Young Blood

Seattle-Area High School Boasts Award-Winning Filmmaking Program

Leo Pfeifer adjusts a shot as fellow BHS students and producers Sho Schrock and Jaya Flanary look on. (Photo by Victoria O’Laughlin)

Leo Pfeifer adjusts a shot as fellow BHS students and producers Sho Schrock and Jaya Flanary look on. (Photo by Victoria O’Laughlin)

Since its inception in 2001, the Digital Filmmaking Program at Ballard High School in Seattle has not only provided students with an opportunity to learn the various aspects of film production, but it has propelled many into prestigious filmmaking programs around the country and into stellar careers in the industry.

Indeed, recent graduates of the program are studying at NYU and USC, among other top film schools, while others are currently writing television series, directing commercials and producing documentaries.

One major success story from the program is that of alums Kyle Seago (’07) and Jesse Harris (’04), who co-founded the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), which has since become the largest youth film festival in the world. Another is that of Louis Weissman (’12), who, after a successful summer internship in Los Angeles, got an opportunity while still in high school to join an L.A.-based crew on the set of the feature film Bounty Killer. With sufficient credits under his belt, Weissman was able to graduate early and join the camera crew in the spring of 2012, before heading for Emerson College in Boston that fall.

Matt Lawrence, who runs the program at Ballard High and has been involved since the beginning, couldn’t be more proud of his students and the film program’s success over the past decade and a half. And many BHS alumni reciprocate their gratitude to Lawrence by keeping in touch and remaining assets to the program.

Will Erstad softens a light. (Photo by Victoria O’Laughlin)

Will Erstad softens a light. (Photo by Victoria O’Laughlin)

“Many college programs have active alumni networks, but I was pleasantly surprised when one began to develop around this high school program,” said Lawrence. “Former students advise me on curricula and emerging technology. They provide current students with college and career advice, internship opportunities and mentoring. The Digital Filmmaking Program is very fortunate to have this level of support from our alumni!”

Another major coup for the program is the sheer number of awards and accolades that students and their films have earned over the years.

“Since the program started in 2001, students have won over 500 awards and honors from film festivals, professional organizations and arts organizations,” said Lawrence. These include awards at regional, state, national and international film festivals, as well as honors from the National YoungArts Foundation and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (at the NW Regional Emmy Awards).

BHS filmmakers at the 2015 regional Emmy Awards. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Swager)

BHS filmmakers at the 2015 regional Emmy Awards. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Swager)

Most recently, students from BHS swept both Documentary awards at the 2015 Dominique Dunne Film Competition and earned the FutureWave Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival’s Golden Space Needle Awards.

“It’s tremendously validating, for me and my students, when their productions are awarded by festivals, professional organizations and national arts organizations,” said Lawrence. “We’re very proud of the track record we’ve established.”

Throughout the program, Lawrence aims to teach students a wide range of skills to build upon as they decide what kind of career and/or higher education program to pursue.BHFF_2015_poster

“Motion picture production is a synthesis of art forms, so students learn diverse arts in the program—as well as powerful tools,” explained Lawrence. “In general, they learn to critically analyze and produce a variety of motion picture productions, including ads and PSAs, dramatic narratives, news features, documentaries and music videos. Story is a critical component to many media productions, so we pay special attention to story structure and development. Because motion picture is a visual medium, students learn strategies to show their stories through images, rather than relying on dialogue alone.”

But tech and tools aside, Lawrence enjoys the human aspect of his job most: “There’s nothing more rewarding than helping young people discover and develop their talents.”

For more information and to view students’ work, visit the DFP blog at and the DFP vimeo channel at To contact Matt Lawrence, e-mail

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