The Film Farce of Lawrenceville

One to two minutes in length, the videos are brimming with smiling students, synchronized music, and that perfectly saturated lighting. The buildings, pond, and Harkness tables look beautiful, but something seems a little off—the scripted lines a little too forced, the cheering “crowds” a little too sparse.

One to two minutes in length, the videos are brimming with smiling students, synchronized music, and that perfectly saturated lighting. The buildings, pond, and Harkness tables look beautiful, but something seems a little off—the scripted lines a little too forced, the cheering “crowds” a little too sparse.

As a part of the School’s Strategic Plan, these three admissions videos, an overview of the School, a Harkness showcase, and a film on House, focused on the unique aspects of Lawrenceville. The Film Guys, an outside, professional marketing and video production group, visited the Lawrenceville campus for a couple weeks to produce this collection of videos and are returning to finalize more segments.

But with over 10,000 combined views on YouTube, and more School resources to be funneled to this project, we must pause and consider the purpose of such videos. What community does it represent? How genuine and accurate should they be? And who are they catered towards?

The Films Guy’s website reaffirms its own answer, stating that “the core function of an admissions video is to attract new students and ultimately bolster admissions.” The Admissions Office refers to them as “admissions marketing videos.” Certainly these videos, as tools for advertising and admissions recruitment, are not for those students currently at our School.

These videos, then, must be geared at prospective students, parents, and alumni. But even as advertisements, these videos run into several problems. There isn’t an arts video, for one, something many students consider a major oversight in coverage of what’s important at the School given the size and prominence of Lawrenceville’s arts outlets. In many cases, their production also interrupted the school day in unnecessary ways, making their presence on campus a nuisance.

But perhaps the most egregious problem with these videos is that, in creating the idyllic portrayal of Lawrenceville the School wants to promote, these videos betray the truth of the Lawrenceville experience—and the ideals at its foundation. In a video meant to showcase students’ uniqueness, Head Master Murray took precedence over the students featured in the video, who seemed more like set dressing than important members of the community. At a table designed for organic, spontaneous connections, where no two discussions should be the same, students’ commentary on Harkness was so painfully scripted even those in the video couldn’t help but wince. At a table designed for collaboration and dialogue, Harkness was reduced to a series of monologues. Though the House video was slightly better, its emphasis on House as a place where you “build lifelong friendships [and] always fit in” not only belies the truth—that no community on campus can guarantee that you will “fit in” and not every friend is forever—but also implies that the School cares more about students’ ability to fit in under social pressure over genuine connection. Overall, in a video series designed to show how “different” our School is, all these videos managed to capture is the pressure to conform.

If these staged versions of Lawrenceville flopped so badly, why not simply showcase real House scenes? Why not work with real Harkness discussions? The answer lies in the way the lawns were a little too green, the buildings a little too bright; in the way the School wanted to showcase “difference” by selecting a perfect mix of students of different genders and races for every shot. The filmmakers wanted to be in control of not just how the School was seen, and, in doing so, inadvertently defined the way they wanted Lawrenceville to be: a place that promotes intellectual and personal growth without conflict, that promotes diversity without difference in opinion. Given that growth and diversity inherently require conflict, it is a small wonder trying to erase it at Lawrenceville comes across as contrived.

All of this isn’t to say that Lawrenceville shouldn’t advertise itself. But there are clear ways to make this advertising more genuine. We must be clear on who we are trying reach through videos like these, catering the tone and approach accordingly. And whether we strive to attract parents or prospective students, a student-driven, collaborative production would better promote an authentic and appealing image of Lawrenceville. Rather than focusing on flashy new videos for no apparent reason, perhaps the best solution is homegrown. Perhaps all we need to do is showcase Lawrenceville’s student-led productions on its YouTube channel, which already offer detailed and well-directed videos from the perspectives of those who have been at Lawrenceville for years—not weeks. Perhaps who we’ve already shown ourselves to be is enough.

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