Be the Media!: Teen Talent Gets Recognition

Through an Internet site specifically created for teenage talent, kids finally get an online place to call their own.

Through an Internet site specifically created for teenage talent, kids finally get an online place to call their own.

You've produced Antz, you've produced Shrek, you've sold your interest in the immensely successful computer-animation production company you founded -- what next? For Carl Rosendahl, former head of Pacific Data Images and now CEO of UthTV, you start putting media in the hands of teens.

UthTV.com is a teen-oriented art-sharing Web site aiming to bring student art to a wider audience. The project began after Rosendahl left PDI and came across some teen-made art. He says he'd been "incredibly impressed" -- he saw kids involved in many aspects of media production -- but it was evident to him that there was no clear market for the work, nor any readily available audience.

"Let's help these kids get their voices heard," he recalls thinking, "give them an opportunity to gain an audience."

Rosendahl decided his goal would be to foster the next generation of filmmakers, and that's precisely what he's doing. Formed in 2005, UthTV has come to resemble the love child of YouTube and MySpace, with a healthy dash of its own personality thrown in. Television produced by old people doesn't feel authentic to the youth who watch it, Rosendahl contends. Why not have teens involved in producing their own media?

UthTV users create a profile and "rise up," like cream, to the top of the site by uploading their art, photography, video, music, and spoken word and commenting on the work of others. The site, which has 3,000 members, has produced episodes of its own entirely youth-run television show, has had one site user win an Emmy, and plans to expand its message through schools and youth-media organizations.

Joe Fitzgerald, an artist-in-residence at San Francisco's School of the Arts (SOTA), has been working to help students get their work up on UthTV. Himself a film student at City College, Fitzgerald knows how hard it is for student film to find an audience bigger than a handful of people. Through UthTV, he says, his students "know they're showing their stuff to people who will respect their efforts." It is a safe space to express what they like, Fitzgerald adds, and a place where it is more likely they will find the audience they need. "People on UthTV are there for a reason," he says: They want to see art produced by students.

And though students want their art seen -- but not disparaged. Before Fitzgerald had his students' work up on UthTV, he experimented with displaying it on YouTube. It wasn't a hit. A student video received what he calls "not-so-nice comments" from the YouTube audience. UthTV has the benefit of hosting only young people -- almost exclusively filmmakers and artists, at that -- so people who comment tend to make allowances for experimentation, rough edges, and the viewpoint of youth. These are "informed opinions," Fitzgerald says. "We don't want comments from just anybody."

Rosendahl is well aware that UthTV has a useful secondary purpose as an online portfolio for students applying to schools and jobs. "When people put stuff on the site, they put up their best stuff," he says. "This is photography, not snapshots." Fitzgerald doesn't just plan to keep having his students compress and upload their work to the site -- he'll upload SOTA's annual Media Night Film Festival as well. By linking his students' group work to their individual profiles, he helps even the freshmen have a unique presence on the site: the very beginnings of their online portfolio.

In bringing teen media to a wider audience, UthTV supports young artists while promoting their career aspirations. "To let professionals in the industry have access to the next generation is a really interesting thing," Rosendahl muses. UthTV, he hopes, could become a major conduit for the next generation of media professionals. If the students at SOTA -- and at a growing number of schools and centers across the country -- are any indication, he may be right.

Elizabeth Crane is a freelance writer in San Francisco who writes about many things, including education, parenting, technology, and food.

This article originally published on 2/2/2007

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