We’re heading for a basket
We’re running for the floor
We are the Mighty Gigantopithecus,
And we are going to score!
Gigantopithecus is real enough, though the 10-foot ape went extinct long before it got to try basketball.
But that cheer is for an imaginary team at an imaginary high school — one that happens to look a lot like Masset’s George M. Dawson Secondary.
Written by Taylor Lantin for the pilot episode of Ballers & Scholars, a comedy series made by students in a GMD drama class, the cheer and the cheerleader who performs it on the show are funny because they seem at least a little bit true.
Take Solas Reynolds, the show’s super popular, extra confident Grade 8 kid.
Like all the students and teachers who star on Ballers & Scholars, Solas plays a cartoon version of himself.
In the opening shot of the pilot, he tells a Star Wars joke — “Why did Anakin Skywalker cross the road?” — and doubles over laughing at his own punchline — “To get to the dark side.”
Speaking with some of the Grade 10 to 12 students who create the show, they said that’s kind of what Solas is like.
Likewise, when Dion Lewis rattles off the Gigantopithecus cheer in character, he throws in a cheese-y lay-up move that wasn’t in the script.
Teacher Derek Seifert said that officially, the class is called Drama, Film, and Television Production, but everyone at school calls it GMD-TV.
“It’s been a learning process for us, because it’s the first time this class has run,” said Mr. Seifert, although it’s not the first time GMD students have had success with video.
Last summer, a group of GMD students produced a documentary short called Body Image, based on interviews with adults and students from Tahayghen Elementary.
The film won a Reel to Reel scholarship, sending the creators to a summer workshop at the Gulf Island Film & Television School, where they shot another doc about island food that featured local farmers and chefs.
Among the memorable scenes is a shaky, hand-held shot of the students running from some Galiano goats.
“All of a sudden, one of them starting coming closer,” said Zaya Zaleska, laughing.
“All of them walked toward us and then they were like, charging.”
After the workshop, several students already had experience with film editing software and setting up well composed shots. They also took cues from TV shows that owe a lot to real high-school stories, like the original Degrassi High and all too short-lived Freaks & Geeks.
Switching from documentary to a script-based comedy took a couple tries before it went smoothly, but the GMD-TV team has three episodes done, and two more written and ready to shoot.
So far, they’re on track to produce one episode a month, and Mr. Seifert hopes a new class will keep the show rolling next school year.
Already, the writers are pushing at the boundary of fact and funny.
Principal Bernadette Marie Ouillette is cast as a tyrant who calls students vermin and dreams of a school with daily tests, white walls, blasting water fountains and zero windows.
But even in character, the principal has her limits, said student Cora Camire.
When the script called on her to say a student was ‘dumb,’ Ms. Ouillette refused because it was something she would never say, even as a joke, said Camire.
“She changed it to ‘useless.’”