I haven’t updated this blog in a long time. I used this blog to share the projects my middle school students and I did over my eight years teaching middle school. However, last summer I took a position teaching film, media and English at Blair High School. If you’re interested in what my current students and I are up to please CHECK OUT OUR NEW CLASS WEBSITE.
My first year film literacy students have started their big movie project. Students will be spending the next few months making short films, three to four minutes long, in their production groups. I thought it would be a good idea to Skype with one of my former students, Nic Weinfeld, to get some tips as we start this whole process. As usual, Nic had some great advice for us. I edited the twenty minute Skype chat down into this six minute video. I tried to focus on some of the main ideas I want my students to take away from the conversation.
In the past, I always had students first brainstorm story ideas before thinking about possible themes. However, during our Skype chat, Nic recommended that we first come up with a theme BEFORE starting to think about possible character and story ideas.
So I asked students to brainstorm possible themes they would like to convey in their films. I wanted them to come up with messages that were meaningful and relevant to them in their own lives. As Nic said during our Skype, if you are passionate about something you want to say, your film will be a lot more meaningful. Students worked in their groups coming up with possible themes. Check out our Theme Bulletin Board we created sharing all our different ideas:
After each group decided on a theme for their film, we started brainstorming story and character ideas. It was definitely easier for students to start thinking about possible story ideas after they had already identified a theme. I had students brainstorm twenty different story ideas before finally deciding on one.
Students are now in the process of planning out their films and figuring out exactly how to tell their stories. When they begin writing their scripts next week, I hope we can Skype with Nic again for some more advice.
A film crew from our school district visited our classroom two weeks ago for our book release party. They created this great video about our children’s book project that is now posted on YouTube and I’m embedding here.
My first year film classes are getting ready to start their movie projects. The biggest challenge for the students is coming up with interesting story ideas. I emailed my former student, Nic Weinfeld, to see if he would be available to Skype with us next week to offer some advice on coming up with original story ideas. In his reply e-mail, Nic offers some helpful tips that I’m sharing with his permission:
For coming up with stories it is always important to think about what you are trying to say.
For example, the message, “change is good” may be showcased through a political leader stepping down after some conflict, or a mother hiring a new baby sitter. Once you have a message, or how its more commonly referred to in film as a “Spine”, the next steps are easier.
Also, it’s important to remember to keep it simple. Make sure your story has minimal characters, minimal locations and is really honing in on one character, one event and one change that he/she undergoes.
Finally, you must plan it out, thoroughly, so you can see the gaps in your story. You need to make sure each scene is doing something and moving your story forward.
I can add more when we actually Skype.
The picture above is of the large 400-seat movie theatre at The American Film Institute. This is where we will be having our 4th annual film festival on May 31st.
Zoe, one of my 8th grade students, wrote a post about our new book, Transitions, over on The Nerdy Book Club Blog. Zoe was the main writer of Wake Up, one of the children’s stories in Transitions. She also wrote the forward for our book. If you get a chance, head over to The Nerdy Book Club and check out her post. Even better, leave her a comment.
Three of my 8th grade students spent over two months making this 30-second PSA for our county’s Keeping It Safe Campaign. They first met a few days after school to brainstorm possible story ideas. When they finally settled on an idea, they started a Google Doc and continued their planning there. At one point, one of the group members went on a family trip to Paris. Instead of missing an afterschool planning session, she Skyped in from Paris using her iTouch.
This is the first film where students used the new Final Cut Pro X software we recently installed on a few of our machines. They took to this new editing software quickly. I asked one of the main editors if she could imagine going back to iMovie after using FCPX. She said “No, iMovie’s stupid.”
They met on a Saturday at one of their houses to film. Most of the editing was done during lunch, and a little bit during class. The film was due today by 4:00 and they were still editing it at lunch today. I think they are happy with the final outcome for the most part. People often don’t realize how hard it is to make short films. You have to plan carefully to come up with something good. I think they did a great job. The film is 30 seconds exactly before the credits roll.
Our children’s book is all done and now available on Amazon.com for $15.00. The book is a collection of seven original children’s stories all based on true life experiences. The theme of the book is transitions, so all the stories have something to do with an important transitional period. For example, one group created a story about a character, Ned the Noodle, who experiences his parents getting a divorce. All the kids in this group have experienced this themselves.
Another group created a story inspired by their experiences of immigrating to the US. The stories went through a series of revisions until they were just right. The students edited their stories very carefully because they knew they were going to be published.
Through a mini-grant from our school PTSA and money we raise each year at our annual film festival, we were able to bring in local community artist, Arturo Ho, to work directly with the students on their illustrations. Arturo did an excellent job helping the students fine tune their illustrations. It was a real pleasure working with him.
This was a tough project but everyone seems happy with the way it all turned out.
Earlier this year, my film history class created flip books as a way to learn about the persistence of vision theory. I’ve shared our flip books the last two years HERE and HERE. This year, I thought it would be interesting to try and add sound effects to each individual flip book. Fortunately, a few student volunteers stepped up to the challenge. Noah and Jake have been coming in during lunch for the last two months meticulously finding sounds for each flip book. They also found the groovy background music that seems to work perfectly in some strange way.
Filmmaking is an art form that is all about executing a plan.Nic Weinfeld
One of my former students, Nic Weinfeld, Skyped in to one of my film classes recently to talk about the importance of storyboarding. Nic is finishing his senior year in high school studying film at the acclaimed Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. I’ve been in contact with Nic since the end of last year when he volunteered to come in to work with a group of my students on one of their films. He also attended our film festival and produced the very cool Film Festival Recap Video for us.
I love the emphasis Nic puts on planning during our conversation. Too often, students don’t take full advantage of the time they get during pre-production to carefully plan out their films. Hopefully, this Skype conversation will help reinforce the importance of storyboarding during the pre-production process.
Nic was great with the students. We hope to have him back in, either via Skype or in person, many times throughout the rest of the school year.