A mere few years ago, only the rich could afford video tape recorders, let alone the equipment necessary to make
video. Thanks to advances in technology, all that has changed. Today, almost anyone can pull together the
elements necessary to make their own video programs. Nowhere is this having an impact so much as with the
world’s youth. This month, Videomaker takes a look at three people who are taking part in what we
call the "kid vid" movement.
Jeff Combe–Panasonic Kid Witness News Instructor
Contact Jeff Combe at his office and he might just be with the sheriff filing a child abuse report. Combe
works at Garfield High School in notorious East Los Angeles–the same school featured in the film "Stand And
Deliver"–a neighborhood he blithely describes as "not very confidence-building." Unique among teachers, he
handles a full load of English, Journalism, American Literature, Composition and Radio and Television courses.
Combe’s mission is to use video to build the confidence of his students, to show them they have power and to
train them to make the best video they can.
But Combe doesn’t have to go it alone. In his quest to get students motivated to shoot video, he has a
powerful ally: Panasonic. Combe explains: "The Kid Witness News Program was developed by Panasonic to try
and get schools and industry working together. This particular program was meant to get video equipment into
schools around the country. Panasonic donates cameras, computers, videotapes and tee shirts to the schools; all
they require is that we enter at least one tape per year in their contest."
"I really gear the class toward teaching the kids how to be independent filmmakers," Combe says. "I try to
maintain the balance between fiction and non-fiction and I always try to keep the class working in new and
different ways." For the two-semester course, that means starting with the basics.
"I teach film history first, using silent films to show how camera angles can be used. I try to use a
different representative film and filmmaker to explore each aspect of movie making: one for sound, one for
lighting and so on."
Combe then moves his class, made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors, toward working directly
with the equipment. "Without the right tools, you won’t be able to build very well," Combe says, referring both
to understanding the language of video as well as handling the gear. Thanks to Combe, the students understand
the language; thanks to the Panasonic Kid Witness News Program, they have the right gear.
Guns and Prizes
Last year, the seven-minute video Combe’s class entered into the contest was a docu-drama of sorts. "Our
video was based on factual cases of kids bringing guns to school. Two years ago, the drama class at our school
had done a live performance involving several stories on the subject and we chose one to make a video out of.
The story is about a kid who brings a gun to school thinking it will protect him from some other kids he’s scared
of. A girl knows he has the gun, but she doesn’t tell anyone. After the kid with the gun ends up getting shot and
killed himself, the girl realizes she should have told someone about the gun and maybe her friend’s death could
have been prevented."
Apparently, it hit home with the judges: out of a field of 300, the tape produced by Combe’s class won
first place, an achievement of which he’s naturally very proud.
"As a result of our winning in both the educational category competition and as best video, Panasonic
flew me, a vice principal and six kids back to New York for a week. I can’t tell you how inspiring it was to the
kids. I mean, those kids came back different human beings. It really meant a lot to them and it really meant a lot
While working with troubled kids has its downs, the ups are rewarding enough to merit weathering those
pitfalls. "I just love working with kids because of what it means to them," Combe says. "Historically, you know,
artistic and creative people very often come from troubled backgrounds, and video or drama is a great place for
them because it serves as an outlet for their troubles. It’s a place where these kids can expose their troubles and
get respect for it."
Now entering his eleventh year as a teacher, Combe, who has degrees in film and drama, first worked
in front of the camera as an actor before moving into the classroom. Teaching first at the junior high level, he
started teaching video in a way he describes as "accidentally."
"I was talking to another teacher about using video and we just happened to be walking behind the
principal. When she heard me, she turned around and said, ‘You know how to operate video equipment?’ It was
too late to deny it by then and so she turned the equipment they had gotten from Panasonic over to me and I
started using it."
Into the Future
Of course, Combe has his reasons for feeling so strongly about video. "Educationally, it is the medium of
the future. This generation of students is so tuned in to video and so aware of it. Video cameras are extremely
common." But that’s not all–Combe loves it, too. "I love anything and everything that has to do with movies and
I have for as long as I can remember." It’s a passion that comes through even talking over the telephone.
One point Combe hits home over and over again is that you don’t have to be what he calls a "techno-
nerd" in order to make video; you just need the right tools.
