When Danny Heck was in eighth grade, he and his friends made an Indiana Jones movie with a camcorder. He had such a good time it prompted some research into the film industry and how one could go about breaking into it.
Heck, now a senior at Hampshire High School, has worked with Nicole Thompson, the high school librarian, and the District 300 Foundation over the last year on videos for school and district events.
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"That's when I really knew that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," Heck said.
He plans to go to Elgin Community College for the next two years and then transfer to Columbia College in Chicago for a film degree. Heck expects to spend his time at ECC making more videos for District 300, and maybe even getting involved with promotional videos at the college.
So far his focus has been on short documentary-style films, but Heck eventually hopes to do more.
"I'm a huge 'Star Wars' nerd," Heck said. "I always thought those types of large-scale productions were the coolest. But, obviously, baby steps."
Heck produced his first movies under the name Central Valley Studios, which is his father's photography business, but switched to his own company, What the Heck! Films, in December. So far his videos have been for his school and church, but he hopes to reach beyond his immediate community in coming years.
Hampshire High School doesn't have any video production classes so Heck has been working through an independent studies film class, getting guidance from Thompson. Most of his work is done outside of school, though the District 300 Foundation is working on getting a grant to offer a film class at the high school in the future.
"I'm pretty much self-taught," Heck said. "Between myself and YouTube, I've figured most of how everything works."
His favorite video of his short career was one produced at Hampshire High School. The film "Who Am I?" included teachers, custodians, administrators and other staff members describing the labels put on them in high school, as well as the things that describe them now.
The film showed students what adults around them have gone through and moved on from.
"We set out to show kids at the school that the labels that they're given, the stereotypes that they may or may not fit into and that they're defined by, don't have to dominate who they are," Heck said.
The film was screened during the students' physical education classes, after which they filled out their own notecards saying what labels they felt were placed on them, as well as what labels they wanted. Students loved the exercise, Heck said, and the entire school's answers were glued onto large letters spelling out "Who Am I? We Are HHS."
"That's when we really knew we were making a big impact here," Heck said.
With graduation set for Saturday, May 18, Heck just has his fingers crossed that his future comes together as planned.
"It's just little ol' me, doing my best to make some awesome videos for whoever needs them," Heck said.