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Behind-the-Scenes of Paul Duke STEM Students’ Award-Winning Documentary

When Brooke Skelton, film teacher at Paul Duke STEM High School, first read the script for the play “She Kills Monsters,” he knew he had something special on his hands.

“It’s not your normal high school play,” he said. “It’s an emotionally rich, action-packed story that deals with serious topics such as homophobia, bullying, death, mourning and acceptance. Many of these themes are relevant in our students’ lives and they were very passionate about it.”

Thus, Paul Duke STEM film students set out to capture a behind-the-scenes look at the play and document the process on film. 

Students shot over 30 hours of footage and edited it down to a 25-minute documentary, showcasing set construction, costume design and sound design, as well as how the cast and crew interpreted some of the play’s challenging themes.

The film took over a year and a half to produce.

Real-world filmmaking

The making of this documentary offered students a taste of the challenges and demands they might face in their future film careers. 

“Co-curricular project-based learning is an important part of our curriculum at Paul Duke STEM. Every semester, my film students collaborate with other classes on a variety of projects. … This was an authentic project, very much like what they’ll encounter in the real world,” Skelton explained.

Students honed their skills in problem-solving, effective communication, teamwork, compromise and meeting tight deadlines, which are crucial for success in the film industry.

A total of 12 students worked on the film, with two students doing most of the filming and four students doing all the editing. Skelton also brought in several 10th-grade students to participate in roles like camera assistants, sound design, creating titles and crafting the film’s introduction.

Film teacher Brooke Skelton (left), Producer Abigail Donkor (center), and Producer Landon Shell (right) on the red carpet in New York City

A year and a half in the making
The documentary was complex to produce. The students had to condense over 30 hours of footage into a 25-minute documentary to meet festival time limits. 

The process began with shooting behind-the-scenes footage in March 2022 and culminated with cast and crew interviews in May 2022. After the initial filming phase, the students encountered technical issues, file management hurdles and even lost project files due to external hard drive failures.

“[The seniors] were unable to edit the footage because they graduated, so I ended up giving the footage to four of my upcoming seniors. They had never seen the footage, so they spent four months in the fall of 2022 going through it, sorting it, transcribing it and creating an outline of the story that they wanted to tell,” Skelton recounted.

“They also spent a lot of time learning how to edit a documentary. I was constantly showing them YouTube tutorials and clips from award-winning documentaries,” he added.

One of Skelton’s students did most of her editing at home, as none of the school laptops could handle 4K files. So, Skelton let the student use his MacBook Pro for two months. 

The labor-intensive project wasn’t completed until after graduation in June 2023, but it was well worth the wait.

Producer Landon Shell (left) and Producer Abigail Donkor (right) at New York University

A triumph in their own backyard

Skelton and his students premiered the documentary at the Atlanta Sci-Fi Film Festival at Peachtree Corners Town Center this past October. It was a special moment for the cast and crew, who got to see their work on the big screen in a real movie theater for the very first time.

“Being an official selection in several different film festivals is a great accomplishment. [Students] will be able to put it on their resumes and in their digital portfolios. It also inspired my lower-level students. They are excited to create something great of their own in the future,” said Skelton.

“We didn’t expect to win [best documentary] due to the fact that we were competing against adults, so that was a nice surprise!” he beamed. “Abigail Donkor, one of the film’s producers, was in town from New York University, and she did a question-and-answer session after the screening, which was really cool.”

But the accolades don’t stop there. 

Paul Duke STEM was an official selection at the All-American High School Film Festival in New York City, the most competitive high school film festival in the world. 

The film was in the top 2%, as AAHSFF accepts over 2,500 films from all over the globe. The film was screened to a packed house at AMC 25 in Times Square and recognized at the Teen Indie Awards in Brooklyn at The Kings Theatre

Producer Landon Shell at AMC 25 in Times Square

The documentary was also selected as a top 10 finalist for two award categories, the Spark Positive Change Award and Top Emerging Female Producer.

You can watch the entire film on the official Paul Duke Stem Video and Film YouTube channel here.

Congratulations to Brooke Skelton and his Paul Duke STEM film students on this remarkable accomplishment.

Photos Courtesy of Brooke Skelton

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