iPhone
As educators, we need to equip our students and walk them through the process as many times as possible to get the confidence they need.

I love that you said that because I have never met a creative person that has told me they were finished with something. There’s always, no matter who you are, no matter how high up on the ladder you are, there’s always something else. I wish I had done this, or I could have done that, or that’s just part of the process. I think we need another word for fail. I think “fail” is an awful word. I don’t know what the replacement is. But it’s like experimentation. Maybe that one didn’t go right. Let’s find something else, and remove that. Don’t try to make it perfect. I love that you’re teaching them that.

You’re right, failure is inevitable. But then you even say those things, anything you go with the F word; fail or fear, then people just immediately tense up. It’s like a human reaction because we’ve been normed. But if you think about this iteration, we’re always kind of continuing to go through, and design thinking obviously is embraced this last ten years, it’s become much more comfortable in the way that people think about it. And we all as creators are like, “Wow. Yeah, absolutely. It’s iteration.” There are iterative elements to it. We’re always trying to make this better. Sometimes we don’t, and that’s okay. And so, that is such as you can imagine, for an adolescent who already is trying to question kind of everything. It actually works really well because they’re taking that internal like challenge, and it’s channeling into something positive. And so yes, trust is the first part, but then it’s constructive. We get the camera, the iPhone in their hands right away. And I do this with my curriculum as well, and we start building and creating, like the first week or two, just to make sure that they get out there. And they understand the process because the process is so incredibly important. And then not to worry about the product, but just getting out there, and iterating and creating, and we do it in community as well. So it’s so important to be able to center them around other like-minded folks that understand kind of the culture in my classroom, which is totally different than a lot of other cultures, certainly, in other subject areas. But within that creative field, you have to build in a feeling like you know your voice is important, it’s validated. And so doing this, having conversations, asking good questions, and giving them a chance to share their story early, just verbally. That’s what we do in Chicago Summer Stories, what we do in my class. I don’t start with a syllabus, I start with asking them questions, and then they break up, they interview each other. And then you have to spend a minute to be able to introduce the other person, just getting them outside of their comfort zone, so that they can feel validated. And they can have somebody who takes an interest in them. We as humans, we desire that we want that, we need that. And if you do that verbally, and then it builds your confidence to scaffold that into actually doing that on camera and then building full stories.

In film, it's crucial to make your students, team members, and crew feel validated. Let them know that their voice is important and their contributions are appreciated. Click To Tweet

That’s awesome. So before we go too much further, and I do want to get back to the gear, tell people who might not know what Chicago Stories is and what Saint Louis Stories are. Because you’re involved with both, right?

Yeah, so Chicago Summer Stories was the initial kind of idea and development out of Apple; they said, “Hey, you know what we want to just test out and see where people are using Final Cut Pro. And so Luke, who was doing that, did it in LA, with Sam Mestman, who did an awesome job, where they actually worked with RED and like, did a really high-end kind of thing. And they had three different groups. One was a woman who was a great documentary filmmaker, another one was kind of an older individual, and then they had a group of students. And what they took away from that is the students actually killed it. They’re the ones that did exactly what we’re talking about. They took what they had, and they weren’t mesmerized by the RED as much as they thought they were. They were like, “Hey, let’s just go for it. Let’s just do this.” And they saw so much growth out of these high school kids that Luke actually came to Chicago, and I met him about three or four years ago. And he came to us, and he’s like, “Hey, we’d love to bring this to Chicago. What do you guys think?” And I’m like, looking around the room over these other educators. And I’m like, “This is gonna be amazing.” And so I waited for a second, and then I pitched the idea. I’m like, let’s bring everybody in Chicago together, city, suburbs, different neighborhoods, bring everybody together to tell the stories of our city because we can. Because otherwise, we aren’t. And we’re so separated, and we’re so divided. And now this was like three years ago, right? Think about it now, even more so. We had protests going down, and they closed down highways that summer. It was such an interesting kind of forbearance of what we experienced just this past summer. And it was all happening in Chicago. And there’s this kind of vibe going on. But we were able to pull 12 kids; six from the city, six from the suburbs, from a variety of programs. Some had a lot of experience, and others didn’t have much experience at all. Which really didn’t matter because we said, “Hey, we want to start, and we’re going to go from the first day, we’re going to do exactly what I mentioned before, we’re going to have conversations, we’re going to get to understand each other, we’re going to learn from each other and ask questions and to be able to really build those relationships that are essential for us to be able to connect and be able to build this out.” The first year was six weeks. It was a long time we were in the city, and kids are commuting. It was insane. It was a hot summer, and yet everybody kind of pushed through made some incredible content. We asked them, “What do you guys want to do? What do you want to say? How would you use this incredible opportunity?” And they said, “We want to tell the story of our generation.” Because Gen Z, at that point, was relatively a new term that some of the kids had to Google. But what do people need to know? What do you exactly know about your generation? What do you need to know about your generation? And they said, “You know what, really, we’re all about entrepreneurship. We’re all about activism. And we’re also about social media.” So we’re like, “Great, let’s do it.” And so we took their lead. We facilitated it. We brought an amazing team around them to kind of cultivate these stories. They went out and interviewed everybody, shot it on the iPhone, used Filmic Pro, which was absolutely amazing. We brought in Audigy, all these different incredible, like audio pieces here. Like boom mics, and it was amazing to see the way that the kids didn’t bat an eye. They took it, and they’re like, “Yeah, great.” Some of these kids had experience with some of the other cameras, but they totally changed their whole mindset around mobile filmmaking as well as accessibility. And the coolest part was when you walk in with an iPhone, and you’re shooting, nobody thinks twice. When you go in with a big camera, that’s a totally different story.

