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NMSU students collaborate with Top Level Music to create music videos

Perched up on the window of a sleek Plymouth Prowler, balancing a heavy camera and shooting rapper "Prodacall" as he lip-syncs his lyrics and speeds down the highway. It is just another day at school for students from New Mexico State University's Creative Media Institute.

Top Level Music President Reginald Hatton (left) listens to ideas for his rap videos at a meeting with NMSU Creative Media Institute students, junior Scott Saiz (middle) and senior Carson Poe (right). (NMSU photo by Donyelle Kesler)

Eight CMI students thought they were signing up for a basic summer internship for course credit. Instead, with zero budget and only their imaginations, they are spending May through August creating storyboards, holding casting calls, shooting video for days in triple-digit heat and finally spending hours sweating over a computer to edit the finished project.

The students say their work is worth much more than three college credits. In addition to passing the class, these students are hoping the chance to work on three music videos with an up-and-coming rapper and music label will help showcase their work and lead to other opportunities.

"It was a first experience for a lot of us," said senior Michelle Filkoff, who is directing for the group. "We learned as a group what everyone's niche is and were able to realize what didn't work in each video and how to make it a lot more efficient for the next."

CMI's reputation for training students who produce professional work was enough for Top Level Music President Reginald Hatton, also known as rapper "Prodacall," to trust his first music videos in the hands of CMI students. Hatton met with CMI Department Head Phillip Lewis to create a summer internship.

"This is a very diverse and interesting opportunity for these students," Lewis said. "They're doing everything that's expected of a crew with a million-dollar budget. Helping in the publicity, promotion and media for Top Level Music and putting their academic skills to work is something they can be proud of."

While Top Level Music has only been established as a business since January, Hatton has been working to get the label off the ground for the last two years and has been writing and working on music since he was 11 years old. For him these first videos are vital to his success as an artist and his expectations for the students are high.

"These students do storyboarding, pre-planning, scheduling, lock-down locations and get me prepared for the day," Hatton said. "It's their video; as an artist I'm there to help pre-plan and tell them what I think will work but it's in their hands."

To make professional videos takes a team of student producers and animators as well as a camera crew.

"It's a learning process and not what I expected," senior Carson Poe, producer on the project, said. "I love music and when I heard about this I knew I had to get on board with the project. When I started I was told I needed to storyboard and brainstorm ideas, but I didn't realize how much paperwork or how demanding it would be. I'm getting better, we're all getting better."

In addition to creating a strong storyline, the students are using animation to demonstrate a unique vision for each video.

"We're going to have an animated version of Prodacall in the next video," said Thomas Pendergrass, a senior who is working as an animator on the videos. "For me, it's about getting the best quality of animation for the video in a short amount of time, but these videos are definitely a team effort."

While everyone on the team has individual responsibilities, collaboration is crucial to bringing the videos together.

"The director will have the storyboards and framing ideas and bring them to the director of photography and camera crew and we look at the location and try to get a really good angle, figure out how to get these multiple shots," said junior Scott Saiz, first assistant camera operator.

"We're just always shooting for the stars with these videos," senior and director of animation Cyrille Gindreau said. "I think that the group we have is great because we all want to achieve the quality of today's music videos you see on TV."

"These people have exceeded my expectations," Hatton said. "They're doing things that artists like Ludacris have in their videos. It's very fulfilling to work with people who have the same drive and passion for making film and editing film that I have for my music."

Hatton will release his first album Sept. 13 and that same day set off on a 50-city college tour in which the videos will be featured.

To find out more about Top Level Music and to find out what students are doing each day visit http://toplevelmusic.blogspot.com/.