By Kevin Simpson
The Denver Post
They made a “lip dub” video, entered it into a national contest and won the big prize — a concert in their own school gym by recording star Katy Perry.
That was beyond cool. But that was just the beginning.
Students at Lakewood High School gathered at 5:30 a.m. Friday to watch Perry announce the winner from among five finalists and more than 1,000 submissions via live TV hook-up on “Good Morning America,” which sponsored the contest challenging high schools to produce videos geared to her uplifting hit called “Roar.”
They erupted when they heard the news that the star would be appearing there a week later.
“She wanted a video to show school spirit, a perfect thing for her new song,” said 17-year-old senior Courtney Coddington, the project’s producer/director. “We were like, why not? Let’s go big or go home.”
In fact, students already had launched a lip dub of Perry’s song, which almost seemed to have been written for a school whose mascot is the Tigers. Originally, it was planned as just a fun undertaking to get students involved — but then came word of the GMA contest.
The effort shifted into high gear and students, moved by the enthusiasm for the project from Principal Ron Castagna, started imagining something much larger.
“He was telling us from day one, this is going to be huge,” said Jessica Kostelnik, the 17-year-old senior who became a creative force for the project. “At the beginning, we were kind of hesitant, but he saw the opportunity and we took it. We could use the publicity with one video we made to have an impact on thousands of lives.”
Kostelnik coined the motto: “One World, One Roar.”
Students talked about how to market it, printed T-shirts with the slogan and decided to engage youth nationwide. Under that banner, Lakewood High has challenged every high school in the country to raise at least $1,000 to donate to a charity of their choice — making an estimated $39 million difference.
Then they asked that those schools report their success on the Lakewood High School Compliments page on Facebook.
“This generation is paying it forward,” Castagna said.
Lakewood High will use the money it raises to benefit Colorado flood victims.
” We realized we might have a shot at this and wanted to do something greater,” said Gabriella Visani, 17, who handles publicity. “It could’ve been just a video and we could’ve been so excited that we won. But we want to take it a step further and push it out to everyone else.”
As Castagna predicted, the video — and the idea behind it — has gone viral. By midday, it had more than 2 million views on the video-sharing site Vimeo from more than 160 countries, plus more than 300,000 views on YouTube.
Not a bad tally for a project that came together over two weeks and involved nearly all of the school’s 2,000 students representing about 80 teams, clubs and student organizations.
The contest called for a video illustrating the hit song “Roar.” But since Lakewood students already had determined to make a lip dub — basically a fluid, continuous video in which students lip-synch the words to the song — they set about adapting that effort to a theme of unity.
“We’ve tried to stick to the idea that we’re a collective group, we did this together,” said Visani. “Our big thing is it’s about everyone, uniting the whole school, community and everyone around us.”
With her cell phone pressed to her ear playing the tune, Coddington paced the school hallways mapping out a possible route for the lip dub, matching segments of the song and lyrics to specific locations. She assigned those musical passages, just a few seconds long, to individual groups and told them to use their imaginations.
The result was a joyous celebration of vivid colors, Frisbees, tiger heads, Silly String, glitter — just about anything imaginable. After a couple brief rehearsals, Coddington made some final adjustments to the route the camera would take through the school.
Then came the final rehearsal — a disaster that left the director in tears and wondering if the project would work.
But on Sept. 20, the Friday of homecoming weekend, “everyone was spirited up,” Coddington said. They would record one “dry run” before the real deal, so she told classmates to “go all out and go crazy.”
Gavin Rudy, an 18-year-old senior who served as cinematographer, faced the challenge of shooting a single, continuous take to the four-minute song with consistent quality. He had honed his skills shooting ski videos with friends — including one that was top prize winner at last year’s school film festival.
Students went all-out during the dry run. Then, feeling like the shoot had gone amazingly well, they reviewed the footage. It came out so well they saw no need to do it again.
“There was Silly String and glitter everywhere, so it was luck the shot wasn’t ruined by that being sprayed all over,” Rudy said. “The most gratifying thing was that GMA actually sent us a letter requesting proof to make sure the video wasn’t shot professionally.”
On the GMA broadcast, Perry praised the school’s production and the enthusiasm that drove it.
“For me, Lakewood really embodied a whole school spirit,” Perry said. “You saw so many different people coming together to do one shot all the way to the very end. It was so interesting and well done and well organized. That was thousands of kids coming together to roar.”
Next Friday’s concert, which is not open to the public, coincides with Perry’s Oct. 25 birthday and principal Castagna noted that they’ll have cake and a few surprises at the performance. But as he fielded a wave of calls and emails expressing congratulations and appreciation, he said that the singer’s appearance was just a reward for the unifying statement his students already had made.
“We already felt like winners,” Castagna said. “Whether we won the contest was just icing on Katy Perry’s birthday cake.”
Kevin Simpson: 303-954-1739 or firstname.lastname@example.org