The Maple School District received star treatment this January when a 2-minute video hit social media.
Created by Northwestern High School senior Ryan Ross, the video gives viewers a birds-eye view of the district’s buildings, then takes them inside the classroom. Concert footage, football and cross country snippets round out the piece.
The video turned out so well that District Administrator Sara Croney hired Ross for a second one highlighting spring sports and activities, graduation and snow-free buildings.
“We are blessed to have this young man able to showcase some of the great educational activities making us a vibrant choice for parents,” Croney said.
The idea for creating a promotional video came from the Superior-Douglas County Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Video is the best way to showcase what is great about our area, our businesses and our people," said Chamber Director of Marketing Nikky Farmakes.
It also aligned with one of the district's Vision 2020 goals, promoting and communicating student success.
Ross has been experimenting with video since he bought his first camera, a Nikon COOLPix, in middle school. The Lake Nebagamon teen said he mowed a lot of lawns to purchase it.
Some of his early work included class projects — a science video on mitosis and cell cycles and a video about white rhinos going extinct for social studies teacher Mike Ketola.
“I was really good at iMovie,” Ross said. “I was able to loop into cooler effects than the editor allows. I would just get past certain restrictions. It was just fun doing that.”
The teen upgraded to a Panasonic Lumix G7 his freshman year.
“I got this one (camera) by building a retaining wall for someone’s garden — that and a mixture of other odd jobs,” Ross said.
Next was a Phantom drone. With a stabilizing gimbal on the camera and the ability to program the drone for various moves, the sky was the limit.
Ross filmed the school district video over two days, shooting 200 different scenes. He gave a shout-out to junior Jackson Meller, who drove around with him to collect the footage.
The creative process behind video is like building a domino fort, he said.
“It’s fun to figure out how to get shots and make them look well, and then it’s also fun to edit it. It’s like an equal distribution of fun. It’s also fun to figure out what you’re going to include in the shot when you’re building a certain type of story,” Ross said.
One of the biggest challenges came once the video was packaged into 2-minute and 4-minute versions. Ross initially set the film to Jimmy Coltrane jazz, but it didn’t work. Next he tried Louis Armstrong, but it was still off.
“Then one of the principals suggested I put ‘Top Gun’ over the drone scenes as kind of light humor and then just the “Peanuts” theme,” Ross said.
The result was picture-perfect.
Just having the equipment has opened doors for Ross, who shot a commercial for his uncle’s supermarket in Montevideo, Minnesota, and is currently working on a collaborative project for Cooperative Educational Service Agency-12, which serves 17 school districts including Maple.
The senior has gotten a lot of compliments from teachers about the video.
“If I’ve done a good job, they’ll say 'Maple is cool, they’re up to date with their computers,'” said Ross, who made a point to include shots featuring technology.
He said he applied to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to double major in English and philosophy, but the NHS senior plans to keep his video skills sharp.
“It’s definitely going to be a hobby I’m going to keep near to me,” Ross said.