When you're shooting with an iPhone, nobody thinks twice. But when you go in with a big camera, that's a totally different story. Click To Tweet


Where you can access and do things that otherwise they never would. Apple just made things happen. They opened up opportunities. Apple Music was actually in town. So they got to go to a concert, which was absolutely incredible. They were there in the pit shooting. It was amazing. There are so many incredible experiences that changed their life. But really, it was the process of them collaborating with kids that they never ever would have met otherwise. And that’s really one of the many special things about Summer Stories is the fact that we’re bringing kids together, juniors to be seniors. So they’re at that formative time in their life, where they’re really putting elements together, really thinking critically about their identity, their place, their culture, bringing them together to really think strategically about what stories matter to them. And what could you tell that specific audience. And we showcased it at the Apple Michigan Avenue store in Chicago, and it was just the coolest thing. So packed out the place with a couple of hundred people there, and these kids were rockstars. Afterwards, my favorite part is I just asked him questions like, tell us about what you learned. And I looked at the crowd, and they were all really impressed by the work. And you should check it out because it’s really impressive stuff. But for them to actually stand and talk about what they did and what they learned, amazing. In their own voice, talking about how they work through different conflicts and collaborative roadblocks and problem-solving of this, that and the other, it was the coolest thing in the world. And now like they’re working together, so literally three kids didn’t know each other at all before have their own production company. 

Oh, that’s awesome.

Doing this at 21, going around the country, doing what they were hoping to do, and what they’re passionate about, and they’re not waiting. Yes, a couple of them are in school, one of them’s not in filmmaking at all, but they have their own production company. And it’s like, why not?

Well, video is becoming more and more important anyway. You don’t have to do video to put stuff up on film, television, or Netflix, and you can do video and do corporate videos. A lot of corporations are hiring people to do videos. And I think the recent statistic that I saw about a year ago was that 75% of the American corporations are budgeting for video now in their marketing budget because that’s the best thing to do. So you’re giving these kids a voice. You’re giving them confidence. And the other thing that really appeals to me just personally, as I go around the country filming in a lot of the smaller towns, I see that there is no documentation of the history of the town, except for maybe some of the church groups or the women’s groups that put books together with pictures. And so now you’re giving these people an opportunity to tell local stories that will become a part of this huge patchwork quilt of America and the world. And I just get excited thinking about it.

Now that’s a beautiful analogy, the tapestry, you think about that within kind of a quilt, right? It’s all of these stories that are intercut between those. And that’s what we saw in St. Louis, and it was absolutely phenomenal. We were able to work with the Cardinals, which is like the biggest brand probably in the Midwest, a huge brand, but also in St. Louis. I mean, it’s amazing, but they had a great partnership with this mercy hospital, which does amazing adolescent treatment for cancer patients. And so we were able to connect these high school kids with cancer recovery. Students were just around the same age. And to hear their story, we were virtual, and we’re doing it on Zoom, you wouldn’t even know. Literally, the way that these kids were connecting was just incredible because it’s their story. And the kids stepped up, and they asked great questions; they were engaged the whole time. But to take that story and understand it, but then know the power of editing and what responsibilities you have is a whole 

