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Argyle students recreate iconic Thriller music video to mark 40th anniversary

Digital media and theatre students remade original shot for shot, including zombie flashdance, to mark four decades since video’s release

Nothing says Halloween like a group of high energy flash dancing zombies, led by an iconic character in a shoulder-padded red jacket.

In the four decades since Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" music video made its debut, countless groups have recreated their own versions of the King of Pop’s zombie dance.

This year, digital media and drama students at North Vancouver’s Ecole Argyle Secondary moved the bar on ghoulish glory higher still, by re-creating every scene of the over-14-minute music video.

Digital media teacher and director Chris Miller vividly recalls the impact of the original music video when it came out 40 years ago.

“It was a huge deal for us,” he said. “It was 'Thriller' that really put Michael Jackson on the map. It mashed together a whole bunch of different genres and changed people’s expectations of what music videos could be.”

Last year, teens at the school tackled their first nostalgic remake, with their shot-for-shot rendition of a scene from the 1980s classic Halloween movie Ghostbusters.

To Miller’s surprise, teens in the digital media and drama classes at Argyle knew about "Thriller" and were enthused about doing a remake this year to mark the 40th anniversary of the video.

Miller set to work coming up with storyboards for the video over the summer. Auditions started Sept. 12, and 28 hours of filming wrapped Oct. 12.

In order to make the compressed schedule work, “We were very serious on the film set,” said Miller.

Students made props to mimic graveyard tombstones like those in the original video and created zombie costumes from old clothes stained with coffee.

For scenes that would be too difficult to recreate – like the main character’s transformation into a werecat – clips from the original movie were edited into the fresh footage. Some of the backdrops from the original video were also electronically added to the scenes with the use of a green screen and editing tools, along with other special effects – like smoke – that couldn’t be created in a school environment.

Carrying much of video’s energy is Ana Bermudez, who plays the main character of ‘Michelle’ – the Argyle squad’s modern day take on Michael.

Miller said he didn’t set out to make a statement by having a female play the lead role. It was more of a case of “How do we cast a role when we don’t have someone who looks like Michael Jackson?”

Fortunately Bermudez more than pulls it off, playing ‘Michelle’ with swagger and sass to spare.

The 16-year-old Grade 11 drama student said she was familiar with the video as she and her sister often listened to Michael Jackson’s music.

Bermudez also has a background in hip-hop dancing. but the style in "Thriller" was all new to her.

Bermudez said she spent long hours practicing the moves along to YouTube tutorial videos.

“I had to go out of my comfort zone,” she said. ‘It’s such a big role and I didn’t want to mess it up for everyone.”

The project was a lot of work but also “a lot of fun,” said drama teacher Grant Featherstone. “It’s one of the most iconic music videos of all time. Everybody knows the thriller dance.”

Argyle’s music video was set to be unveiled to other students Friday. It’s also been uploaded to the digital media academy’s YouTube channel, where anyone can check it out.

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