Filming PSAs At The EAPrep Summer STEM Institute

A young man strides confidently into his boss’s office, toting a bag of groceries.

His boss looks up. “What did you get me this time?” she asks.

“Soda and green beans,” he replies, unloading the contents of his bag onto her desk. He waits patiently as she downs three cans of soda and a tin of green beans – an eccentric mid-morning snack if there ever was one.

Satisfied with her meal, the boss turns back to her employee. “Put this in the recycling bin,” she says, pushing the empty cans towards him. He scoops them back up and heads out the door.

Once outside and perhaps somewhat disgruntled at his boss’s orders, the young man starts throwing the trash everywhere, with no recycling receptacle in sight. His actions are observed by a couple of curious park-goers, who surreptitiously phone the police. The police arrive in time to force the young man to clean up his mess, under threat of jail time. The scene concludes with a close-up shot of a poster hanging in the corner that reads, “Metal is Money – Recycle or They Will Catch You!”

No, this isn’t the trailer for the newest Scorsese flick – it’s an environmental PSA being filmed and produced right here at East Austin Prep’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) Summer Institute. This week’s theme is “Digital Storytelling,” and students are in the midst of writing and starring in their own short films.

Instructor Jessica Lagalo, tasked with directing and filming her elementary students’ anti-littering campaigns, gives her young performers two takes to get their scene right. The makeshift studio (a classroom with desks moved aside) is on a tight schedule today, with four acts to film in under an hour. Luckily, these young actors and actresses have come to the set dressed, prepped, and excited to be on camera. Working at a rapid clip, Lagalo ushers the first group out to make way for the next acting troupe.

The afternoon continues in this vein, with students in a myriad of costumes acting out variations on the theme of recycling and composting. One group of boys waltzes in fully equipped with a long blond wig, head scarf, Hawaiian lei, and apron that appear almost entirely unrelated to the plot at hand (they were, perhaps, going for an art house interpretation). Another company, led by a girl in sheriff’s get-up, took more of a classic-Western-meets-dark-comedy route, with litter perpetrators rough-housed by overzealous law enforcement. The final cadre went in a different direction completely, performing a rap music video that chronicles the life of a worm looking for a compost heap to call home, complete with two girls laying down a beat on an upturned trashcan.

Creativity abounding, the STEM students are ready to help save the planet from littering and pollution. While their PSAs may not be slated for primetime network television just yet, performing and filming their original work has certainly shown them that environmental advocacy can be a lot of fun! Students and STEM staff look forward to watching their finished products on Thursday for an afternoon viewing party to culminate Digital Storytelling week.

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