Flipping for trees

Fifth-grader hopes to win contest that would help spruce up school

schandler@newsobserver.comFebruary 3, 2013 

Sean Smith is willing to bend over backward to make his message about trees heard. And in fact, that’s just what he did.

The video he made for Scotties’ “Trees Rock” video contest features the Cary fifth-grader’s mouth and chin, flipped upside-down and painted gray with paper eyes pasted under his bottom lip to create a rock who makes for a goofy but charming narrator. He filmed his scenes lying on a lawn chair outside, leaning his head back to face the camera upside-down as he recited the lines he wrote about the importance of trees and forests.

“We decided we wanted to make it funny, and that was a funny way to do it,” Sean said.

The two-minute video was named one of 12 finalists in the contest, and the winner will be decided through public voting on the contest’s website, scottiestreesrock.com.

“I was very excited” to find out last month that the video had made the cut, Sean said. “We worked on it a lot and we put a lot of effort into the video, so we didn’t want to just be shut out of the contest. We were very happy that we were able to achieve that goal of being one of the 12 finalists.”

That “we” includes his mom and his two younger sisters, all of whom had roles in the video. (Well, their chins did, anyway.)

If he wins the top prize, Sean, 10, would get $5,000, a tablet computer, and a trip for his family to either the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park. His school – Weatherstone Elementary in Cary – would win $10,000 and a tree-planting event.

The school will have no trouble finding a way to spend that prize money in the environmentally friendly spirit in which it is given: there’s a master plan ready to go that would add trees and beautify the campus, Sean said.

“We’ve had talk around the school about the master plan, and when we’re going to take action,” he said. “But after the video we realized we’d have enough to fund the master plan if we won.”

The plan, as Sean describes it, concentrates on the area around the school’s outdoor classrooms and the playground used by students in kindergarten through second grade. Overgrown trees will be tamed, and new trees will be planted in areas in need of shade, he said.

As he made the video, Sean learned not only about how forests are helpful to people and animals but also about technology and how to make a video that presents a lot of information in an effective way.

After some initial reluctance (“I had to talk him into doing it,” Sean’s mom, Catherine Smith, admitted. “Actually, I kind of had to MAKE him do it.”), Sean took the helm and did everything a movie maker must to do get the job done.

“He basically directed it, he narrated it, he produced it, he edited it, he got all the props,” his mom said. And he had to handle casting, too.

The original plan was to have his sisters – fellow Weatherstone Elementary students Clare Smith, 8, and Sarah Smith, 6 – read parts of the script, but they couldn’t make it through without giggling. So he rewrote their part to a cameo at the movie’s end and asked his mom to be his co-star.

Now that the filming (which was done entirely on an iPhone) has wrapped, Sean is watching the votes come in and waiting to see which video will emerge on top when voting closes Feb. 15.

He’s dreaming of a Weatherstone Elementary School with “more trees just out in the open providing shade and just making it look nicer out in the field,” and maybe, just a little, about that $5,000 he could win.

“I was thinking of just putting it into my college account,” he said, responsibly. Then he added: “And then maybe for a car when I’m older.”

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