This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
From Montgomery County to Los Angeles, Yaniv Aronson pursued his passion for film, working for Spike TV, the Travel Channel, and the Sundance Channel.
Four years ago, when one of his Spike TV bosses left to become a teacher in West Philadelphia, he followed.
“I’m coming into teaching with fresh eyes from the industry, and I’m seeing what seems to be working,” Aronson said. “I’m seeing kids who are passionate about something. It’s creative, and they are building upon their interests.”
Northeast’s program is unique in the city. Students take courses in three areas and are kept in the same cluster for both their CTE and academic classes.
Students take Aronson’s class in 10th grade, they take graphic and web design in 11th, and in 12th grade they take a video game design course.
In his class, students do “exactly what they would be expected to do in the industry,” which means they write scripts, edit video, and even roam the hallways narrating stories or shooting movie scenes. They use Adobe After Effects to work on special effects. They act things out, and they huddle around the audio board.
“By the end of the school year,” he said, “they are teaching me things.”
Aronson teams up with the academic teachers at Northeast to make sure that lessons cover English competencies.
“Writing is the most important thing you can do on a film set,” he said.
“You have to be a writer to be successful in the film industry. So a lot of my class is about writing, planning, and being organized. There are a lot of films with big budgets that have been beautifully shot, but are unsuccessful because of poor writing.”
Aronson shows students his own film work. He has traveled to make documentaries on a variety of topics from ghost hunting to the annual “polar bear” plunge of intrepid cold-water swimmers. He still strives to make a film each year.
“I stand before them with my work and tell them, ‘This is my movie. This is me as a filmmaker.’ I can tell them about the decisions we had to make on set and that I was once a struggling filmmaker. I let them know that it gets better over time.”
Aronson, who attended Wissahickon High School, said that he has had his eyes opened in Philadelphia.
“Coming from a suburban district, I had never been inside of a Philadelphia public school,” he said. “We recently had major budget cuts and the kids felt it. They also know that kids in other schools have more than them. We lost a lot of counselors and young teachers. Our students aren’t oblivious to the politics.”
In his teaching, Aronson keeps in mind what potential employers in the movie business are looking for – and it’s rarely a college degree or a certain GPA, he said. “They want to know who can edit, work a manual camera, or set the shutter speed, for example. Here they get the opportunity to build a portfolio and for me that’s the biggest thing. They are developing concrete skills.”