Film students collaborate with nonprofit music organization

Logan Herrington

After attending several of Groundwork Music Project’s family-friendly concert events, radio-television-film professor Ellen Spiro felt inspired to get students in her “Creative Nonfiction Production” course involved in a collaborative effort with the nonprofit organization.

Groundwork Music Project’s primary purpose is to provide low-cost music lessons to economically disadvantaged students. Its concerts are one of the many ways the organization gives back to the community. 

Although the organization has only a few regular teachers, its mission is to show music teachers at schools they visit how to improve and establish permanent music programs in their own schools.  

“I want [the teachers] to walk away with some musical skills that they can use when we’re not providing the class,” said Neal Kassanoff, founder and executive director of the organization. “Especially with the young ones, it’s going to give them the opportunity to perceive the world as a place where this is what people do — look at all the grown-ups and how they make music. It’s not just the teachers.”

Although Spiro’s project for her class still requires some adjustments, she has laid out some tentative goals and started filming.  

The project will use the students’ filmmaking skills from a variety of angles. Spiro plans to send her students to Groundwork Music Project’s studio and several of the schools with which they are involved to gather footage of students learning and playing music with each other. Students will then collaborate to edit the footage to create a music video, a behind-the-scenes video of the organization’s latest album, and some documentary-style features detailing Groundwork Music Project’s involvement in the Austin community. 

Spiro said she has to receive clearance in order for her students to film inside Austin Independent School District campuses, but they have already shot some footage in the studio and at some schools outside the district. 

Kassanoff has done some short videos on Groundwork Music Project in the past, but he thinks Spiro’s project will be much more involved.  

“This has the potential to be much more expansive and much more of a narrative that stands on its own,” Kassanoff said.

Radio-television-film junior Betsy Martinez is one of the students who will be involved in the project.

“Because this is my first production course, I thought that doing a project that was brought up by the professor would be a good experience for me,” Martinez said. “I’m doing it for the learning experience, but I’m also doing it because of the good cause. [Kassanoff] is doing a great thing for these kids.”

Spiro said the project has the potential to benefit both the students in her class and the nonprofit organization. For her students, doing work the whole community will see is preferable to making videos for class that only their classmates will see. The videos will also help Groundwork Music Project spread its message to more people.  

“There’s always been a great connection between documentary filmmakers and nonprofit organizations,” Spiro said. “Documentary filmmakers are storytellers and nonprofit organizations often do great work. We have a way of sharing that work through media in a way that’s captivating.”