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Lights, Camera, Education

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Montana’s first lady, Nancy Schweitzer, stars in a public service announcement produced by MAPS students and MSU/Bozeman’s Little Baby Films.

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MAPS works on project with Governor Schweitzer

By SEPP JANNOTTA - Ravalli Republic

Those young people you've seen out filming in the community are, in fact, students; and yet, with clients like Brian and Nancy Schweitzer, they are professionals.

You might say they are student professionals.

Either way they are the progeny of the MAPS Media Institute, a media arts education program offered free to students in Ravalli County.

"Initially when MAPS began in 2004, I think people were surprised that we were able to accomplish what we have," said Peter Rosten, the program's founder. "We had spots running in 36 states a few years ago.... And the thing is, people see the spots, whether it's on TV or at the Pharaohplex, and they are less likely to judge them for being young because their work stands for itself."

The program, which puts its students onto projects for paying clients, has industry professional teaching three sections each semester - film, web design and something called "Real World," a documentary-oriented course that relies primarily on filming with Flip Video mini cameras.

This spring and summer alone, MAPS had crews were working on projects for three different groups.

In August, MAPS had a crew at Montana State University in Bozeman to film a public service announcement for Brian and Nancy Schweitzer in support of their campaign extolling the virtues of math and science as important fields of study.

The 30-second spot, which was written by MAPS students and is currently in the editing process, will target middle school students. It will air in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, as well as on the Internet.

"Using MAPS gives us a tool to promote math and science created for kids, by kids," said Nancy Schweitzer, who starred in the commercial, alongside Jag the gubernatorial dog.

Shooting the spot also had its challenges, Rosten said.

The final script required sophisticated green screen technology that digitally puts a subject in a different background. To accomplish this feat, Rosten said MAPS hired a team from the MSU/Bozeman School of Film and Photography to supervise production.

MAPS also turned the spotlight on the Ravalli County Public Health Department in a short PSA and a longer documentary intended to build awareness about health issues and the role of the department in public health.

The group also collaborated on a piece of informational literature, bringing to bear one of the skills Rosten is most adamant his students master - writing.

Ravalli County Public Health Nurse Judy Griffin said the time she spent with the MAPS students left her feeling very positive about the whole venture.

"They're putting the whole documentary together as we speak and we're anxious to see the end product," Griffin said. "They were really very professional. In fact, my entire staff really enjoyed working with them."

The MAPS kids also did a pro bono spot for the Corvallis post of the American Legion, Rosten said, a project they filmed during the Corvallis Memorial Day parade.

Rosten, a Hollywood filmmaker who retired to the Darby area, offered media arts instruction in two schools at first. It was, from the start, predicated on the notion that the students would learn the ropes and then cut their teeth on professional projects for clients Rosten lined up.

With an expanded program nearly full - students from Ravalli County schools looking to join should call Laura Henderson immediately at 381-7230 - Rosten will soon begin working to find new projects.

"We'll finish the governor's spot and the health department documentary in the next month or so, but we also have to train our next batch of kids," he said. "Then we'll go out and look for more clients."

And those clients, he added, are unlikely to be too hung up on whether the people producing the work are seasoned pros or students from the Bitterroot Valley.

"When we approach clients, we show them the reel, and they judge us for the work, not the date of birth," Rosten said.