What began as a humble video production class quickly blossomed into a successful small business for a group of Stillwater High School students. ¶ Through their company, Cutaway Productions, they've made scores of promotional and training videos for many local businesses and community groups. ¶ Not only are they learning new skills, they're getting paid.

"Our client base is growing and we're beginning to fund ourselves," said their producer and teacher, Debbie Drew. The Cutaway team has earned as little as $200 for a job and as much as $3,000. The money is used to pay for video equipment, Drew said.

Among the businesses that have hired them to make videos are: USA Karate, Camp St. Croix and Acapulco Restaurant.

One of their videos -- called Technology Today -- is regularly used by Apple Computer as a demonstration video at educational workshops.

As word has spread about the talented and cheap student-run production company, their customer base is expanding.

Recently, some coaches hired the kids to make "rules videos" explaining the rules of their particular sport.

One unusual request came from a teacher, who wanted to hire the Cutaway team to create a video showcasing his house. He plans to use it as a real estate tool to help him sell it, Drew said.

The kids also have been asked to film a few weddings.

"We shoot anything and everything," said Kirsten Peterson, 18, a senior at Stillwater Area High School, a team member.

One of her favorite projects was making a public service announcement about hunger for a food drive sponsored by WCCO-TV. It aired a couple of years ago on the station.

"It was cool to see all of our stuff appear on actual TV that people watch," Peterson said.

She has learned the technical ins and outs of shooting and editing videos, and also much about business etiquette, something Peterson says Drew is a stickler about.

"She wants us to treat it like a business," Peterson said. "She treats it like a job."

Drew, who teaches at Oak-Land Junior High School, hand-picks her students for Cutaway. She interviews them and reviews their previous work before "hiring" them, the students say.

One former student -- Jessica Continenza, 19 -- has made it to the Big Time.

A recent graduate of the Los Angeles Film School, she's currently working as an assistant editor of an animated feature that's on track to appear in theaters this fall.

Looking back on her experiences as one of the founding members of Cutaway Productions, Continenza says she can't believe how much she learned about the film business in high school.

"When I went to film school, half of the stuff [being taught] Debbie had already taught me," she said. "The first couple months, I was helping some of the teachers teach some of the students in class."

Cutaway Productions, which started with just four students, has steadily grown in size and clout. For next semester, 19 students have signed up.

And the more work they do, the more work they seem to get.

Said Drew: "It's all word of mouth -- somehow, someone hears about us."

Allie Shah • 651-298-1550