Skip To Main Content

The Shooting Stars of Campus

humpback whale surfacing from water

Photo by Mac Cole ’23

photograph of sunset over the boat slip on Tabor campus

Photo by Kitty He ’23

back of girl with long hair sitting in front of the water

Still shot from Half of the Globe, a film by Kitty He ’23

Tabor boys hockey team in huddle with coach

Photo by Jerry Sang ’23

  • Campus
The Shooting Stars of Campus
Eliott Grover ’06

There’s a saying in filmmaking that’s widely attributed to the French director Robert Bresson— “You always end up making three movies. The one you write, the one you shoot, and the one you cut in the editing room.” Having already made several films, Jiaying “Kitty” He ’23 has found this to be true.

“Editing is actually re-creating the whole story again,” says He. “If you write the script, if you take shots and direct the film—that’s one part of the creative process. However, when you come to editing, it’s a whole other creative process. You can make a totally different story based on editing.”

He’s filmmaking career began during a challenging period. As a sophomore, she was disappointed when the pandemic prevented her from attending school in person. But learning virtually from her family’s home in Beijing, she found herself with more time to experiment with her camera. She started bringing it to OnBoard+, a local program that partnered with Tabor and other boarding schools to give Chinese students a space to study together and work with tutors. To fill the co-curricular void created by virtual learning, the program helped students find ways to pursue their interests and engage in meaningful work.

Inspired by Laotu, a nonprofit that advocates for people to lead zero-waste lifestyles, He enlisted four of her friends to make a documentary about the organization’s message. “We had a small film crew of five,” she says. “Because I was the one who initiated it, I became the director.” She was also the writer. After completing the script, He found an expert to interview, as well as a local shop that has embraced the nonprofit’s mission. She interviewed the owners and filmed scenes at their store.

For having never made a film before, He demonstrated an innate grasp of the creative, technical, and logistical aspects of filmmaking. She responds to this observation with modesty. “I don’t know how I ended up completing that film,” she laughs. “But I think it’s because growing up I watched so many different films and online media, so I kind of went with my feelings and instincts.”

Since making that first documentary, He has sought more opportunities to hone her craft. Two summers ago, she attended a filmmaking program at NYU Tisch School of the Arts where she made Half of the Globe, which she describes as an “experimental documentary about friendship.” Last summer, she participated in a six-week program at USC School of Cinematic Arts. For He, who hopes to attend film school after Tabor, the opportunity to take a dedicated cinematography course confirmed she is on the right path.

“I found that I really enjoy just seeing the picture in my camera frame and seeing how I can control everything on the camera,” she says. “I can adjust my angle or narrow my frame rate and it will be a completely different picture. I really enjoy that because it feels like I’m actually using my point of view and my understanding to create something new out of it.”

This year, He has continued to sharpen her skills in Tabor’s Advanced Topics (AT) Photography course with instructor Coke Whitworth. The intensive curriculum, which blends photo and video projects, empowers students through hands-on learning. “It’s been half a year so far and we’ve already made three films. I feel like that’s really helped my video abilities,” He says. “Filmmaking to me is like practice for life. I feel like filmmaking is about your personality as well. How you see the world and what your character is. It will all show in your work. That’s really important to me.”

He is not the only student who is treating AT Photography as a chance to prepare for life after school. Mackenzie “Mac” Cole ’23 plans to study marine science in college. Last summer, Cole completed a fellowship with the Woods Hole Sea Grant. She had her own camera and started taking pictures of humpback whales. The experience helped her envision a dream job that would let her combine her two passions.

“My old babysitter is the head of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy,” Cole says. “My goal is to eventually work for an organization like that where I could use my photo and video skills. Maybe go up in the spotter planes. I’ve always said I can picture myself doing TED Talks, being an underwater videographer swimming with the sharks or traveling the world.”

Taking AT Photography this year has given her more experience with video. “The course used to be just photography, but a lot of kids are interested in filmmaking so our teacher, Mr. Whitworth, decided to add that into the curriculum. He teaches it through fun projects.”

