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Filmmaking teacher announces retirement

After 18 years, it’s time to take steps in a new direction

Originally published June 14, 2019

After working for eighteen years to build up the nationally renowned Digital Filmmaking program, teacher Matt Lawrence has announced his resignation. Through his time cultivating an award-winning curriculum, Lawrence has helped many students realize their potential in the film industry, and provided them with opportunities to take their careers to the next level.

Lawrence stated in an email that he is collaborating with administration to maintain the high standards that he has created for the program. While a replacement has not been announced yet, the administration is working with Lawrence to find potential candidates.

“It takes broad shoulders to helm a program, so after 18 years I need to step down,” Lawrence said. “There have been talented filmmakers and gifted educators who have been interested in coming to the helm, so we’ll see what happens in the next month.”

The extraordinary success of students who have graduated from the Digital Filmmaking program is one of the facets which has made it stand out from other high school programs. From winning numerous awards, founding festivals, and launching successful careers in the film industry, it’s hard to quantify the ways in which Lawrence’s work has lead students to success in high school and beyond.

“College programs, if they’re fortunate, develop an active alumni network that creates opportunities for students that are currently in their programs, and Ballard has that as a high school program,” Lawrence said in a comment on some of the program’s greatest achievements. “[The fact] that there is that network, that students have done that for each other, is really amazing, and it gives me hope for the future to see that level of generosity and concern for others.”

Senior Max Beaulieu has worked with Lawrence through the program. “Even as a person who’s not going into a film school or anything, there’s so many things working through that program that I learned that I can apply to other situations,” Beaulieu said. “The teamwork, a lot of the problem solving especially, there’s a lot there that can be applied to a non-filmmaking setting.”

When senior Morgan Coffroth started out with the program as a freshman, she didn’t have any interest in working in the film industry. However, her work with Lawrence opened her eyes to a new world of study.

“He showed me what [filmmaking] actually was, and made me interested in it to the point that I am now pursuing communications in college,” Coffroth said. “He helped me find a passion I didn’t know I had.”

An aspect of the program that students in the program have consistently credited as part of their success is the way that they are treated by Lawrence himself. Alumnus Jesse Harris is one of the many graduates who went on to find success in the industry after high school. Co-founding the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) with fellow alumnus Kyle Seago, writing and directing a feature-length film which would later be shown in theaters across many states at age 17, and many other notable achievements are some of the things which Harris achieved with the program.

“He treated people as if they were serious adults wanting to do something,” Harris said, describing what has made Lawrence an impactful educator. “I think just that combined with how much he genuinely cared about [the program].”

Creating movies from a young age, Harris knew that filmmaking was a part of his future, and the program gave him a place to cultivate that talent. “I think what’s so special about this program is just how advanced it is,” Harris said. “He’d try to set people up for careers.”

“It wasn’t the thing that inspired me, but it was the thing that just kept me going. It gave me a place to continue to build those skills and learn more, and to have a place to feel like I was actually enjoying some part of school.”

Many alumni of the program have continued on to work in the film industry or attend renowned film schools after graduating. Alumna Rikke Heinecke works in Los Angeles producing music videos for popular artists, alumnus Brendan McCarthy was nominated for a Writer’s Guild award for the Netflix show, “Grace and Frankie,” and Jesse Harris is currently working on a project with Sony Pictures.

The high expectations that Lawrence set for students in the program, the alumni network, and the countless hours spent outside of school hours working on career opportunities for his students–these are all things that are a part of the legacy which Lawrence has left with the film program.

“I can’t imagine it’s going to be a smooth transition, but I can’t imagine it’s not going to work out,” Beaulieu said. “There’s a lot of really talented media educators in the area that I feel could take over very well.”

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Filmmaking teacher announces retirement