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Class turns camera toward safety

Sun., April 29, 2007, midnight

Life can imitate art, as a fledgling video-production class pondered Saturday while they produced a 30-second public service announcement on deadly train-vehicle encounters using an unprotected railway crossing in Post Falls.

Actors Chad Christiansen, of Coeur d’Alene, and Rebecca Huseby, of Bonners Ferry, portrayed a distracted couple at an espresso stand. They are chattering on cell phones as they drive away with their coffee into the path of an oncoming train – the balloons for their young daughter’s birthday party floating in the back seat. Fade to shots of crosses and a cell phone spinning on the tracks. The title of the short script: “Don’t Be Driven to Distraction.”

The message was timely. Only two days earlier, Spirit Lake City Councilman Steve Gaddum was killed when his Land Rover collided with a train on the Rathdrum Prairie, where the Union Pacific rail line crosses Meyer Road. Gaddum, 64, was ejected from the SUV. The accident is under investigation.

“Unfortunately, there was a fatality up on the prairie,” said Paul Brand of Pretty Good Productions, one of three instructors at the first video production workshop organized by the Kootenai North Idaho Film & Video Entertainment Society, a new group formed by local people working in the film and video industry.

“It underlies a point: It only takes a second, and accidents happen. We are going to do something that could save a life,” Brand told the 15 people who signed up for the “PSA-In-A-Day” training session at the Song Bird Theatre in Coeur d’Alene.

People drove from distant towns to attend the training session.

Karla Petermann, a board member of the nonprofit Sandpoint Films, said she attended because her group is interested in tapping local talent to produce public service announcements. That talent now includes former Hollywood producers and screenwriters who’ve retired in North Idaho, she said.

Sue Kidd, of Athol, who proposed the “driven to distraction/driven to destruction” lines that open and close the public service announcement, said she’s interested in video biography and also worries about a railroad crossing near her home.

“We have a treacherous track next to us. That’s how ‘driven to distraction’ came to me,” she said.

The safety message was produced in HDV, a digital tape format, and edited in Final Cut Pro, a professional editing program. It will air locally on Coeur d’Alene’s Channel 19.

Brand, screenwriter Bob Johnson of Dream Catcher Entertainment and film director Trevor Greenfield had done some work before their students showed up.

They had enlisted local helicopter pilot Jim Van Sky to help them collect 16 minutes of aerial footage of trains – including some sobering shots of a large tractor-trailer stuck on the tracks. They also had numerous audio files of whistling locomotives, crunching glass and other accident noises on a computer, and statistics on train-vehicle collisions, which occur every two hours in the United States.

But it was up to the class to create a script from scratch, record the action, edit the video, and mix in sound, graphics and other effects – a challenge in one day.

“I call this guerrilla production – when you just start shooting,” laughed Johnson, a former Los Angeles cop turned screenwriter whose production company is located in Hayden Lake.

After brainstorming and script-writing all morning, the students and their mentors drove to Cedar Street in Post Falls, where the road dips and crosses the tracks just south of Seltice Road. A real espresso stand, Jump Start Java, served as the backdrop for the script of the distracted couple heading for disaster on the tracks.

Each workshop registrant will earn a film credit, important for those trying to break into the competitive business. The new film and video society hopes to offer more workshops, including single-topic sessions on shooting, cameras, makeup and other production skills, said Sheri Stone, director of Song Bird Theatre.


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