‘nother level. So the conversations that we had with them go, “Okay, what stood out for you?” Totally different from one kid to the next to the next. So documenting these are really important. But going through that process and really coaching and leading students to do that, that’s transformational. Because it changes the way they think, it changes the way they understand the responsibility of storytelling as well as their community and their part of the community and the power that they have to be able to positively impact those around them. That is social responsibility. That is giving them something with an iPhone, literally, and Saramonic mic, you are good to go. Because they’re editing their in Final Cut, and they’re turning the stuff around. We created, I think it was about 50 pieces of content in two weeks. Absolutely crazy with kids that had very little experience coming in. And that’s the beauty of it. And that’s where I would go. Yes, corporate is 75%, totally makes sense. 100% are doing social media. And you can never develop enough content to be able to satiate the audience, right? So that, to me, is where I focus my curriculum. It’s all about social media storytelling and figuring out ways to be able to do that well, and It’s impacted our community here in Lake Forest Lake Bluff, which is in the northern part of Chicago. It’s amazing like you post a video to your point, and you put it in some of the different community groups 3000-5000 views in a couple of days. The amplification is insane.

The biggest question in making a film is how you want to impact your audience. What do you want them to think and feel? Click To Tweet

Awesome. So you prep with them, you teach them how to shoot if they don’t know, and how to use the equipment. So I’m assuming you have the iPhones, and you have iOgraphers. And you have tripods, and you have microphones, whichever company you’re using for mics. So you’re teaching them to work in teams and share responsibilities, which is wonderful. So they’re learning all of that. And then, in the post-production, you’re on Final Cut. The school, I guess, buys laptops, right?

Yeah, so we do. In fact, we’re incredibly blessed. In the classroom itself, we have iMac Pros, which are just amazing. Like, I never ever thought we’d actually be able to get that, to be honest. And our IT director kind of surprised me a couple of years ago, and I’m like, oh, my goodness, we have gigabit, switch, and we have like everything on a server, and we can just access this incredibly quickly. But during remote, it’s been challenging, to be honest. We’re still shooting the kids on their phones. At least what I found is no matter what socio-economic group, a lot of kids have iPhones. It’s pretty amazing. And they’re not dumb about that. So the device you use most is the one in your pocket. And so that phone, goodness, Apple sent just a couple of weeks ago, the 12 Pro Max to like, just test out and try it. Oh my goodness, we were doing this community-based project, helping local businesses share their stories about how they’re transitioning with COVID going to take out, sharing those community stories. So I just took it with me along with a digital SLR, I left the digital SLR in the car, and I’m like I am shooting with Filmic Pro, here I am like literally rack focusing the shots. I’m not even shooting in 10-bit HDR here. I’m like shooting just with the phone, and it is phenomenal. So that footage is incredible. And I love the fact that Apple is made Final Cut Pro free for like 90 days. So every one of these kids can have access to that, they have a Mac at home, which is the vast majority of them, even if our school, which is Chromebook, unfortunately for now, like they have a Mac at home because they know what actually works. And so they’re gonna invest the money into doing that. And it’s awesome. Because even with kids who are just learning Final Cut, even in remote, it works. It’s just that they can get into the magnetic timeline, which I love because a lot of our work starts with narrative. So cutting those things out, you’re not moving, ripple deleting, you’re just it all kind of consolidates, which works in the mindset of how kids kind of grow up, right? Not even just from iMovie to Final Cut, but just it makes sense for them, right? So they’re building these assemble edits, and then they’re adding in B-roll, and it just starts to put the pieces together. And then they’re like, “Yeah, okay, I get it, I get it.” And then the cool thing about remote, there’s many cool things about remote is when they’re stuck, share your screen, boom, boom, boom, done. Like way, more efficient than even the classroom. It’s incredible. Or we’ll have it as a whole group. And then I’ll have a couple of other TAs or advanced students in my class who are mentoring. They’ll go to a breakout group or just right there, “Oh, yeah, use this tool, do this, do that.” It’s awesome to see the collaboration, see the other kids jump in and want to help out. That’s the community part of it, and that’s such a rich and important part of what we do. Not only in my classroom but also in Summer Stories as well.

I love these kids. I can’t say enough about them. It’s an amazing generation.

It is, and they aren’t going to stop. They are bent on changing things for the better, which we can all say we need, no matter what generation we’re in, and they want to do it. And they’re going to do it. And so what we need to do, and as educators, we need to come alongside them. We need to not only equip them, which is honestly I think the easier part. But we need to just walk them through that process as many times as possible as quickly as possible so that they get the confidence that they need because they’re doing it. They’re doing it on TikTok poorly. They’re doing on Snapchat even worse. So let’s give them guided instruction here. Can we do that? Yes, we can. And you don’t have to be a teacher in a classroom. That’s the cool part. Like you can mentor if you’re a filmmaker. If you’re a creator anywhere in the world, you can connect with the next generation and give them feedback, right? They’re used to putting stuff up on YouTube and trolls jumping on there. There’s the opportunity. You can go in and give them a really thoughtful encouraging constructive critique just today, literally, and that would make that kid, that person, that girl in Germany, who knows what, that would make their day, and you would make a lasting impact. So I feel like we, as in like, the older generation, have such an opportunity. And we really have no excuse not to.

