Taking a chance, putting in the work and not giving up has paid off for Burnsville High School senior Scott Tinkham, whose short film “JERRAD” was the featured film of the .EDU Film Festival, winning best documentary and best cinematography.
Making award-winning videos is nothing new for Tinkham, who earned a reputation for his skilled camera work and editing abilities early in his high school career, even before his first film production class. Having seen his work, multimedia teacher and BHS football coach Tyler Krebs said he sought out Tinkham and encouraged him to take his class. He also went on to offer him a position as the highlight videographer for the Blaze football team.
“He was a person I actually kind of recruited. I had seen some of the work that he had done and said, ‘Hey you need to take some of these classes,” Krebs said.
In all, Tinkham created between 25 and 30 videos for the football and hockey teams and earned three NATAS-Upper Midwest Region Student Video Production Awards for his work in the past two years. Having gained plenty of experience in the area of sports film production, he decided he wanted to try his hand at something different.
“I was so into that field of sports cinematography and pump-up videos that I really needed to do something that meant something to me,” Tinkham said.
Tinkham and Jerrad Solberg had known each other since they had neighboring lockers at Nicollet Junior High in Burnsville. Solberg was born with a type of cerebral palsy known as spastic quadriplegia, which limits the range of motion on his left side and the movement in his legs.
“I mean he stands up, he’s got this walker and people see him because of that, and this year I kind of realized that there’s a story I could tell,” Tinkham said.
Tinkham knew this would be something different, something he was less familiar with, and he knew that doing it right would take a tremendous amount of time and effort. He also had apprehensions about asking Solberg, and Solberg’s family, if it’d be OK to do the film, not wanting to make the film a “pity piece” or to in anyway exploit him. Tinkham held back for weeks, even months, debating if it was something he wanted to do.
“The hardest part was getting started,” he said. “I’d think about it every day. I’d be like, ‘Should I do this project,’ and every day would go by and I’d be like, ‘I could do this but it’d be a lot of work. How do I explain it to Jerrad and his family, what I want to do with this story?’”
Finally Tinkham took that first step and asked Solberg if he would be interested in being the focus of a short film. As it turns out, Solberg had some experience in front of the camera, having been highlighted in a number of Gillette Children’s Hospital videos specifically for his walking abilities. Tinkham’s video, however, would be taking a broader look at his life and journey with cerebral palsy.
“I was a little nervous at the beginning,” Solberg said, before adding that he thought it was a good idea, not only would it give people a better idea of who he is, but because it may also inspire others.
Tinkham spent weeks filming everything he could, even following Solberg around entire school days and at home. In total, Tinkham estimates that he shot over 70 hours of film and took around 140 photos of Solberg. Tinkham spent hours upon hours painstakingly converting VHS tapes and photos into digital format and editing the footage. He had finally completed his film with time to spare before it was due for entry into the .EDU Film Festival. That’s when near-disaster struck.
“I was done with the film, after about a month of editing, and then I lost everything — all my work — because my solid-state drive failed on my computer,” he said.
While he did lose his entire edited film, the silver lining was that he was able to recover the unedited footage and converted files, and so he began again. Having a clear vision of what the video would be, he spent hours re-editing the film on a friend’s computer, and managed to get it done just in time to enter into the film festival. In total, he invested over 100 hours into creating the 15-minute film. Tinkham said if anything good came from that computer-crash experience, it was that having to edit the whole thing a second time actually made it more refined.
“It took me a couple of long nights but I got it done. It was extensive, it was a grueling editing process, but editing it through two times made it better,” he said.
For Solberg, the process was a unique experience and he said that while he was nervous to be the subject of the short film, he hoped that it inspires others. By highlighting what he has overcome, and continues to work on, he hoped that people would see that hard work pays off.
Tinkham said that he chose to capitalize every letter in the title because he wanted the story to convey a broader message. While Solberg is the focus of the film, a central theme is that it’s important to reach out and make connections with people regardless of their seemingly apparent differences.
“It’s a story that can apply to a lot of people in their walks of life, and I hope it inspires,” he said. “But at the same time I hope it shows how he’s just a normal kid.”
Through the filming process, Tinkham got to know a lot about Solberg and one the most interesting things he learned about him was that he can walk without a walker.
“I didn’t know he could walk without his walker. I think most people that see Jerrad at school don’t know this, and I think this will be a huge surprise to people when they see this movie,” he said.
Within 40 minutes of submitting his film to the .EDU Film Festival, Tinkham received a call from the director of the event saying that the panelist reviewed the movie and wanted to do a special screening of it during the event, which took place on Friday, May 13. During the event the film was awarded Best Documentary and Best Cinematography in the best-in-fest showcase. Tinkham has also submitted it to the All American High School Film Festival in New York City, which will take place in October.
Krebs said that BHS arranged to bring around 100 students to the ShowPlace ICON Theater in St. Louis Park to watch the film. Following the viewing there was a 30-minute question and answer session with Tinkham and Solberg.
In his 20 years as a teacher, Krebs said that he has had only a few students as passionate about film and as talented as Tinkham. Many of the techniques he used in the film were self taught, and Krebs said Tinkham created the video entirely on his own, without feedback or guidance. Overall, Krebs was impressed with how it turned out.
“It’s very moving,” he said. “It’s a really cool story, Jerrad’s a great kid and it’s a very emotional film when you watch it. It’s very nicely done.”
Solberg is currently a junior at BHS and is planning to coach adapted baseball in the near future, and attend St. Cloud State University when he graduates. Tinkham will be graduating this spring and starting at University of Arizona to study film production. He said that he’ll use his first year to figure out what area he’d like to specialize in.
“There are so many different branches that I could take in film production. I want to try directing, editing, cinematography, all that fun stuff,” he said.
Tinkham’s aiming to transfer to the University of Southern California his sophomore year to enter its prestigious film program. Krebs expects Tinkham’s passion and talent for film production to take him far.
“I always tell every kid in here, ‘Whatever you decide to do for a living, find what you love and get paid for it.’ He’s going to enjoy working because he’s really passionate about it,” Krebs said. “He’s found his niche, he’s found his passion and that’s exciting as a teacher when you see that in a kid.”