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'Labor of love': Billings Central film teacher helps students debut on the big screen

Shane Fairbanks
Posted at 5:26 PM, May 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-10 19:26:11-04

On Wednesday evening, the Babcock Theater in downtown Billings featured a local production put together by the film class at Billings Central High School.

For the students, it's the culmination of one year of work, but for their teacher, Shane Fairbanks, it's a project he started in 2012.

"I'm going to be honest. I never thought this was possible," Fairbanks said in his class Wednesday morning. "When I first started making this class, it was based on small projects and highlight videos for the school."

But the class evolved quickly. In 2016, Fairbanks came up with the idea to have their final projects screened for the public.

"It was time to try something big and try something different," Fairbanks said. "And what better way to increase the value of the project than to know we have to premier it for people at the end of the school year?"

The class size continued to grow, and the projects expanded in magnitude, eventually bringing in larger crowds. That's when Fairbanks got in contact with the Babcock, hoping they would help screen the show.

"We were super fortunate to set up a deal with the Babcock Theater," Fairbanks said. "That was after COVID and there was a lot of excitement about the screening that year. Since then, it's just blown up."

Billings Central Babcock Theater

This year's edition is just over two hours of student projects, beginning with their simpler ones from the start of the year and finishing with the final project where the entire class helped make a 50-minute movie.

The evening attempts to replicate a red carpet event, and a limousine will take students from Central High to the theater in time for showtime. For the students, it's a night they look forward to all year.

"I'm very proud of all of us, and then for us all sticking together through it," senior Noelle Grudzinksi said. "To not get on each other's nerves can be tricky with this kind of thing. The whole process has really broadened the perspective of our filmmaking careers."

The event is actually so popular that Seth Benge, senior student and current lead in one of the films, attended it last year as a fan. Instantly, he knew he wanted to be a part of the class the upcoming year.

"It was awesome," Benge said. "I just loved the experience of being there. It looked really fun for the crew that made that movie, so I wanted to be a part of that."

Benge said it was amazing to see the growth he and his peers made throughout this year, with the final production at the Babcock the icing on the cake.

"It goes from 10 views to like 60,000 views over the span of a few months," Benge said. "You get to see what your whole senior year looked like in one class and that's pretty cool. I'm really proud of our work."

Another senior student Lauren Dull, who is Benge's co-lead in the film, said the class has been super rewarding and that she's thankful for her experiences.

"I'm so glad I took the class," Dull said. "It's like my creative outlet and I just have really enjoyed spending time learning about something new."

Dull said the work has been extensive for all involved, and she couldn't be more appreciative of her teacher.

"I'm so proud of my classmates, and honestly, I'm just in awe of Mr. Fairbanks," Dull said. "All the time and effort he puts into this program is awesome."

Central Film Students

Fairbanks said the students are why he does it, and that he couldn't be happier with what his class has become.

"It's a labor of love for sure because it takes a lot of time and effort," Fairbanks said. "Knowing that the students want to be a part of it is huge for me to make me want to finish these projects."

Fairbanks, who also teaches history and English at Billings Central, said he hopes that the class adds a little excitement to his students' experiences.

"I think it's a great creative outlet for both them and for me," Fairbanks said. "Traditional schooling is good, obviously, I teach that as well, but this is a totally different opportunity."

And while the students might not end up with Hollywood careers, for one night, it certainly feels like it.

"This is a gateway for some, but also just an incredible, memorable experience for others," Fairbanks said. "I never thought that I'd be doing this, but I'm so glad that I can."