The first film students completed this fall was a video about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “That sounds pretty ridiculous,” Cole says, “but it was really fun. And it was more about us learning the ins and outs of Premiere Pro [editing program].” She says it was an effective way to help students get comfortable with Adobe’s industry-grade editing software.

Cole and her classmates are currently finalizing their latest project, a music video. Students get to pick their own songs—Cole is doing Mac Miller’s “Self Care”—and they’re expected to challenge themselves while exploring the different possibilities enabled by the editing process. “Mr. Whitworth is big on letting us do what we want to do, as long as we get work done,” Cole says.

Whitworth is also the faculty advisor for PhotoPool, an after-school co-curricular where students work as photojournalists in support of Tabor’s marketing and communications efforts. Equipped with top-of-the-line cameras and gear, they document athletic contests and other school events while gaining valuable experience in a professional setting.

“We get assigned to different home games on Wednesdays and Saturdays,” says Qile “Jerry” Sang ’23, a PhotoPool veteran. “We shoot on those days and edit on Monday and Thursday. We also do other stuff like photograph art exhibits or anything else the school needs.”

Similar to He, Sang’s interest in photography began during his sophomore year while he learned remotely from Shanghai.

“The pictures I took were pretty general at first,” he says. “I did car photography, street photography, a lot of different stuff. When I came back to Tabor and joined PhotoPool, that’s when I became more sports centered.”

Sang has proven a gifted sports photographer, but he says it’s taken some time to learn the ropes. “It’s about knowing where you are and knowing where you should be at what time,” he says. “When I first shot football, I didn’t quite understand the rules. I had to learn how football works so that I could know what time and angle might be the best for me to get a good picture. That’s something sports taught me. Like when I first started filming hockey, I had no idea what I was doing. Pucks were just flying around. But now I know exactly where I should be and when.”

Although Sang doesn’t officially participate in PhotoPool during the winter season—he manages the boys varsity hockey team—his camera remains active. He films and edits video recaps of games that have become quite popular on campus. At first, it would take Sang over two hours to make the minute-long videos, but he quickly learned how to work more efficiently while getting better footage.

“Some of the shots I can control are the twenty minutes during pregame and the warmup on the ice. That’s what I can kind of plan out,” Sang says. “Like, I’m going to try this low angle shot of the goalie when he’s stretching. Or maybe I’m going to be behind the glass and shooting a few consecutive clips of the boys shooting the pucks to the net. That’s the kind of thing I can control, whereas whatever’s happening during the game I have no say in what’s going to happen.”

On top of the recaps and his managerial responsibilities, Sang is also busy making a documentary about the hockey team. “The reason I chose hockey is because my roommate and best friend is a senior on the team,” he says. “I want to do something that is meaningful as well as something I’m good at and can improve myself on. Doing the game edits is already in my comfort zone, but producing a feature documentary is a real challenge.”

It’s a challenge Sang is tackling with patience and pragmatism. Currently, his primary focus is on filming the season and collecting as much game and interview footage as possible. “If you ask me right now what the project is, it’s quite hard for me to tell you because I still don’t know the main theme or topic I’m going to focus on,” he says. “It depends on how the season goes.” In the spirit of the Bresson quote, Sang expects the story to come together in the editing room and he hopes to screen the finished film before graduation.

While the documentary has proven time and labor intensive, Sang is not pursuing it for class credit or as a senior project. “This is purely for fun,” he says. “I enjoy the process.”

There are many people Sang is grateful to for making the film possible. He credits Kelly Walker, Tabor’s Director of Co-Curriculars and Athletics, with being receptive to his proposal and Mr. Whitworth for serving as a reliable resource throughout the process. He also appreciates the hockey players and coaches for trusting him and giving him such open access to their season. Of course, the team also benefits from Sang’s work.

“They’ve never had a manager do this kind of stuff, so I think Coach Dineen wishes he found out about me a little earlier,” Sang says with a laugh. “But now I’m trying to look for younger guys, sophomores or freshmen that might be interested in doing the same thing as me. And then I can coach them before I graduate and they can keep this going.”

With talent, passion, and drive, the current crop of Tabor filmmakers have much in common with their alumni predecessors.

You can read more about Tabor's classes and student artists in "Studying Storytelling."