Spring Grove junior Zack Stauffer made his first video when he was 8 years old, mimicking a friend's older brother who owned a video camera.
The movie was simple — "It didn't have a plot or anything" — but it started Stauffer's goal of becoming a feature film director in Hollywood.
Since that time, Stauffer's Christmas and birthday presents have included gifts that furthered that dream: He now has his own camera, audio equipment and other tools necessary for movie production.
Stauffer, 17, of Heidelberg Township, created a short film for his graduation project, which tasks students with creating something that relates to their future aspirations. Stauffer asked a few of his friends to act in "Jaybird," a film just more than five minutes long that captures the battle between villain Jaxs and superhero Jaybird, who saves the citizens of Spring Grove.
Contest winner: The movie caught the attention of Stauffer's teacher, Steve Richard, who knew about the Spring Shorts Film Festival the Dallastown (High School) Video Production Club hosts each year.
Stauffer submitted the film and won three awards at the festival in early May, including Best of Festival.
Stauffer was the first student not from Dallastown to win the overall award in the three years it's been open to other schools. This year, students from nine different York County schools submitted 45 short films for consideration.
Stauffer said he enjoyed viewing the other movies nominated for awards: There aren't too many other film creators at Spring Grove, and he said he enjoyed seeing other work from students his age.
Stauffer said he plans to enter in next year's film festival at Dallastown. But before that happens, he'll be building his portfolio. Stauffer said he's hoping to make a few movies during his spare time this summer, adding to the 20 or so he's already directed, filmed and edited.
Action movies catch Stauffer's eye, but the Spring Grove Rockets linebacker and running back is also going to try his hand at creating a documentary about his football team's pre-season.
Future plans: Stauffer said his choice of college might blend his love of film and football. He visited Ithaca College in upstate New York earlier this year. He's also considering Full Sail University in Florida, which offers a two-year film program.
Stauffer said the movies he watches this summer will be part enjoyment, part study. Movies from directors such as Zack Snyder (of "300" fame) or Steven Spielberg inspire Stauffer with new ideas, which he might try in his own works — despite the significantly smaller budget.
"I use what I have to try to duplicate the same effects," he said.
Stauffer's award-winning short film took about 70 hours to create from start to finish, documented carefully for his graduation project. Stauffer said much of the editing is like trying to solve a word problem in math, when you know the answer but have to figure out the formula to get there.
In the same way, Stauffer finesses the effects and edits the shots to create the product he wants to see. The end results are often his favorite part of the project.
"I like seeing all the hard work come together," he said.
— Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.