The Morristown High School junior said the 18-minute video purposely takes its time telling the story of civic icon Steve Wiley, MHS Class of ’48.
“Jay-Z videos that flash every four seconds are good in some stuff. But this is about leaving a message with the viewer. How can you leave a message if you don’t leave time to think about it?” Shannon said.
Co-producer and script writer Sean Mowry said he tried to emulate the deliberate pacing and photo-panning style of the Ken Burns Jazz documentary.
To get in synch with Steve Wiley’s analog youth, Sean even hunted for a typewriter. (His online search found one in Canada.) For her part, Shannon opted to go retro by jotting everything on a notepad instead of a laptop.
Mike Butler, head of Morristown High’s broadcasting department, said he was impressed by the maturity of students on this project.
“Kids like to do goofy stuff, music videos,” said the teacher, formerly with Court TV. But for City Living, his students shelved the jump cuts. “They started to appreciate the word ‘dissolve.’ They gradually bought it.”
Mike’s department got the assignment on Dec. 17. Students completed the video just hours before the Morris Township gala. That’s 2:37 pm, to be precise, Shannon said.
Although Steve Wiley, who is 82, could not attend for health reasons, dozens of his friends and relatives gave the premiere a standing ovation at the Morris Museum’s Bickford Theatre.
“It’s astounding they captured him so well,” said Steve’s daughter, Katie Laud.
Sean said he thrives on pressure. “Deadlines really help focus you,” he said. Going down to the wire yielded seasonal benefits, too.
“Before, we went out (to shoot) in the middle of February, and the Green looked dead. Now, with so many last-minute shots, it looks beautiful,” Sean said.
A dearth of archival material forced the team to be resourceful, Shannon said.
“We didn’t have access to old photos. They weren’t online. We had to find creative solutions,” she said.
To simulate Steve Wiley’s days on the unbeaten 1946 football varsity, the crew recorded Sean passing a football from hand to hand one drizzly day this week.
As the project unfolded, students gained confidence to trust their intuition. Sometimes it just felt right to use images that did not mirror the narration, Shannon said.
Mike Butler marveled at how students juggled activities. Shannon acted in the spring musical, Sweet Charity, and works for the literary magazine, Tricorn. Sean appeared in the musical and is taking advanced placement courses. Another co-producer, Sam Casedevall, is on the track team.
They also had to contend with some “backseat drivers” who were only casually involved in the project, Mike said.
“It’s tough trying to edit with someone breathing down your neck, asking, ‘Who is Stephen B. Wiley?'” acknowledged Sam Casedevall.
Pleasant discoveries included freshman Andrew Speers, one of the narrators. “I heard his voice and told him, ‘You have a special voice,'” Mike Butler said.
Several of Steve’s longtime acquaintances were interviewed on camera; Steve was interviewed by his grandson, 23-year-old Boston College graduate Matt Laud.
MorristownGreen.com contributors Ben Cutler, Joey Gatto and Zaji Zabalerio were among students working on City Living, a title derived from a Steve Wiley poem recited in the documentary. MHS senior Parker Fairey served as project photographer; faculty members included Brian Kievning (photography) and Steve Woodruff (chief engineer).
Pressed for another key ingredient to the video’s success, Shannon took no time to ponder her one-word response:
On May 20, festivities at Morristown High School will celebrate two anniversaries: 40 years for the Morris School District and 20 years for the Morris Educational Foundation.