Western Reserve Academy (WRA) contacted us in July 2018, looking to do a video six weeks later. Serendipity had come knocking as the slot they wanted had just opened up.
Meg Colafella, Director of Communications at WRA, expressed to us that although they’d always been promoting their Midwestern values, humility has no place in a competitive market. WRA had received various accolades and they were looking to get the message out to the world.
The initial idea was to produce a satirical “mockumentary” that showed all the students and faculty lamenting the burden of being the best. In some cases (most literally) lugging trophy filled backpacks around, or growing tired of the endless ringing of their victory bell. What better way to poke fun at your own humility than to turn it on its head, with dramatic effect.
Because of the small scale nature of the production, only two of us traveled to Hudson. A documentary style video wouldn’t require too many hands on deck.
Meg, Rose and Sarah make up the marketing and communications department at WRA. Each of them is more vibrant than the next. During our first meeting with them on a sunny Monday morning, Rose in the bubbly fashion that she expresses herself said that she wanted the video to be big, and perhaps go viral.
My first, and almost default response was, “Ok! So let’s do a musical.”
The ladies lit up with excitement and immediately started imagining it. I looked across the table to our producer, Alesi, and quietly apologised. A musical would be a substantial (near impossible) task given the circumstances: we had 16 days (to present a final product), we were a two person team, neither of us had ever done a musical and neither of us are musicians. Meg, Sarah and Rose did have reservations about how realistic a musical would be, but they were so enamoured with the idea that they were willing to take the plunge and trust that we could do it. We do like challenges.
As though we were parading a new puppy, we hurried from department to department to cue them in on our idea. This was our first day on campus and we were already making a splash.
The acid test came around noon when we were to meet with the entire admissions office. Ten of us sat in a circle in one of their cosy waiting rooms. Amid some shuffling, we broke the silence with,
“We want to do a musical”.
We heard crickets.
To say their response was emotionless would be an overstatement. I don’t think they were particularly thrilled about the idea, perhaps they just couldn’t picture it. Two weeks later we were filming the lot of them dancing in a conga line.
After three days of getting the know the school, we had prepared the whiteboard. This is a professional ritual we have where we jam all the talking points of a school (gathered through our first hand research) onto one dry-erase board. We have columns for the people, the places, the subjects and the activities we should be drawing attention to. This is a great place for a client to see all the points the video is going to make, to add the ones we missed and to remove some others.
With a go on the whiteboard, we started writing music.
We tried dozens of different genres and moods, each falling short of what we were looking for. On Thursday evening we took a break and sat with some of the girls in their common room when Jen, an upbeat senior, came shuffling into the room to an old school hip-hop classic. Turns out, the kids are into old school hip-hop now, and so the ideas just dropped from the sky.
The first order of business was to address the fact that the school was in Ohio. From our research it seemed as though everyone was apologetic about that fact (how Midwestern). We wanted to own the fact that WRA is in Ohio, so we set out to create an image of a Northeastern boarding school that is then surprised with the introduction of the fact it was in Ohio.
To set that image up, we determined the characteristics of a New England boarding school that WRA shared. The latin motto, the red brick pathways, the fact it’s been around for almost two hundred years, the beautiful architecture and the blazers. So the first lines we wrote were:
Representing the Northeast in style since 1826, we’ve got a Latin motto, schools who follow walking on red bricks.
Attending class in sharp green blazers it’s just how we dress, but listen up though, because we’ve got a little something to confess
This is not New England though despite what you may think I’ll tell you we are in Ohio! Oh what? Ohio!.
We tried all the talking points in the form of hip hop verses and settled on the ones we considered the best lines. Alesi and I are extremely particular about syllable count so the lines had to be perfect:
You should already know this fact but let me drop some knowledge,
You’ll be thankful that you chose Reserve when you apply to college.
Just send your applications and then watch them as they score
When the world’s best schools come knocking at your door!
Every line we write needs to serve a purpose, we avoid throwaway rhymes (unless for comedic effect), so in the next verse we had four lines that had to drive home the point about residential life. We had to make it clear that WRA is a boarding school, that it is situated inside Hudson (rather than far from a town), that kids get to be independent at boarding school, that they live with their best friends, that some kids choose to board even if they live nearby, all the while showing their rooms and social spaces. We paid special attention to film at night because no admissions video does that, and that night time is a fundamental part of the boarding experience.
D’you know Reserve is a boarding school in the middle of a little town called Hudson
You’ll be among the independent few living life like you’ll be doing in college
Here you’ll live with your best friends which you won’t get if you go to day school no you won’t.
My home’s a few miles down the road, and yet I still chose to be a boarder, wanna know why?
With these four lines we were ready to move into a chorus. We had written dozens of melodies but none were sticking. Saturday morning brunch we showed a group of students what we had come up with and presented our problem. Half an hour later the whole group was in the music room looking to come up with a chorus. It took about six hours of trial and error and we’d come up with:
You will find your second home at Western Reserve, there are a thousand reasons why alumni want to return.
The consensus was that it was too heavy. A catchy chorus can’t be too dense. I suggested we do a light call and response and split the two lines we wrote as two calls that will face their own response:
Call: You will find your second home at Western Reserve
Response: You will find yourself, you will find your people.
Call: There are a thousand reason why alumni return
Response: Cause they found themselves and they found their people
Last Call: You will find your second home at Western Reserve
Response: You’ll spend four years here, as a Pioneer
You will find 3x
That was it. Everyone knew it. The video below shows the first moment we played the chorus that we would eventually use.
The only subjects on our whiteboard we had left were the WIC (The Wang Innovation Centre), the Dining Hall and the fact that WRA has a specialist from the Cleveland Clinic teaching Cancer Immunology, a course virtually no other school offers. We were still in the music room and Noah, a junior, elected to take on the WIC part. “Give me 26 minutes” he said.
Drop the bass one more place we’re at the maker-space! Called The WIC it’s making other schools look so disgraceful! We’re grateful, for this innovation, for our generation, prompts our fascination, the day of fabrication!
So I think it would be good to rhyme GRATEful with innoVATE, something like that.
Wait I’ve got it! How about.. We’re grateful, the chance to innovate more! 3D printing coding I can even make a skateboard!
It was only natural that he’d perform his own line.
With no time to lose, the next day we fashioned a makeshift recording studio in a radio space in the basement of the dining hall. Most people didn’t even know the space existed as it had been out of commission for a while. We always travel with recording equipment for eventual voiceovers, and now, music recording.
Because we had already attended auditions for the Fall musical we had a good idea about the talent available, and made sure to pick the students who we knew would steal the show. We were not disappointed.
Throughout the writing process the weather was fantastic. We had bright blue skies every day, and we took it for granted. The five days we filmed were as bleak as days can get, which moved a number of our scenes inside. As a friend once told me, a good filmmaker is out to capture energy. That’s what it was, weather or not, we were there to make sure we caught the spirit of the place.
All in all, virtually the entire student body makes an appearance in the video, the students had a blast performing and the faculty had a lot of fun too. The purpose of the video was to drive enrollment, and that’s definitely what it did, though its effects reach much further. The video has become a statement of who WRA is to the outside world. It has become a point of pride for students, alumni, parents, faculty and anybody related to the school. It has created a brand identity for an identity that was always there, but just needed to be tapped into.
If it’s a talking head video, then yes, an admissions video is just a video. If you go out of your way to do something special, to tell your story in your own words in an exciting and memorable way, your video becomes much much more, and you’ll see its effect in places you might never expect.
If you’re interested in going on an admissions video adventure with us, feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at (518) 620 4446.