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Lesley Chilcott revisits education with ‘#TEACHnow’ PSA

By Randi Altman

Documentary filmmaker and commercial director Lesley Chilcott tackled the topic of education when she produced Waiting for Superman, a documentary that investigated public education in America.

She has returned to that topic once more, this time for the small screen and in the form of a 60-second public service announcement called #TEACHnow for Participant Media, a company that focuses on feature film, television, publishing and digital content meant to inspire social change. #TEACHnow premiered in early May as part of National Teacher Appreciation Week.

Lesley Chilcott (producer on An Inconvenient Truth and It Might Get Loud) talks about making this education PSA under the Rabbit Content banner. You can view it here.

Lesley Chilcott

What inspired the PSA?
Participant Media asked me to create a short spot to inspire teachers, but to make it something we’ve never seen before and to give it scope. After talking about it for awhile, I became stuck on one thought… you know those epic recruiting spots made for the military? Why not make one for our everyday heroes — teachers? I mean, who hasn’t had that special teacher that changed the way they look at things?

How did you come up with the story?
Creatively, I thought it might be interesting to follow four teachers getting ready for their first day of class. Instead of jumping out of helicopters they would be doing everyday things…tying a shoe, putting on a jacket, driving to school. And then showing how interesting prepping for your classroom can be.

These are our everyday heroes doing everyday things… and yet, these are the people that are teaching the future. So you’ll see an abundance of sun flares as our teachers go to school. I wanted to say, “Take a new look, the classroom is an exciting place.” Teachers now can have a lot of creativity in their careers. Mainly, I wanted to visually illustrate that teaching is so important that it deserves its own recruitment piece showing teachers as the heroic, life-changing, amazing people they are. I also wanted a big dramatic score, something composter Peter G. Adams ran with and really delivered.

You directed this piece, yes?
Yes. It was extra special to me because I was able to concept, write and direct — something we don’t always get to do.

What did you shoot on and why?
We used two Arri Alexa XTs with Elite anamorphic lenses. We only had a full day with our crew and then had a splinter unit a second day for some additional shots. We also had a Steadicam for a few shots.

LAdy with numbers tying shoe

Who was your DP?
Logan Schneider, whom I use a lot for both commercial work and documentaries. He brought an immense amount of creative ideas to the project, and not every DP can do great handheld work with anamorphic lenses like he can. His crew is also fantastic and really worked hard on this. Additionally, my production designer, Heidi Adams, was a key player. The classrooms look magical and yet very real.

What kind of look were you after?
I wanted to bring scale to an everyday occurrence: going to school to teach. Anamorphic lenses gave me scope and scale and we turned the world of teaching into a world with 12 suns.

Where did you do the shoot?
We shot in the Valley and downtown LA.

Where did you go for the post?
I love working with Chris Catanach at Stitch Editorial. He is clever, fast and he really brought a beautiful approach to a feel-good piece that honors teachers. Chris is genius at both a commercial approach and documentary style, so he was the perfect choice for this. And he always puts story first.

Teach Still 20 copy

Did you work with the colorist or did the DP?
Both of us went to the session with Leo (Leandro Marini) at Local Hero Post. Luckily for me, Leo was able to hop off his film for a few hours and give us some of his time. It’s one thing to be an amazing colorist, but Leo knows instinctively what is also best for story.

Would you like to add anything?
Two things: Participant Media is always visionary with their social outreach campaigns, so I love being a part of this. As education reform leader Geoffrey Canada, says, “Teachers are a work of art.” We need to show our brightest minds that teaching can be an incredible career choice and Participant clearly believes in this mission.

The other is that all of the crew went above and beyond. When everyone heard this was to honor teachers, everyone was in. Just like that. I think that’s a really nice commentary.

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