Three kids walking down the street and talking
Kids these days aren’t going to stop. They’re bent on changing things for the better.

No, I love it when a student says that their life has changed because of something that they’ve learned and their family’s life has changed, or they’re excited about it where they weren’t before. I can’t imagine. You look so excited about what you do. You are probably like the Pied Piper, and I want to be a fly on the wall of your classes. Do you go over things like shot lists and prep, and is anything that you shoot scripted with them, or is it all unscripted?

Oh, no, no, we are highly organized. But once they get into it, they start to see the real reason why you do it. And that’s why I say you start off constructively like they need to learn to understand the value and the usefulness of what they do. We were just incredibly fortunate. We just won the All American High School Film Festival, which is literally the top student film festival in the world. 

I’ve been there. It’s amazing. I gave a presentation there a couple of years ago. Unbelievable. Were they in that old theater? Where is it? Was it in Brooklyn?


That beautiful theater.

Because of COVID, we couldn’t go to New York. So they opened it up. And there are 115 schools across the world literally, like Chinese Taipei American School, and like Germany, Australia, all over the US. And everyone had the same prompts; four weeks. So we went through pre-production steps, production, and post, and we did nine drafts on the post, and it was all in Final Cut. It was absolutely incredible. But yes, I had an amazing group of seniors, 10-11 seniors who are eight of them want to go to film school, six or eight to 10 of these, maybe all of them will do this the rest of their lives. And I didn’t even have to push them on the pre-production because they understood the value, and they were determined because they want to be organized. We had literally different department heads, and they had a whole mentoring structure. It was amazing. I showed up to the shoot during COVID, making sure everything’s cool, everyone’s masked up, everyone’s engaged, everyone knows exactly what’s going on. It was phenomenal. It was so cool to be able to see that. But it was all because of the organization, because of the pre-production. The writing drafts, I think they went through 13-15 drafts of their scripts, which end up about six or seven pages, all the prep, makeup, you name it, it was all happening in front of us.

Like a whole mini production, that’s awesome.

It was super cool. It’s really fun to watch, and it’s humorous. They really were thoughtful, and the story is, I think, spot on. And if people disagree, let me know. I’d be happy to hear because, again, we’re always making this stuff better. But it was cool to see the students really demonstrate that and to be able to create at an incredibly high level. So this isn’t just the camera in your pocket, which I love, because that truly democratizes the process everybody can be involved in. But these kids are doing really high-level stuff, like stuff that I wasn’t part of, honestly, until I was out of college. And these kids are gonna go to USC to NYU, and they want to go to the top film schools. But I, as a teacher, that’s not my goal. My goal is not to send every kid through that process because it’s being disrupted. But it needs to be a fit for them, their family, the value proposition of college is questionable. So there’s a lot of pathways to be able to do that. And to your point, my passion with all this is that every single kid can tell their story to their specific audience. So that’s why I created showNtell, which is basically on the Lean Startup model where I’ve evolved it and changed it because I’ve tested it about five to 6000 times with students to figure out what are their pain points, which is the very beginning, like the idea, right? The blank page paralyzes us all. Where do we start? So I created a structure that works really easily and works really well, highly customizable to teachers, to other folks to help infuse that kind of direction where you’d like to take them. So I opened it up and made it much more accessible. And then I let them kind of run with that, and then they verbalize it. They say it out loud. And then they realize that there’s a difference in the way that I speak versus the way I write. I’m doing this, by the way, with about 500 kids right now. So as we’re going into the finals, instead of the Scantron, fill it out. They’re going through this to talk about what they did and what they learned in their social studies class, in their science class, in new media, which is what I teach. And so they go through that, and then they draft. So they send a draft, they have their audio, and then they add video to be able of their projects to be able to summarize their semester’s worth of work. And then they just go through that. For the majority of them., they’re going to be doing it just during an hour and 40 minutes I have during my final. So I’ve got kids who’ve done this 6, 7, 8 times, and they are dynamic, really good. But the coolest ones are the ones from Summer Stories. Because the kids during the last day for the last three Summer Stories, I had them go through this process. And it’s amazing. So they talk about what they did and what they learned. I knew nothing about this. And now, look what I did, and look at how much I learned. And I actually question that. It’s not what I did, and it’s not to brag in any way. It’s a very humble, honest, like, this is what I’m learning. Because we haven’t learned it all, and we haven’t figured it out. And those stories are so compelling. And it’s really rich to be able to see that. And for me, as an educator, that almost brings me to tears because it validates all the hard work. All the effort that I put into it is for them to learn. That’s what I care about, their growth, right? It’s not about the end product, and it’s about their process. And that, for me, is amazing.  

