LBHS students showcase filmmaking talents

Community Roots & Dana Hills HS students pose with the 2022 Coast Film & Music Festival banner after presenting their films.

Zealan Munsey, Photographer

The arts have a big place in our little town of Laguna Beach. From the Pageant of the Masters to the Sawdust Festival to the many galleries here and there, we can’t get enough. One of our most treasured annual events is the Coast Film & Music Festival. Filmmakers and musicians from all over the world get together to showcase their amazing productions to our locals and travelers alike. Local businesses come and volunteer to give the best experience possible to the attendees. 

The Coast Film & Music Festival focuses on the beauty of the world and the calling of nature – and also how we have to protect our home planet. This year was the first time that student-made films were shown, and I had the pleasure to watch them all. Three of the twelve films were produced by LBHS students. 

Senior Ashton Azadian touched on the avoidance of peer pressure, mainly with regard to alcohol, through connections with the ocean and friends. Junior Parker Smialowicz and senior James Golden talked about the escape from everything that spearfishing provides. Lastly, seniors Jackson Flemming and Hailey Weng and junior Victoria Gutierrez highlighted the life of William Wilcoxen, a man whose work, such as building our schools, greatly impacted the Laguna Beach community.

Stay tuned for more on William Wilcoxen, as the trio is going before City Council to try to get Top of the World Park renamed after him, and yours truly will be covering it.

Here are some interview questions that I asked our Breaker filmmakers and their responses:

What’s the name of your film?

Parker: A View from Below

Ashton: Passions are Priceless

Jackson: Wilcoxen Park Project

How long did filming take?

Parker: The shots took about 4 hours to film.

Ashton: I probably had to do more than ten film sessions throughout 2 years.

Jackson: I have been working on this campaign since June of this year, but I didn’t get to filming until late September.

What type of camera did you or your group use for filming?

Parker: My camera is a GoPro 8 Black (waterproof, as the film contained almost all underwater shots).

Ashton: I used the GoPro Hero 8 & 9 for beach scenes and the Canon Rebel T7 for the party scene and interview scene.

Jackson:  I used a Sony – Handycam AX53 for the interviews and b-roll footage.

Here is some additional information about the films and their creators:

Parker: I go spearfishing as much as I can depending on the conditions, but I went out a lot during the summer. Spearfishing is such a fun and unique way of using the ocean. I also love eating the fish I catch, and being out in the ocean is really relaxing. The depth depends on where I am, if I am diving for smaller fish on a reef or in a kelp forest, I’m diving anywhere from 15 to 50 feet, when I’m in open water like the film, it all depends on where the fish are – sometimes they’re on the surface and sometimes they’re deep.  We were catching Mahi Mahi, and the fish came with the warm water that came up here from Baja (California).

James: Spearfishing really taps into your primitive nature. I love jumping off the boat into possibly dangerous waters, shooting a spear through a fish, and returning to the boat with dinner. We usually shoot yellowtail, dorado, California sheephead, and grab lobsters. We hope to shoot some white seabass this winter. We don’t need to dive very deep to find most of these species. The deepest we’d really need to go is around 30ft.  I am proud of Parker because he used his passion for spearfishing and created a very interesting film out of it.

Ashton: I see many high schoolers spending their free time drinking alcohol and doing recreational drug usage to escape their problems. As I said in my video: it’s tempting, it’s exciting, and it’s an easy way to be accepted by a friend group. I am saddened by this effect and I choose to abstain from alcohol and focus on my passion: filming and the ocean. I always try to be the best influence among my friends to let them know that I am always sober-minded and that I want to be at my fullest/best. The ocean is my biggest escape from everything. This is because I’ve been attached to the ocean since a young age and I love it for the colors, the sounds, and the species that build its beautiful foundation. It really makes me feel alive and it is truly my sanctuary. Mr. Shen helped me film the party scene and my friend Cruiz Lynn helped me film the interview. I did all of the editing myself and 75% of the filming. Everything is based on my knowledge without any additional help. The editing wasn’t hard, it was the filming. One film session involved my interview, the other involved a party scene, and the others involved beach scenes. These seemed to be ridiculously challenging but very enjoyable. I started filming during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and I finished filming during the Fall of 2020.

Jackson: I found out about Bill Wilcoxen through a resident at top of the world who wanted to rename the park after him. He came to me with a ton of research about Wilcoxen and what he did for our community and asked if I could lead a campaign, which included making a documentary, to bring to the Laguna Beach City Council in hopes of getting it approved. From all of his research and connections, I was able to get into contact with Bill Wilcoxen’s daughters, who allowed me to interview them and their mother in her 90s.  I made this video to lead a campaign to rename “Top of the World View Park” to “Wilcoxen Park” to honor Bill Wilcoxen and decrease confusion for tourists who are trying to get to Alta Laguna park but are redirected to this smaller park. The primary goal of this documentary is to persuade the Laguna Beach City Council to approve our request to rename the park. I received a lot of good feedback on the video and was told that I should enter it into the Coast Film Festival, which could help spread the message of the video. For the interviews, I took one of my partners, who is helping with the campaign, to Wilcoxen’s widow’s house to interview her and her daughter Jenny. The interviews took about an hour, and we stayed for about 30 minutes to take pictures of archived documents and photos which showed the work Wilcoxen did for our community. On another date, I went up to Top of the World View Park (the park we want to rename) and filmed for about 30 minutes on my Sony to get footage for my documentary, and then filmed vertical footage on my phone for our social media campaign. I then spent about 20 hours editing, color correcting, and sound mixing the video. (Yes, for a 2-minute video). What I found most interesting about Bill Wilcoxen was how much work he did for the Laguna Beach community, which included protecting public parks from people trying to build more houses, keeping our beaches private, and creating new parks all over our city for residents to explore nature. The sad part about this is almost nobody knows who he is and the profound impact that he made on our community. So it was my goal to educate people about his impact on our town and honor him by renaming a park after him.

Links to films:

Ashton: Passions are Priceless
Jackson, Victoria, and Hailey: Wilcoxen Park Project