StudentCam: The American Dream

BY: Jett Millican

Halle Frieden (12) and Grace Mills (11) have both been members of the Jenks Film Class for two years. It wasn’t until this year when both girls continued into advanced film class, did they decide to partner up to tackle their greatest cinematographic challenge yet.

The news media company C-SPAN hosts a nationwide student film competition each year in which student filmmakers are tasked with creating a piece based on political topics in today’s world. The competition is formally known as StudentCam, but many participants simply call it ‘C-SPAN’.

According to, “StudentCam is C-SPAN’s annual national video documentary competition that encourages students to think critically about issues that affect our communities and our nation.”

“This year the prompt is ‘What Does It Mean to Be an American?’” says Mills. Students were encouraged to use ideas like national rights to craft their pieces. “ It’s kind of like an essay except in film form…that all [Jenks] film kids are required to do.”

To say that Jenks has a tradition of placing well in the StudentCam competition would be an understatement. Jenks boasted an impressive 10 winners in 2014, to which Jenks Film Instructor Clifton Raphael told the Tulsa World, “It’s pretty unusual. And pretty unusual nationally.”

Frieden and Mills are hopeful to carry on the tradition of excellence that comes with participating in this competition at Jenks.

“Our topic for this CSPAN project is ‘The American Dream’,” says Frieden. “It is so big, we need all these different viewpoints on it, so we’re asking historians, these big people in government, everyday Americans, [and] people who have traveled and been out of America.”

Frieden and Mills have interviewed Governor Kevin Stitt, Congressman Kevin Hearn, and Professor Brian Hosmer (a historian at the University of Tulsa) while making this film.

“It’s The American Dream and all that really entails, because it’s different for everyone, which is something we really wanted to capture, that’s why we have the big people who are politicians and should be really educated on what that idea is supposed to be,” says Mills. “But then we wanted to get normal average people to show that it’s different to everyone. Someone’s ‘American Dream’ can just be having a house with a kid.”

To better display the idea of ‘The American Dream’ in their film, Frieden and Mills decided to use scenes of “stand-up” in which they are in front of the camera in wigs and costumes in order to act out the scenes they want.

“It’s really easy to make this C-SPAN boring and unentertaining, we thought that by using costumes and doing more stand-ups instead of like clips we find online, that it would be way more fun to watch and people would actually want to watch it rather than having it be ‘Just another C-SPAN’,” says Frieden.

Frieden and Mill’s melodramatic stand-up might be a good way to portray information, but they feel it might be their way of winning the StudentCam contest.

“I think the secret to winning anything in this competition is just making the judges laugh, or at the very least, just keeping them interested,” says Mills. “It is super easy for it to be just some boring essay… it is a boring essay, so you kind of have to over emphasize everything.”

It’s this idea of their C-SPAN piece being a sort of research paper that has helped Frieden and Mills along the way while making this film.

“I started researching back in July when they released the prompt, but I didn’t come up with our idea till October,” says Frieden.

“I think our ideas of writing and how to structure an essay has helped us more than other documentaries,” says Mills when asked how films they have made in the past have helped them make this one.

Hopes are high between this film duo as they work to finish before the Sunday, January 20th deadline. Contest winners will be announced Wednesday, March 13th. Be on the lookout for a follow up article on how our students placed.

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