This article was written by LeeAnn Thompson, Journalism Instructor at New Albany High School.
Homecoming at New Albany High School (NAHS) has always been a big deal, but it always seemed to be lacking a little in inclusiveness. For many years, Kelly Coltharp and I had our journalism classes create events that showcased former students from NAHS/W.P. Daniel. We did this in an attempt to create memories for more students and to bring alumni back to our campus to experience homecoming.
We hosted luncheons on Homecoming Day for all of the former student body presidents one year. We had students go through old yearbooks and figure out “where are they now?”. For several years, we continued to invite alumni to our school for tours, hosted them at luncheons and created videos that incorporated those old photos into what our kids were into at that time. We hosted all former Mr. and Miss W.P. Daniel honorees, homecoming courts, and even a whole winning football team from the 1960’s to our school over the years. One year, we even celebrated 100 Years of Football in Mississippi by celebrating the oldest living New Albany football player living at that time.
Fast forward a few years and the homecoming videos became a little more sophisticated. With journalism students learning how to film and edit, the stories got more creative and entertaining. Though many still called them “PowerPoints”, they became more than just a slideshow of old photos. My students raised money to purchase computers and cameras by selling homecoming t-shirts every year. Each year, our equipment was upgraded and the journalism students got more and more tech savvy. The core group of students who were interested in taking “journalism” were really more interested in the art of filmmaking, in creating hype videos, teaching themselves advanced editing skills, and pushing themselves as creators.
By the year 2014, football season was upon us and I had a really funny and creative group of journalism students who were very talented in their camera work and editing skills. I was driving a church van full of youth to Water Valley one Friday night and an idea just popped into my brain. “What if we made a movie to show at homecoming that starred the very kids who would be making the homecoming video?” We could incorporate the senior class and the homecoming court into the storyline and it would be a fun and challenging project with a quick deadline.
The Wizard of Oz was my idea, maybe just because I knew my leading lady Emily Gafford would be a good actress and possibly owned a Dorothy costume. I saw most of the kids in my class at the football game that night and shared my idea with them. By Monday, all of our brains were spinning with ideas, and that’s how our very first homecoming movie, “The Wizard of NAz” was born.
We wrote a script, figured out filming locations that ended up showcasing our beautiful city of New Albany. We had a huge turnout every night for each scene and location. Students went above and beyond for costuming and props. Every business we asked opened their doors to us and fully cooperated with our crazy antics. From AC’s Coffee, Game Tyme, the Union County Heritage Museum, Rutledge and Davis, and everywhere in between we were welcomed.
Our Dorothy had been dropped into the 1980’s and encountered many pop culture icons from that time. Pee Wee Herman, Stevie Wonder, the cast of the Breakfast Club, a Rubik’s Cube, the casts of the Cosby Show and Ghostbusters, Princess Diana, Mike Tyson, Smurfette, the Dukes of Hazard, Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, Ninja Turtles, E.T., J.R. Ewing, Bjorn Bjork and of course, Mr. T.
We all cried when Dorothy and her friends finally figured out they were at home all along. This was our first venture into using Go Pros and drones, and it was a monumental editing project for kids who had only made short hype videos thus far. It took two weeks of filming at night and two more weeks of editing day and night to complete, but it was worth it. The Wizard of NAz was a memory that the NAHS Class of 2015 will have forever.
Since then, students have created a movie every year, some years rely more heavily on a “borrowed” movie or show than others. N’Albani Vice (2015) was an original story based on two detectives who took a time machine to many different times in history to find the school’s WiFi password. From prehistoric/cavemen, Ancient Rome and Egypt, cowboys and Indians, the roaring 20’s, to their own childhoods and even the future, the Vice kept showing up until they solved the mystery of the missing password.
“Save Chandler” (2016) was based on the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where Chandler’s friends and family encourage him to go to school and enjoy homecoming for once. This film had the most extensive script to date, with incredible writing and editing. Journalism students used drones, Go Pros, portable lighting and multiple cameras and showed up many days and nights for filming. Many of the scenes from the popular movie were recreated “New Albany style” including a car theft, restaurant scene, pool party, art museum and gym. It ended with a huge “Twist and Shout” parade scene filmed at the Trailhead Plaza which included the entire senior class, the band and cheerleaders which finally got Chandler back in time for homecoming.
“The INAYE Office” (2017) was based on the wildly popular television series, “The Office”. The plot revolved around NAHS students being sucked into “The Office” because they watched too much Netflix at school. Every scene in this movie was filmed on our school campus on weekends, during school, and at night. The school office became “THE Office” and the cast did an amazing job of portraying the actors on the real show. Lead character Michael Scott was the bumbling character who wanted to return to NAHS, his alma mater, and impress his old classmates. He encountered a wild squirrel in the ceiling, a fire in the break room, an unfortunate injury resulting in a hospital visit, and more before everyone realized it was all just a dream.
“Gump” (2018) was based on the blockbuster movie “Forrest Gump”. The Class of 2019 was featured throughout New Albany as they tried to help Forrest and Bubba find Jenny. Scenes were filmed all over New Albany as Gump caused chaos in the Mayor’s office, at the tennis courts, during band, JROTC and football practices, on a boat (and in the lake), playing ping pong, getting physical therapy, playing basketball, all the while looking for Jenny, who was there all along.
This fall, the seniors of the journalism class have written their own original screenplay and are currently filming “Tuck2030”. Planning for their senior movie actually started in the fall of 2018, immediately after finishing the movie, “Gump.”
The plot involves the senior class as themselves ten years down the road. It’s the year 2030, they are grownups and their good buddy Tucker has found himself running for Mayor of New Albany. With a very capable incumbent mayor opposing him, a questionable campaign manager, and lots of friendly supporters, we will follow Tuck along the campaign trail and see if the best man wins in the end.
Students have created bold and effective graphics for campaign stickers, buttons, yard signs and sold over 150 campaign t-shirts. They have an Instagram account which promotes “the candidate” and the movie and even have hopes of eventually showing it on the “big screen.”
The seven seniors and two juniors of the class were all on the Journalism Staff last year and for a few students this is their third year in the class. Journalism students create all of the content for their YouTube channel, hype videos for multiple sports, a weekly news show called “The Dawg Feed” and the “End of the Year” video for the senior class.
They share responsibilities for the creative direction of the videos as well as the filming and editing. Due to their proficiency in these skills, some of the current students are employed by various community businesses and several former students are even earning their college tuitions by continuing this line of work at the university level.
Follow our progress on Instagram @tuck2030, support us by purchasing a Tuck for Mayor 2030 sticker and watch our movie when it is released. With the most experienced and creative group of students we have ever had, the finished work should be high quality entertainment!
To watch any of the movies, an archive of the INAYE Journalism Productions homecoming movies can be found on their YouTube channel, “INAYE”. Since joining YouTube in August of 2015, the INAYE students have uploaded over 500 videos to the channel and have over 166,000 views. If you don’t already subscribe to their channel, it is a great way to keep up with what is going on at New Albany High School.