The final day at school used to be marked by a group photo and fond reminiscences. But one prestigious London school has turned the end-of-year celebrations into a Hollywood calling card with an epic YouTube video featuring spoofs of hit shows, and a boundary-pushing staging of a playground gun massacre.
This year’s “leavers” film at the £18,000 a-year Highgate School in North London has risked controversy with the footage showing rioting pupils fleeing from a teacher armed with a replica rifle.
Boasting professional production values and a one-hour running time, the farewell film, informed by the school shoot-out in Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 cult film If...., shows a fellow teacher injured in the scripted gunfire.
It also features a sequence in which students jokingly cook up crystal meth – the addictive drug that features in the hit US series Breaking Bad.
Another scene is devoted to “twerking”, the provocative dance popularised by Miley Cyrus.
Highgate is acknowledged to have raised the bar for school-leavers film. Its 2012 film featured a guest appearance from Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, who critiqued the school team’s ball skills.
Last year parents raised eyebrows over a film which showed students suggestively sucking lollipops and being doused with water while mouthing the words to rapper 50 Cent’s song, Candy Shop.
Highgate is engaged in a battle with rival fee-paying North London institution, University College School in Hampstead, to produce the most spectacular leaving video. This year’s UCS film is a mere 26-minute, all singing-and-dancing production.
Adam Pettitt, Highgate's headmaster, is an enthusiastic supporter of his pupils’ films, which this year includes screams of terror during the playground “massacre” as the pupils flee, as a teacher, who is killed in shooting spree, is taken into the school’s chapel.
The shooting scene was “very British” and a reference to “cinematic gun crime” rather than the “American actuality”, he said.
Mr Pettitt told the Camden New Journal: “A leavers' film without controversy would be like fish and chips without the salt and vinegar, and the annual question is whether this joke or that joke is, in fact, in bad taste.”
He did not believe that the playground sequence was in poor taste given the prevalence of fatal school in the US. “I know that my leavers in 2014 would be genuinely upset if survivors of the tragic gun massacres in the US were affected by, or took offence at, this tongue-in-cheek scene modelled on an action film shoot-out where leavers, dressed as Men in Black, carry an injured, and long-serving, schoolmaster to the steps of the newly restored chapel where he mimes his last minutes.”
Mr Pettitt has his own starring role in the film, engaging in staring competition with a pupil and revealing his “deep inner urge to be a nordic giant”.
Private schools in particular have exploited the possibilities presented by YouTube “leavers' videos”. St Paul’s in southwest London and Bedales in Hampshire have produced extended clips, featuring in-jokes and provocative sequences.
The 2012 Bedales film included scenes of a male pupil running naked into a lake and students drinking beer through a funnel as well consuming shots of alcohol through their eyes.