There’s a big difference, and we ran into this when we were teaching Smartphones Studio here in Rancho Bernardo, near San Diego. We brought elementary school kids and high school kids. We had all ages in their elementary, middle, high school. And they all did great, and they did great. They had no fear. I mean, literally, you open up Final Cut. They had never seen it before. And they’re asking you questions about, “Well, I want this shot to go slower. What do I do?” Or “I want to speed it up. What do I do?” Or “I don’t like the color in this. How can I change the color?” Or “The audio doesn’t sound really good. Can I do something to fix it?”

Like when they ask questions because that’s intrinsic motivation. They care so much, and they want to do it. You’re gonna be like, “No, no, no, you need to go back and understand what this means. “Follow them. They’re passionate.” 

Yeah. But the one thing that came up was we were talking about creating a story. And we were thinking beginning, middle, and end that in the new social media environment, what is the story? How do you explain to them what a story is?

Great, great question. So I always start with a prompt because that is a really difficult question. And you know what, people have been discussing that for thousands of years, right? Like, what is the story and sitting around campfires? I’m sure they were discussing that. And you can get down that rabbit hole pretty quickly. But what we talked about is what do you want your audience to think, feel, laugh, cry? How do you want to impact your audience? I was doing this today with that same group of seniors as they are starting the senior digital short, which is like a 15 to 20-minute short film, and they could literally talk about anything. And here they are in remote, and they could be bemoaning this and saying it’s the worst thing in the world. But here they are, working through this production process and understanding what story do they want to tell. And so I go back to a lot of different things to tell the story that you know. So good writing happens and starts with your own life experience. And who is your audience, and how do you want them to feel at the end of this? Those are some of the foundational questions that we talked about all the time? Because it is important. Because otherwise, it’s paralyzed. Like, I don’t know what story to tell. It’s the showNtell thing too. The first question is, who’s your audience? And then what do you want to communicate with them? It’s not about just what I think. In fact, there are centuries worth of content on YouTube about just whatever I want to do. Nobody watches that. Nobody engages that, like, that’s just narcissistic, kind of drooling. People care about intentional ideas, context, giving me something that I’ll remember that you take me on a journey. There are so many ways to go about doing it, that it shouldn’t be restrictive, it’s quite the opposite, and it takes time. As you know, as I know, it doesn’t just immediately come to you. You’ve got to iterate, and you’ve got to kind of figure it out. But hey, let’s get rid of all the bad projects early and then get them moving along so they can iterate their way to success. 

Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. So talk to me about homeschooling and how that’s going. Because a lot of people, like we were talking about earlier, a lot of people are really down on it. Is there anything you can tell number one to the parents and number two to the kids about how to make it more successful for them?

