While the renovations continue at Natrona County High School, teachers are settling in to their new classrooms getting ready for the next school year. For NCTV instructor, Lance Madzey, he's settling in with a lot less equipment than he had originally planned for.
During the remodel, Madzey's classroom and studio space were renovated and all new equipment was to be added. This was a welcome development, as much of the equipment utilized by the students had been there for nearly twenty years. Unfortunately, due to changing budget allocations, Madzey's new equipment fund of just over $15,000 was spent elsewhere. This leaves the longtime film instructor in an incredibly difficult position. He must now attempt to teach incoming students at the same level as previous classes, but without the necessary equipment.
Not one to be deterred, Lance Madzey has reached out through social media and a crowdfunding campaign to raise the necessary funds. According to the fundraising page he hopes to raise $15,300 to cover the purchase of "studio cameras, lighting equipment, audio equipment, tripods, a teleprompter, etc." So far the community response has been great, but as of this writing he is still only 24% of the way to his goal.
In Wyoming's tough economic climate this may seem like a simple budget cut, as so many of our local businesses and organizations are having to do right now. In times like these, arts classes often suffer the most, but depriving the school's entire department of much needed upgrades is a massive step backwards in an otherwise forward moving renovation. Students have the option to take three different types of classes through the program--which incidentally, are often filled to capacity. Madzey describes these classes as, "Film/Television 1 is a film appreciation class with production tossed in there. The kiddos learn how to identify professional techniques then they practice them. Film/TV 2 is a constant onslaught of different media arts projects designed to push the students to learn and produce quality content quickly all the while negotiating the difficulty of a realistic deadline. Film/TV 3 (NCTV) is a class where a slew of students apply for different positions on the crew. Students are in charge of the entire process from conception to delivery. They produce a news magazine like show every week and also produce the state wide film festival at the local theatres owned by Randy Pryde and Craig Hosey. The kids become a family. Can't tell you how many years that there are tears on the last day. The best kind of tears! They just worked with each other in a creative realm on collaborative projects that make a difference. The projects are their own. I don't direct them or anything like that. They are in charge. I watch them go!!!"
Classes such as these have given former students the necessary skills to break into the incredibly difficult film business. A few examples of past successes include, Jordan McKim who has worked on The Walking Dead, Constantine, and now Baywatch. Alyssa Carpenter went on to produce, co-write, and act in a film entitled Mahjong and the West. Charles Conkin (who won the best experimental film award at the New York International Independent Film Festival) is working on another feature that he is creating the special effects for as well. Another past student, Lucas Lee Graham, was the director of photography for the film Escape From Tomorrow, filmed undercover at Disneyland, which was the most talked about film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival that year.
Stories such as these may seem exceptions to the rule, but as Graham was quick to point out, "Yes, there are a lot of film, video, and TV professionals that got their starts in Lance’s class but there is an even wider span of people that use the communication skills they learned in NCTV to excel themselves, their careers, or even their own businesses. We live in a multi-media world. You will probably hear about the plight of NCTV through some sort of new media and if you are in Casper there is a really solid chance that somewhere in the chain of you consuming that media, one of Lance’s former students was involved." Case in point: the author of this piece is a former student of Lance Madzey's. The skills taught in these classes benefit students who pursue other careers outside of the communications and broadcasting fields. Alaina Binfet, owner of Om on the Range yoga studio here in Casper, recently directed her own television commercial to promote her small business with skills gleaned from her time as an NCTV student. Just recently, NCTV students worked with local Fire Marshall Justin Smith to produce public service announcements.
Former students like Graham, have long since graduated, but remain a part of NCTV life. Each year, at the annual student film festival, many of them return to mentor students with real world experience. Even online, Graham stays in contact with current NCTV students, "NCTV students talk to me monthly about how to create something cinematically or if editing can fix this or that. It’s an outlet for creativity and acceptance that now spans generations." Madzey has grown a simple high school film program into an integral part of Natrona County High School's culture and identity. With his current budget shortfall Madzey's film curriculum is severely crippled, "Without this equipment we are currently less than. Less than what the kids need and that breaks my heart."
Aside from the film skills learned through these classes, Madzey's classroom is often most beloved for its welcoming nature. Past student, Justin Howard recalls, "Not only did his classroom foster a place for creative expression, but it also created a place where I and many others felt safe. His loving and genuine compassion for his students made it easy for myself and others to feel like we could all really be ourselves. And whether we were jocks, or nerds, or skaters, or punks…all of those social cliques silently dissolved upon walking through the doors of his classroom where we learned to collaborate. Where we learned compassion. Where we learned to look at things a little bit more differently." Howard has gone on to work in the film industry in Chicago, become a World Air Guitar Champion, and be featured in a Dr. Pepper commercial during the Super Bowl.
In his over twenty years of teaching in Casper, Lance Madzey has left an indelible mark on Natrona County High School and the city of Casper. For his program, this lack of funding is a dire situation. Without those funds all of his classes that have been so successful and life changing for so many students, will suffer. Economic crises are never easy, but Madzey's unending optimism hopes that the city of Casper will band together and contribute whatever they can to ensure that this program is a resounding success for another twenty years.