Sunday, January 27, 2013

Movies in the Class: Where Do I Go from Here?

I love making student movies. I have yet to master the art of short movies, but giant, epic reviews of entire books are my cup of tea!

A few years ago I sought funding to make a movie review of the entire book of Shoftim. My boss said it was OK and we purchased a Flipcam. He also said that I should understand that it will likely be awful and it will be a ton of work to make a short little nothing.

I took it as a challenge.

I wrote a script, learned how to use Windows Movie Maker, and picked up other bits and pieces of knowledge one should have in order to produce a movie (e.g. file conversion). By the end of the year the entire grade went to the theater to watch our 45 minute masterpiece and each student went home with their own copy of the movie.

In my second round, my school bought be the movie editing program PowerDirector and a tripod, and with the experience of one movie under my belt and much better software, we made an hour long film that left the other one in the dust. One of my colleagues (someone who has never paid an unnecessary compliment in his life) commented that he didn’t see how we were going to outdo the previous year, but that we most certainly did so.

What’s the secret to making it work?

The truth is, at this point I can write a small book. It would be filled with gems like:

1.     Understand that young people are bad with subtleties. When you instruct them to move over just a little bit, they take an enormous step. Most of the time you actually to have to physical show them where you want them to stand.

2.     Seek greatness, NOT perfection. When you have done three OK takes of a scene, it’s often time to move on and choose the best of what you have. If you seek perfection, you will likely be disappointed. You will also likely not finish. The kids will not enjoy themselves and conflict is inevitable. Greatness is achievable, and it’s completely worth not pushing past that so that everyone has a positive experience.

So, I’ve done it. I’ve done it well. The only things left to iron out are small but significant. 

Maybe someone out there in the world can help me answer some of my questions and concerns:

a.     What can I have students who are not being filmed do during the time when others are being filmed? If they are noisy, or even just talking, they will interfere with the filming.

b.     In the past I’ve written, filmed, directed, and edited everything. I’ve progressively ceded bits and pieces of control, like song choices, titles, and designing the DVD cover. What else can I have the kids do? I don’t like them handling the equipment, because they’re spazzy middle schoolers, and we don’t have extras. If they break something, the project ends. Also: Maybe I’m cynical, but I’ve seen the movies they make when it’s just students. They’re usually inane and very poor quality. I want them to look back with great pride even many years later. But I also want them to feel ownership.

c.      Are there resources available for teaching someone how to direct kids? Or resources about the fine details of making a movie I’m unlikely to learn naturally through experimentation (e.g. how best to use lighting)?

d.     How can I get more funding? I don’t like to ask my employers for money all the time, but at the same time, I know money can help make a project so much more impressive. Are there alternative ways I can get money for these projects?

If you’d like to see some of the movies my students and I have made in the past, here’s last year’s Shoftim movie (there are four parts, but Youtube has blocked #2-sorry!):

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