I appreciate you bringing this up because it is a challenge. There’s no doubt about it. And it’s very easy to go to the negatives, right? The lack of socialization and the challenges of just connection and learning and way too much screen time. Those are all true. But what I say is we’re in a pandemic. And let’s look at history, this is not the bubonic plague. We haven’t lost 75 million people. Well, we don’t seem to be smart with that. So let’s make the best of what we have. So let’s look at the winds that we’ve experienced with this; time. Time with my family has now become something I couldn’t do before. I’m a coach. I’ve coached soccer, both boys and girls fall and spring as well as club and not having between three-thirty in the afternoon and six o’clock for me to be on a field coaching somebody, I now have time to do this, to be able to do professional work for nonprofits, and neighboring communities who couldn’t do a gala this winter, because of COVID. But now I can help serve them, I can spend more time with my wife, my two boys and go and do experiences. We did a lot of walks together. We’ll never ever, ever get that time back. And people always talk about what is the one thing as you look back, kids grow up so quick, or families move on so quickly. Now’s our time to kind of reprioritize. And if you’re not doing that, you should, because you can, again, look at it two different ways as an opportunity or as a cost. And so I think within education specifically, I see a lot of wins. So I teach freshmen through seniors. Freshman year is always super awkward, and everyone remembers that, right? Coming to a new school, everyone’s checking each other out and the rest. Now think about this, these freshmen are coming in, and it’s virtual. There’s so little of the kind of like zoo mentality of everyone checking each other out, because you’re on a screen. And after a little bit, you just don’t think about that you focus on the teaching, the learning, the instruction and what you’re doing. And what’s so interesting, I talked to a local psychologist here, and they said, “You know what, we’re seeing way less depression, because the kids aren’t so worried about their anxiety of just how everybody else is seeing them, how they’re being perceived, specifically girls and body issues, not nearly as much because of remote.” And I was like, “That makes a lot of sense.” I feel like I am teaching like an all-boys or an all-girls school, because there’s none of that bs of like, everyone trying to figure that out. They themselves are super resilient. They’re figuring this stuff out, they’re making it happen, they can between classes, run outside, like my boys do go on a trampoline and expend all that energy during middle school. They do not have to deal with all the drama of middle school, they can just go and get their work done, and then go. My boys have gone literally to the golf course, the last three or four days, 33 degrees in Chicago, they’re at the golf course because they want to get outside, enjoy that for like, literally play two or three holes, then they come back here. And then they’re ready to go. They’re rocking it. And then after school, they’re gone. They’re out doing other things. And they’re the ones making those calls. They’re the ones asking that. We aren’t the ones carting them from one place to the next and being on this crazy schedule. And it’s really quite an interesting thing. I think once we step back and look at this going forward, of how transformational this time is going to be. Either if you’re intentional or if you’re reactive, we’re all going to change. And so it’s a matter of what are you going to do with that opportunity.

I think parents that are homeschooling are getting to know their children in a much more intimate way than they ever have before. I know I’ve had conversations with parents that are homeschooling, who are telling me things like, well, I never knew my son loved science so much. It’s just amazing. And the other thing is as siblings because they’re spending more time together, they’re learning how to interact and play, they play together more. I think the one good thing that’s going to come out of COVID if we can try to focus on the positive, the one good thing is that families are going to be closer, and we’re going to have more of an appreciation of the things that are really necessary as opposed to the things that we really don’t need. And I’ve heard a lot of people saying, and I don’t ever want to go back into an office, I’m happy being at home, I got dinner on the stove while I’m working.

Right. Absolutely. It’s a crazy world that we’re in. Everyone can agree with that. Like if we have more time with the people who love, appreciate and know us, then the value is going to go incredibly like from a social, emotional perspective to that connectivity, to people’s confidence to all the things we’re talking about are going to go up. So no matter what you believe, that’s a positive win for the mental health of our whole world. If you’re engaged in that, if you’re on social media, if you’re on consuming and constantly being on screens, that’s a choice that then will take us down a very negative road. And then there’s been some great documentaries about that. That’s one choice. But if you’re constructive, go back to the storytelling thing. I partnered with a local community organization and we went through that and said, “Hey, here’s the showNtell structure. Go ahead and tell your family story.” The document is history. To your point earlier, like we need to document this incredible time in history. What are you doing? Where are those places around your home? Is it a kitchen table? Is it a boardroom or board game table that you guys are around the Christmas tree or outside or whatever it is. Where is that space? And that’s a challenge. The document that, tell that story, go through that and give the how, and the why and it doesn’t need to be perfect. But you capturing that and adding that together, if you’re a creative, you need to do that. Not “it’s a good idea,” you should do that. Because you will look back and you’ll wish that you did. Twenty years from now when your kids or grandkids or whoever’s asking you about this, right? It’s like 911. When 911 happened, I wish I would have documented that fully. So I can share that experience with my sons. They hear about it, it’s a textbook, it’s very kind of like stale. Every one of us has that no matter how old you are, you wish you would have been able to give more context and more understanding to a specific seminal moment in your life. I wish I would have done that. I have regrets about that. So I said, “You know what, I’m not going to let that slide. I’m going to do that now.” And I think that’s a great challenge for everybody.

I have footage that I shot–I almost got arrested for this. But I was hanging outside of the window, which I do anyway. I hang on to the bar, and I open the window, and I’m shooting outside the window of the Pentagon after the plane that hit. And there were all kinds of security and police around and they made me get back in the car. But I do have some footage of it. But I think the next generation is going to have this wealth of stories, I wish we could clone you and just send you out everywhere. We have to figure out a way to introduce you to even more students across the world because I think you’re bringing them something that’s incredibly valuable.

