At Herricks High School, you might be surprised to know that students are getting a taste of the glitz and glamour—not to mention the behind-the-scenes drudgery as well— of the television and film industry, developing unique skills that will serve them in both in college and the entertainment industry as well.
Chris Brogan has been a teacher in the Art Department of Herricks High School for the past 15 years, and credits a series of injuries that he racked up over the years while previously working in the construction field as the impetus for making the jump into education, and in turn, his art background was the impetus for eventually starting the school’s television and film production classes.
“I’ve been an artist my whole life,” he said “I used to draw and paint a lot and when my hands went, it pushed me first into sculpture instead and eventually video, which I really liked and always had an interest in. The first year I started at Herricks, I pitched the idea for a film class and at first it was just one single class that they hired me for.”
Today, the class has grown into a series of six different elective classes, covering all aspects of video production, from camerawork to acting to editing. Utilizing his aptitude for construction and design, Brogan over time created the school’s TV Studio, currently encompassing a production booth, soundstage with green screen, digital editing room, and multitude of stationary and hand-held cameras. In addition, he also eventually started airing output from his classes on a local Public Access TV channel, which garnered him and his students some recognition and, in turn, drove interest in the program through the roof.
The wide range of different projects Brogan’s students get to tackle is impressive. Whether it’s learning the ins-and-outs of operating an HD video camera, capturing a sporting event or play, creating a short independent or animated film, learning how to schedule programming blocks and set up advertising, or handle filming the principal’s (or sometimes the student’s) morning announcements that air on a monitor in each classroom, kids are exposed to a plethora of varied techniques and situations that prepare them for what they might encounter at a legitimate film school.
Senior and Roslyn resident Jacob Mariani’s interested in video production sparked due to their strong influence of his parents, both of whom work in the news industry. He’s taken Brogan’s classes throughout his high school career, and said the lessons he’s learned, both professionally and personally directly influenced his decision to major in film at Emerson College in Massachusetts next year.
“This is a fabulous program, and I’ve gained so much knowledge so much from it,” he said. “If you even have a passing interest in TV or film production, taking this class is a must, and it’s really prepared me for my future career path.”
Brogan’s classes utilize a command hierarchy, just like any real-life film or TV studio. Mariani, who serves as one of the presidents, said that he’s basically at the top of the totem pole and is in charge in delegating a myriad of tasks to the other class members and making sure they’re carried out to the letter.
“You have to organize people into a fashion where you can carry out the needs of a TV studio,” he said. “We crew events, and our job is to control the Vice Presidents, and the Vice Presidents are in charge of the crews at the events we’re filming. We have to make sure everyone is doing their job.”
Sophomore Frank Lopez of Albertson, a vice president, said that he’s taking video classes, in part, because he’s following in the footsteps of his brother, himself a former student of Brogan’s. And since he’s gotten involved with the Herricks TV Studio, Lopez said that he’s grown more as a person than he’s ever thought possible.
“I had no experience coming into this class, but I learned so fast…it was really hard for me because I didn’t know how to organize coverage and order people around,” he said. “But later in the year I got really good. In video production time is of the essence, and we have to learn to communicate and cooperate with each other or nothing gets done.”
Brogan credits the Herricks School District with giving his program a great deal of support. Retiring Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Bierwirth has said publicly at school board meetings that he wishes more money could be devoted to the film and television classes, a sentiment that Brogan truly appreciates.
“Dr. Bierwirth and I started in Herricks the same year, and he’s always been supportive of the program,” he said. “I’m really going to miss him when he retires at the end of the year.”
Nowadays, wares produced by Brogan’s muses can be viewed on local cable access channels provided you’re lucky enough to live within their broadcast range, that is. Currently, Herircks High School has an exclusive 24-hour channel provided to them on both Cablevision (channel 75) and Verizon (channel 47). But while the Cablevision feed is only available to those living in the North Hills area, subscribers to Verizon across the region can check out the work of Herricks students at any time.
“I always try and teach my students new techniques and we never repeat an assignment…I try and keep them on their toes,” said Brogan. “Kids, more than anyone else, are on the cutting edge, and they need to be on top of things. Then, when they go home, they can turn on the TV and see what they’re worked so hard on. That’s a great thing.”
Sophomore and Williston Park resident Tim Meyn said he was a former member of the high school’s AV Club, and enjoyed the experience so much that it was only natural to transition into taking Brogan’s classes.
“Being in the AV Club really sparked my interest in the subject…I really like Mr. Brogan, and since I’m really into movies in general I’m also interested in filmmaking, so it was only natural to take his class,” he said. “The class really teaches you a lot about camerawork and editing, but as Frank [Lopez] said, it also teaches you how to communicate with people, because if you’re not on the same page the whole project just goes down the drain.”
Brogan has built up a strong rapport with Herricks teens over the years and credits his enduring popularity—even with kids who don’t take any of his classes—with the fact that, deep down, he understands what they’re going through. It’s a bond that he said means a great deal to him.
“I have a lot of students that come to me for advice because I’ve been through a lot myself. So, that’s a good thing,” he said. “Unfortunately, four years ago I lost a 21 year-old step-son in a motorcycle accident, so I really appreciate the parents of my students sharing these kids with me. Maybe I’m weird, but I really love what I’m doing.”