"It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be some latest, greatest, top-of-the-line camcorder
with all kinds of bells and whistles–you just have to know what you’re doing. I can’t give you the specs on all
our equipment or quote lines of resolution, but I do know how to make something look good. And video is such
a democratic art form that as long as you know those basic tools, you can do anything you want. That’s what
video teaches, and when you get these kids to see that, especially the ones who see themselves as powerless, you
can give them a tremendous sense of power."
Mick and Kris Kollins–"World Youth News"
The power of video for kids is a message Mick and Kris Kollins want to get out to youth everywhere as
well. After this father-and-son team saw studies showing that kids didn’t like what they saw on the news–they
felt all the stories were depressing and downbeat–they decided to create "World Youth News," a news program
about kids, by kids from around the world.
Calling All Shooters
The first step in a process that has already put six episodes of "World Youth News" on the air was to
contact schools around the world and ask them to put up "Help Wanted" flyers on job bulletin boards. The
resulting response has been incredible. And it’s easy to see why: "World Youth News" pays 250 dollars for each
story they use. According to Mick, that’s no small potatoes in some countries.
"In Eastern Europe, for instance, an adult male takes home the equivalent of about 150 US dollars a
month. And that’s considered a good salary. Now you get his kid who comes up with a story, videotapes it and
sends it to us and we use it, that kid’s got 250 US dollars. Let me tell you, that kid is suddenly a real hero."
"It gives them a real sense of purpose and legitimacy," says Kris. "We make ID cards for them–press
badges. Some of our kids have used those press badges to get into political rallies and things like that."
As of right now, "World Youth News" is on two different cable networks three times a week. Combined
totals from both networks means WYN (pronounced "win") is currently in about 22 million homes. And that’s
just in the United States. European interest has been gaining steadily–20 countries are currently in negotiation.
One, Saudi Arabia, has already placed an order for 26 episodes.
Success, however, has not been easy. "When we first finished the pilot, we took it to a lot of people and
they simply didn’t know what to do with it. It wasn’t like anything they had seen before. It wasn’t exactly a news
show and it wasn’t exactly some kind of entertainment. It was infotainment."
Still, Mick and Kris knew they were on to something. Says Mick: "The teen market is the largest
market in the world, end of story. Last year, American teens, which number about 30 million, spent 57 billion
dollars of their own money."
Says Kris: "Besides that, they are the most accessible group–the easiest to talk to. We’ve got it so
they’re the ones who are doing the shooting and they’re the ones who are digesting that same information. We
don’t see a lot of good things for teens and we really wanted this to be one of the good things."
But "World Youth News" is only part of their plan. As they expand, their intention is to create the World
"Right now," Mick says, "we have a mini-CNN in place. We’ve got shooters all over the world who are
sending us stories and whom we can contact to go and get a story for us. Our ultimate goal, however, is to
expand into the on-line arena and become a complete on-line service. That way, people can send their videos to
us straight into our computers and the users out there can have direct access to that same information. We want
to provide a service where the user can become a participant."
"Besides," says Kris, "we’ve got a lot of footage that people have sent to us that we haven’t been able to
use yet, and we’re in the process of archiving it. When we’re finished, we’ll have this incredible library of footage
that, with the right software, people from anywhere in the world will be able to look at, just as if they’re going to
Direct work with the kids who shoot for them has already been happening. In one case, they received
three different tapes from London, England, all on similar stories. The problem was that each tape wasn’t really
complete. "One had good camera work," Mick explains, "but lousy writing. Another had good writing, but lousy
camera work." So Mick and Kris put all three into contact with each other and sent them out as a team to get the
story on unemployment that appears in the first episode of "World Youth News."
"It’s very interesting to see how kids from different countries have different skills and different
approaches. But that still doesn’t make me think they’re really that different. I think if you went into any kid’s
room in any country in the world, you wouldn’t be able to tell what country you were in. They’re all wearing
Reeboks and Levi’s. I think kids are essentially the same the world over and that’s why this concept is so
Interested in participating? The rules for becoming a correspondent are simple: you can be any age, but
the ideal age is somewhere between twelve and twenty-five; you must have access to a video camera; and you
must have something important to say.
"Obviously," Kris emphasizes, "the better the shooter you are, the better chance you have of seeing
your story on the air. We do all the editing and graphics and final post-production work, so just get the best stuff
you can and remember, quality audio is extremely important." Send your tapes to –
World Youth News, 5641
Colfax Ave. Suite 329
North Hollywood, CA 91605.