I appreciate that. But also, that’s my hope in showNtell is I want to create a scalable way for everybody to identify their story and to be able to share them, and to do it through video. And there are a few great video apps, very few, I think real intuitive, great story apps. And so that’s my hope with it is that we can liberate that because I love this. This week I’ve been going through with my students as they’ve been reflecting on what they’ve learned this semester. And I’m just like, through the moon. I’m like, this is why I do it like this. To hear this kid go, “You know what, I found in this class what I want to do the rest of my life.” I mean, are you kidding me? Like, I don’t care who you are, like that makes your day and that gives you the fuel to kind of push through the challenges. But also, with this, I’ve been thinking long and hard about these kids. I have in Chicago Summer Stories a perfect example. Like their media class at their school got shut down, just because they’re like, I don’t know how we can do it. We’re a very traditional broadcast. We don’t have all the access, we’re just gonna shut it down. And I’m like, I literally reached out like, “What time are you open during the day? Jump on my Google Meet” and like, “If only we’re a couple of years down the road, and everybody’s cool with that, like legalities and all the other stuff that gets in the way, why not?” Like, why couldn’t we connect? And that’s really the goal of Summer Stories is to be able to do that. So we’re in Chicago, built in St. Louis, huge success. But we want to push this all around the whole country. There’s a lot of incredible Apple distinguished educators who are passionate about this, as well as other folks would love to facilitate this. And that’s one of my hopes, is that we can kind of lay the groundwork of that to be able to kind of give access because each community has their own stories to tell. And they have plenty of you who want to do it. And so it’s just matching up. And we have a pretty cool little scalable process, a couple of weeks to three weeks you partner locally, you have educators who are like firmly engaged, Apple is leading the way trying to make this work trying to expand this. It’s been amazing. OWC jumped on, and they were like, “You guys don’t have access to laptops? We’ll send you laptops.” We were like, amazing, literally, Apple couldn’t because of the COVID. They sent every single kid a MacBook Pro so that they could then download Final Cut. And they could put this whole entire thing together. It was like one of those moments where I have my hair raised up. Like how cool. Because you have so many incredible companies who are doing great innovative things, but they just want to help out. And especially now, like they want to step up and do that. And that’s what it’s all about. We can all do a little bit to be able to help the next generation understand and leverage the power of storytelling to really change their lives.

I see OWC doing that a lot. Larry O’Connor, when he makes a commitment, he makes a commitment and he’s got a very big heart. And I think it’s wonderful that they’re doing that and that’s actually how we met through OWC.

Amazing. And their heart for Chicago, just here locally. And they can see the way that this is changing. Students from CPS, we worked with the Kerry Wood Foundation this summer and we have kids in the westside Lawndale. And I went down there and it is incredibly sad. It truly is of how that community has been left behind in so many ways. And to go down there and to be able to walk in with a laptop and iPads and be like “This is a device that literally you can capture. And here’s the process of telling your story that then you can do all the way forward.” And that’s the seed. That’s the beginning of this, right? And that’s what we need more of, or people like Larry who really make a dynamic difference in our cities in our areas.

We have replaced painting on cave walls, and we have these tiny little things that we can carry all over the world. And we can tell our stories. And in the process, let people know how precious they are and how precious their stories are. And get rid of the fear of gear and get rid of the fear of telling your story and be inspired by people like you that spend their whole lives doing this. I think it’s wonderful. I do hope showNtell goes just viral worldwide. Anything that we can do to help, I can do to help, let me know. I think it’s great.

 I really appreciate you saying that because each one of us can help make this thing happen. And you interviewing people, you sparking imagination, you helping people tell their stories, and you do a great job of that. Just thinking about really thoughtful questions. And that just motivates everybody. Again, listening to your work, it’s like I’m inspired. And to be able to access that, there’s no more restrictions on that. So it’s really about creating really good content, no matter who you are, and where you are. And if you have this gift that you clearly do, to be able to inspire others to do that is what it’s really all about.

Where can people go now to learn a little bit more about all of this?

I would point people to google, I think it’s the easiest way, right? So check out Chicago Summer Stories, check out St. Louis Summer Stories, we’re on social, we’re on the web, it’s easy to kind of like build that out. Just to kind of understand the power of where that is. LFHS New Media is where my program is, you can kind of see if you’re an educator to kind of see a little bit more about what direction that’s going. Lake Forest High School New Media, which is funny, because used to be called Telecom, which I think you’ll appreciate and everyone’s like, “What’s telecom?” Like it’s not voice and data transfer, don’t worry. And then showNtell. So if you’re interested, reach out my email,, I’m sure it’ll be in the show notes as well. Just reach out because I love working collectively with educators and getting that word out and customizing this experience for them. I’m in schools all over Chicago, all over the country. And there are folks all around the world using this to be able to help students tell their story.

