Feb 04 2015

Q&A: Rhode Island Head of School's ‘Frozen’ Success

We speak with the star of a YouTube parody video of Disney’s Frozen about making official school announcements fun.

A small Rhode Island private school became the setting for a viral-video hit on YouTube in January, after its head of school chose to announce a school day snow closing with some Frozen-powered panache.

Soon after the online video of him lip-synching “Let It Go” from Disney’s blockbuster animated feature Frozen made Moses Brown School Head of School Matt Glendinning an overnight success, he was getting interview requests from international media outlets.

The video now has more than 3 million views on YouTube — all in a few hours’ work for Glendinning and his staff.

The success story at Moses Brown is indicative of a growing engagement strategy at schools: that of using online media to make official communications more invigorating. As Glendinning told EdTech in our exclusive interview, the video required a team effort, but the return on investment was phenomenal.

EDTECH: Parents with school-age children are all too familiar with the snow-day cancellation messages from school officials. What made you want to spice yours up for this particular snow day?

GLENDINNING: We have a new director of communications, named Adam Olenn (MB class of 1991), whom I brought in last summer to help us explore more impactful, memorable and experiential forms of communication. This video was the result of his handiwork. We are pushing ourselves to be more playful, creative and experimental in all we’re doing at Moses Brown, and this is just one example. What better way to communicate with children than to spoof on a song and movie that they all know and love so well! It was also a way for us to showcase the Arts at MB by featuring the incredible voice of Justin Peters, chair of our performing arts department.

EDTECH: What has the response to the video been like for you, your staff and your family? What was your reaction when you realized just how big this video had become online?

GLENDINNING: Well, it’s been a crazy week. I woke on Tuesday morning to the BBC calling from London for an interview. I then rose to see the video on Good Morning America, the Today Show, CNN, NPR, etc. Then, more news that it was hitting Italian television, Belgium, Russia, etc. Then it became the number-one trending topic on all of Facebook for a day. All quite unbelievable, especially when friends and acquaintances from all different walks and periods of my life started to email, indicating they’d seen me on The View, Access Hollywood, etc.

Both thrilling and humbling to realize you are suddenly part of a global cultural moment. For our school community, I think there is a natural sense of pride that the world, for this brief moment, is paying attention to Moses Brown School. For me, too, I am proud to have been able to serve my school in this way while also bringing a bit of fun and laughter to everyone.

EDTECH: When I first read about the parody, I thought you'd merely choreographed antics for the original song. But the lyrics were completely reworked. I was blown away. Do you have any background with songwriting or music in general?

GLENDINNING: Again, I can claim no part in this. Adam is himself an accomplished musician — plays four instruments, I think — and formerly worked at Berklee College of Music. He has three little children and thus was very familiar with the “Let it Go” song and its place right now in American popular culture. So it was his idea to rewrite the song, and he did so in about 15 minutes. He’s quite gifted. The song he produced is very catchy, and, of course, the vocals by Justin [Peters, the school’s choral director] are just incredible.

I think these two factors are the chief reasons for the video’s popularity; there is a polish to it that you don’t always see in web videos on YouTube. My role really was limited to lip-syncing and hamming it up a bit on-screen.

EDTECH: Who else was involved in the production of the video?

GLENDINNING: Ryan Vemmer, our director of digital media. He’s a film and video buff and has won some awards locally for his film production. He and Adam created the storyboard of scenes and their locations, and then Ryan shot all the scenes himself. He also did all the editing and created the final product. That was it: a four-person show.

EDTECH: Have any plans for more videos, given the positive response from this one…?

GLENDINNING: Yes, but it’s top secret!

EDTECH: It’s been a pleasure, Matt. In closing, do you have any advice for educators on using the Internet in creative ways?

GLENDINNING: Well, it’s not really my area of expertise. But what I can deduce from our situation this week is: Don’t be afraid to think and act like a child, be whimsical and silly whenever you can, and think creatively about your communications, moving away from simple words and images and focusing more on creating delightful and memorable experiences.

There is also an element of sheer luck. In our case, I don’t think our video would’ve gone viral if it hadn’t been linked to a major East Coast snowstorm that caused millions of people to be shut up indoors for two days (meaning lots of eyeballs watching the Internet and TV). Also, the best promotions and advertising don’t need to cost an arm and a leg; total cost for our production, other than a modest number of staff hours, was about $120 to rent a recording studio for a couple of hours.


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