Fred Levine–"Road Construction Ahead"
Perhaps no one better understands the strength of the youth market than producer/director Fred Levine.
Fred is the creator of "Road Construction Ahead," a video for kids that has sold over a quarter-million copies.
Levine is another man with a mission, and like his colleagues above, he wants kids to see quality.
Where’s the Good Stuff?
Originally a producer of corporate and industrial videos, Levine first became exposed to the children’s
video market after the birth of his first child in 1985. To put it simply, he didn’t like what he saw.
"I was very disappointed with what was out there. It seemed that the programs were either very violent
or what I call namby-pamby video–you know, the world through a rose-colored video lens. And I asked myself,
where is the reality?"
He found it walking out the door one day when he glanced over and saw his children, Miles and Ian,
glued to a segment on "Sesame Street" that showed–you guessed it–a bulldozer pushing dirt around. "I knew
right then I was onto something. I said to myself, ‘There’s my reality-based programming. It’s got real people in
the real world doing a real job.’ Kids don’t need to be entertained by fake stuff."
That’s when Levine produced "Road Construction Ahead," his wildly successful video that consists
mainly of scene after scene of bulldozers, graders and other heavy equipment, doing what they do best: pushing
dirt around. 250,000 tapes later, Levine’s vision seems to have paid off.
But success didn’t come right away. Levine started small, getting his tape reviewed in newspapers and
"Whenever possible, I had the reviewer include my 800 number and I took all the orders myself." For
the first nine months, Levine paid for no advertising but eventually he began experimenting, initially in small-
town papers, and finally in the New York Times.
The strategy paid off. Since the first tape, Levine has produced two others–"Fire and Rescue" and
"Cleared for Take-Off"–both of which together have sold another 250,000 copies, bringing his total sales of all
three tapes to a half-million.
His success has inspired a number of other videomakers, but not in the way Levine would like to see. "I
knew when I first started this that a lot of people would jump on the bandwagon. But what really drives me batty
is that people are just in it for the quick buck, rather than being interested in doing something that has quality.
There is so much more quality programming for kids to be made, but people too often don’t go at it in a creative
or quality way; they just imitate something else that is successful."
And that is no road to success. Levine has had legal run-ins with at least two other companies who
have taken imitation of his product so far as to try and make their videos actually look like his. "I don’t know
why people can’t just do things in their own style."
His success has also inspired people to seek him out as a distributor for their material, but to date,
Levine simply hasn’t seen anything he feels his loyal customer base would value.
"Unfortunately, I haven’t come away from this whole process with a lot of positive feelings about the
video business. Overnight success really does have a lot of pitfalls. I’ve had to learn a lot of things the hard way.
Being a video producer and making a product did not mean I knew how to run a business, and I found myself in
the position of needing to run a business–which is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be." Even the first
video was no easy task; it required moving his family to another state, and took a year to complete.
"I knew I needed a major construction site in order to make the first video. We were living in Vermont
at the time and I found a huge four-lane highway construction project in Rhode Island, so we moved to a house
just up the street from there." Levine spent that year becoming friends with everyone on the construction site, a
working method he still employs today. "I still take six months to make a video because I like to get to know
everyone and everything about what they’re doing. I think that’s real important and a big reason people have
responded to the videos." After shooting, Levine started the arduous editing process, testing parts of the program
out on his kids. "If they watched it, it stayed. If they asked for peanut-butter sandwiches, it went."
Just Do It
The early days may have had their own set of difficulties, but Levine still often finds himself longing for
"I started with my equipment in the spare bedroom and my hat really goes off to the man or woman
who is out there doing the same thing. My advice to them is just keep going for it. Do something and do it well
and do it in your own style and recognize your own ability to create and be original. There’s a lot of people out
there who really want good video and that’s part of what I feel like I’ve provided. A lot of people told me I
couldn’t do what I have done. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it."
In fact, Levine is so interested in people who can make video that he wants to hear from them. If you
think you’re a talented shooter or editor, send a demo reel less than ten minutes in length to:
Fred Levine Productions
P.O. Box 4010, Portsmouth
Send an SASE if you want your tape returned, and if you
want to be sure he’s gotten it, send the package via registered mail–return receipt requested. And no phone calls,
please. If Levine likes what he sees, he’ll contact you.
No doubt the future will bring a greater explosion in kid vid. With such a huge group of young people
learning how to use video and camcorders getting cheaper every day, there can be no doubt that we’ll be seeing
more of it.