Well, Steve, I know it’s dinnertime there. I know you’ve taken some time out of your day to be with us and keep on doing what you’re doing. And bring us more stories of the winds and the kids that you’re inspiring, always love to hear that. And the other thing I love about it is I know I get asked all the time when I travel, “Do I have to move to LA or New York in order to be successful?” And I always tell people, “No, you don’t.” And now there’s no choice. But maybe it will prove that there are viable stories and interesting stories and inspiring stories everywhere. And people like you are making it happen.

Well, thank you. And I really appreciate that. You mentioned success, and I think it’s such an important thing, because here I am in Lake Forest, which is a very hard-charging, very affluent culture that is very driven. And so that comes up all the time, what is success? And I’ve asked my students that because their definition is very different oftentimes to their parents, and from one generation to the next. And so I actually have my students ask that whenever we have a guest speaker, whatever it is, because everybody has a different definition of what that success really means, right? But the beauty of this is, there’s more opportunity now than ever to explore that. And so what I encourage kids to do is find success in that process. Like iterate, figure it out, and just get as much done as you can. And again, I don’t have to tell that, they’re already doing it, right? They’re already creating their YouTube channel. And they’re pushing everything out. And so more so it’s just kind of harnessing all of that creative energy into going to where they’re truly uniquely made. And that’s the story process. And I’m so glad you made a mention of that. It’s just truly the heart level, the identity level, like how are you uniquely made? How are you uniquely wired? How do you think? How are your different experiences that you’ve had in your life come together to be able to give you a sense of understanding of who you are, and empathy, love for others and around you and whatever that might be, and use that to be able to make the world better. Like that’s what we need more of, especially again, in this divisive, very divided world, we need humans who are looking beyond that, and thinking selflessly and serving other people, and to use that and use your gifts to that goal, and that end is really what success is all about. No matter how much money you make, no matter what all of that looks like. And by the way, that’s all being disrupted right now, and will be in the next 5-10 years. And so that success can’t be a bumper sticker from a college that you’ve looked at and wanted to say, “Oh, if that’s it, then I’m successful.” There’re so many people who are billionaires who feel like they’re empty and aren’t successful. Those measures don’t work, it comes down to your heart, your mind, your understanding of using the gifts that you uniquely have. And that’s why I’m a teacher. I never wanted to be a teacher, but it’s one of those things I identified and go, “You know what, it comes naturally to me. And it’s something that I kind of enjoy at the end of the day, I really enjoy giving back by connecting the dots for kids, I’m not the one on the stage, telling them all to do this, that the other thing and I’m not that traditional teacher, and I think there’s a lot of room for more people like that in education. And that’s one of my goals is to inspire other people to get into education who wouldn’t otherwise see that. But if you’re willing to help serve other people, well, we just need a lot more people to be successful in that way too.

A joyous life well lived. That’s our legacy. That’s what you’re doing. And I also want everybody watching or listening. Remember what I always say, get up off your chair and go do something wonderful today, even if it’s in your own home. That’s your assignment. Steve, thank you. Have a really nice evening. And thanks to OWC for sponsoring this show so that I can talk to amazing people doing amazing things. Take care.

All right, take care.


  1. Aim to inspire others to find meaning in the work they do. Introduce new knowledge and art forms that can help improve their skills and broaden their horizons. 
  2. Base your project on a great story. A remarkable film is all about the story. It’s about the connection you make with your audience with the message you convey.
  3. Understand the power of media. It’s an excellent platform for spreading awareness and sharing compelling stories with a broader audience.
  4. Focus more on the process rather than the product. Working with expensive cameras has its benefits but what sets a camera person apart from the rest are the skills and techniques used in filming.
  5. Encourage children to voice their ideas. Doing so will boost their confidence and motivate them to keep reaching for their dreams. 
  6. Search for exciting stories from your local community. Everyone has a story to share; all you need to do is start the conversation. 
  7. Embrace creative freedom. Work with like-minded yet diverse individuals who can all share their own input in making a riveting film. 
  8. Be brave enough to share your story. Many stories are out there but the one closest to your heart will be one of your best works. 
  9. Motivate the young generation to keep making films. Keep the art alive by spreading the knowledge, opening more events where people can share their works, and teaching the children about filmmaking. 
  10. Check out Chicago Summer Stories and St. Louis Summer Stories, and email for more information on how you can join the community.

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