Students’ flashy video promotes love of reading

How can plain old reading ever compete for the attention of kids, immersed in a world of YouTube videos and Angry Birds?

By taking a page from the competition — using flashes, explosions and other special effects to invoke the feeling of wonder that can spring from the written word.

These were some of the techniques that helped two Cascade High School sophomores win an annual teen video competition to promote reading sponsored by Sno-Isle Libraries.

The winning entry, called “The Magic of Reading,” was produced by Adam McArthur and Joe Nissell, and beat out 18 other entries. They won a $75 gift certificate from Best Buy. Other teens in Stanwood and Camano Island won prizes based on votes from other teens.

“The Magic of Reading” video features a 9-year-old boy entering a library. “I just don’t get the big deal about books,” he said. He was about to find out. He opens a Harry Potter book to a flash and explosion and is instantly transported into a field at night and is engaged in a wizard wand battle.

“We were thinking, ‘How could we make this interesting, fun to watch and educational?’ ” McArthur said. “Harry Potter is one of the biggest kids’ books of all time. We thought what if someone went into a Harry Potter book and took it from there.”

The video lasts just under two minutes but it took the two students an estimated 75 hours to plan, produce and edit it.

The hardest part of the project was making the scene involving the wizard wand battle, shot during the daytime, appear to have taken place at night.

“You had to switch out the sky and make it look like night time,” McArthur said. They tried once, figured it could use some improvement, and then tried again before getting the effects they wanted.

Some of the scenes took 15 to 20 takes, said Scott Shafer Cascade’s video arts teacher. He should know. He’s featured in a cameo role as a librarian in the film.

His son, Eli Shafer, is the boy who initially didn’t get the big deal about books, but was transformed by the wonder of imagination.

The two students had to learn how to direct other people in the video, including Eli, who sometimes grew tired of the constant retakes and sometimes having cameras and a video light just inches from his face, Shafer said.

“Getting him to react appropriately was a directorial challenge for them,” he said. “They did a really good job.”

Cascade librarian Amalia Pimenta has shown the video to the school’s students to try to motivate them to read.

“It takes you back in time to elementary school when you used to tear though books,” she said.

McArthur and Nissell met in kindergarten and have been friends ever since. They made their first video when they were seventh graders.

One evening when the two were together, “we got bored and started telling jokes and laughing,” McArthur said. They got out a video camera and have been making films ever since.

Students in Cascade’s video arts class have access to sophisticated film industry standard cameras and software, Shafer said.

He critiqued the winning video as “well done, polished and clean.”

“It’s just a great piece,” he said. “These are two sophomores. Imagine what they’ll be doing in two years.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

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