Skip To Main Content

Studying Storytelling

4 high school students with two spotlights and a video camera filming outside Stroud

Filming their closing scene. Left to right: Emerson Rogers ’26, Hannah Morley ’24, Riley Eames ’26, Kellianne Caldwell ‘25

high school student reading a light meter & positioning a digital camera while another student looks on

Digital Media Design. Left to right: Camden Jeppson ’25, Ethan Sui ’26

Two male high schoolers using Final Cut software on a Mac desktop computer in Lyndon South at Tabor

Editing their product advertisement video. Left to right: Ethan Sui ’26, Aidan George ’25, Camden Jeppson ’25

  • Campus
Studying Storytelling
Molly Rodenbush

For students to enter the world as well-rounded individuals, they work closely with their teachers, advisors, college counselors, and the Academic Office to build a balanced schedule across a broad curriculum. In addition to standard school programming, Tabor offers a multitude of unique offerings in the arts and sciences to encourage the discovery and pursuit of personal interests. As a new age of entertainment emerges, film studies are on the rise at the School by the Sea.

AT French Literature and Film

In his Advanced Topics: French Literature and Film class, Matt Sandefer uses international films as a springboard for discussions on the history and culture in countries such as Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iran, and Burundi. The class is structured in the style of a college seminar, where students engage critically with primary sources and seek to produce original insights.

“One of my favorite projects is to have students read through reviews on 'AlloCiné' to understand how a French audience connected with a film,” says Sandefer.

When possible, Sandefer prefers to select movies that have won “Best Picture” at the Césars, the French equivalent of the Oscars. He says, “It is not always obvious why a film was deemed worthy of recognition, and that confusion can lead to useful discussions.”

The class also uses film terminology to analyze specific movie scenes. One year, Sandefer had his class study French comedies remade for an American audience. Analyzing the differences between films not only highlights cultural differences, but it also gives students tools to use when watching a movie in any language. For example, Sandefer says that studying the theories of comedy enables students to apply a critical eye to humor in the shows they consume at home.

The thematic course gives students a window into contemporary Francophone culture through the study of film and literary texts. According to Sandefer, every year is a bit different depending on student interest. In the past, they have focused on subject matter such as immigration, gender, and education.

According to Sandefer, “There is always a wide range of abilities in the course, but I find that the visual element of film helps to put everyone on the same level.”

Script Writing

“It is really clear when a writer has written a good character, or a scene with a successful build, because the readers instinctively feel it, and the room is full of energy—and usually a lot of laughs.”

Jesse Hawley teaches Script Writing, a course that explores the fundamentals of dramatic writing for both stage and screen. In addition to addressing the differences between writing for the two mediums, students learn principles such as character development and plot structure. In class, Hawley also emphasizes the importance of intentional communication, something that can be achieved through compelling dialogue, imagery, and incorporating the issues and ideas that inspire a writer.

“Script Writing is an excellent opportunity for students to expand their writing skills in both practical and creative ways. This class can be a creative outlet for students with something to say; it can help them better analyze and understand all the scripted content they take in; it can sometimes even reveal a secret talent! Ultimately, the course offers another opening for students to find their voices, and maybe even discover the medium that suits them best,” says Hawley.

Functioning as a writer’s workshop, Script Writing is a collaborative course where students share original work and then receive and offer feedback. According to Hawley, the class acts as a counterbalance to the necessary skills—like essay writing—that Tabor students learn elsewhere in the English curriculum.

“Most students take some time to adjust to dramatic writing from the kind of writing they have done in many of their classes. For example, a character might not speak in complete sentences,” Hawley continues, “A stage direction like, ‘Ada dies inside each time Jake takes a bite of his sandwich,’ might not be factual, but it might be just what an actor needs to clearly show their character’s intention. It can be a challenge to find effective ways to encourage students to loosen up and write expressively.”

While it may be challenging to separate themselves from academic writing styles at first, students in Script Writing quickly adapt. Hawley says that her students capitalize on being good observers of the world around them, allowing them to tap into an innate sense of creativity. By the time their third assignment comes around, she says they no longer need much pushing. As her students strengthen their skills and gain confidence in class, they even start to have fun and enjoy the process.

“I think my favorite aspect of the class is seeing how good students are at incorporating feedback and getting the hang of dramatic writing over the course of a trimester. It can be surprising when a quiet student conjures a high energy fight scene, or the class clown writes a relationship with emotional depth. Anyone is free to reinvent themselves as they write,” Hawley emphasizes, “Writing like this is really conjuring your own reality, your own worldview—and it can be really empowering.”

a panel of 4 film stills: all images are of high school students

Stills from student videos, Digital Media Design

Digital Media Design

“Tabor has always had students interested in filmmaking and I think it’s great those students have a space to collaborate, learn, and create.”

Mike Bodall teaches Digital Media Design, an arts elective that was added to the course catalog for the 2022-23 academic year. The project-based class introduces the craft of the moving image and storytelling for screen.

“It’s important that Tabor’s art offerings reflect the desires of current students. Videos have become such a large part of everyday life. It’s important that students not only learn how to create them but also understand the syntax of the medium,” says Bodall.

To do so, students in Digital Media Design are taught the building blocks of how to create a short film, including the basics of preproduction, the importance of editing, and project management. They also learn effective camera techniques and the significance of proper framing and composition. Bodall says these principles can be applied to a variety of jobs in the entertainment industry.

“The skills learned in this class can be used as a foundation for a career in media. I enjoy peeling back the curtain on how films get made and the techniques used to make stories come to life. I also enjoy seeing the growth of my students and seeing their hard work pay off,” he shares.

Bodall’s favorite assignment is the silent film because his class is required to collaborate on the project from start to finish—from creating storyboards for their visions to the production and editing process. Students even act in their own films, which, Bodall notes, always leads to laughter.

“Filmmaking is a team activity, watching leaders emerge from different groups and seeing students who might not know each other bond over making a film is very rewarding,” he emphasizes.

The studio itself is a work in progress; according to Bodall, more cameras, lights, and microphones are needed to fully immerse students in the learning experience. Despite not yet being a proper studio, Bodall says the setup still allows for an introduction to commercial filmmaking and different lighting and audio techniques. As arts offerings expand on campus, he hopes that the equipment and space to create will as well.

“The collaboration between myself, Coke Whitworth, and Tricia Smith has been instrumental to creating this class, and I’m really excited for how this program can develop in the next few years, says Bodall.”