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Fort Mill High students win Emmy Award for PSA

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They thought it was just another assignment in their Television 1 class at Fort Mill High.

Make a public service announcement for the “Really?” video competition, their teacher told them.

They filmed it in a day, edited it in two. They didn’t know they had just made an Emmy award-winning video.

Just like more famous Emmy recipients Maggie Smith (“Downton Abbey”) and Julie Bowen (“Modern Family”), Fort Mill, S.C., students Sawyer Bengtson, 17; Mark Caponigro, 19; Ryan Long, 18; and Mason Strohl, 17, have received one of the coveted awards. (They got a glass trophy, which will reside at the high school.)

Their video, “Really?,” won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Southeast. In addition to Prime Time and Daytime Emmy awards, the National Academy has 19 regional chapters across the country that award Emmys for outstanding television on a local level.

For student public service announcements, “Really?” beat out six other nominees from across the Southeast.

Sawyer, Mark, Ryan and Mason didn’t even know their video had been nominated.

Their television production teacher, Karin McKemey, had been telling her classes to submit their work to the Southeast regional Emmy website, which accepts nominations from students and other local media. The four thought their work wouldn’t be up to par for the prestigious award.

“We thought, ‘Oh gosh, we’re never going to win an Emmy’ – I mean, we didn’t say that out loud to her,” said Mark, who just graduated from Fort Mill High. “I thought, there is no way.”

But McKemey went ahead and submitted their 40-second work: “I said, ‘Here’s the deadline,’ and no one did anything. I said, ‘I’m not going to let this opportunity go by.’ ”

The theme of the video, which placed second in the original “Really?” competition, is to question rumors and stop bullying. It opens with people putting sticky notes with negative phrases or messages on Sawyer, who stands motionless. Then he shakes them off and sticks a note saying “Really?” on himself. As he walks away, the message appears: “Before you write it, repeat it or repost it, ask yourself ... Really? Consider your source. Some stories shouldn’t stick.”

Mark said he got the idea of using sticky notes from the scene in “Bruce Almighty” when Bruce (played by Jim Carrey) is trying to figure out how to organize all of the prayers coming his way, and at one point becomes covered in Post-It notes.

“It just took off from there,” Mark said.

They filmed in an auditorium during one of their lunch hours.

“When we first started it, we thought, ‘Ugh, more work,’ because it was the end of the year,” Mason said.

The filming took that one lunch period, and about 300 sticky notes.

Then they spent two class periods to edit the video, paring down almost 40 minutes to 40 seconds by speeding up part of the video by 3,000 times.

“I thought we’d do pretty well, but never did I think we’d place second and go on to win an Emmy,” Ryan said.

Good thing McKemey thought otherwise.

When she found out her students had won, she said, she was ecstatic. She sent an email to the students’ teachers asking them to report to her classroom.

“I thought she was mad at me,” Mark said.

They thought the news of an Emmy win was a joke at first.

“I thought it was maybe ‘Emmy’ with one ‘m,’ ” Mason said.

“Yeah, a smaller thing out of South Carolina or something,” Mark said.

But it’s the real deal. The glass trophy, which has the iconic statuette image etched on it, recently arrived at Fort Mill High.

The Emmy category for student public service announcements accepted submissions of all kinds and wasn’t limited to the subject of bullying. “Really?” hasn’t been shown publicly on television, but as of last week, the video has had 20,850 hits on the video-sharing website SchoolTube.

McKemey said the school plans to move on from the video’s success to make more award-winning videos.

The four don’t have extensive video background – Ryan’s father is in film production, so he had some familiarity, but they were in the beginning production class and then sophomores and juniors when they made the video.

McKemey had nothing but praise for them.

“All four are very visual: They see things and know how to manipulate the camera and look for a good angle,” she said. “Those four really do have all of it. They can write, edit, be on camera, do sound, they can do lighting.”

Looking back, they said they learned a lot.

“Always enter in contests,” Mason said. “Always do your best work, too: Don’t just make it a class grade.”

“Make it simple and to the point,” Sawyer added.

Even after getting the trophy in the mail, they still can’t believe the win: “I put it on my resume,” Ryan said, “and I still think it’s weird.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294
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