Late last fall, I was asked if I would be interested in coming to Taos, NM, to lead a short film project with some schools there. Lists of equipment were made, travel plans finalized, and near the end of January, 2013, I flew to Taos to work with 4th and 5th graders in two elementary schools.
The plan I developed was to work for three weeks, 1 1/2 hours a day with each group. I spent three hours split between two classes in one school, and then another three hours split between two classes in the second.
My boss helped schedule the process and worked with me the first and third weeks. During all the time with students, the Taos computer technician helped out with getting the equipment to the right place, seeing the batteries were charged, and helping out with one of the filming groups. And the teachers worked with one or two groups. We were all tag-teaming each other so all the bases were covered.
With the teacher’s input, the classes were divided into production “companies.” Each company chose a topic and then went to work developing their pre-production story boards.
The pre-production planning took most of the first week. But during that time, we learned how to use the cameras, what different shots could be used, how to edit in iMovie, and how to use GarageBand to create some theme music for their movies.
We found that we were always revisiting pre-production planning and re-planning a shot, then re-filming it, and a re-edit. Just because we went through the process in “order” didn’t mean that we couldn’t re-do some part of it.
The most difficult part of this process was in the conversations with students during the pre-planning stage. Because these students had never done a project like this, and because there were not really used to “thinking outside the box,” the challenge was to get them to envision something they had never really experienced. How does one get a student to create with iMovie when the possibilities aren’t known?
I used two exemplars from a school in central Maine where I developed a “Short-Short Film Contest.” We then spent a lot of time on sharpening the focus of the project. Next, we created the story boards.
One 5th grade group really didn’t get it. Their initial shots, and I really should say “shot,” was 1:24 minutes. We spent several sessions fine tuning that into separate clips of 5 to 10 seconds each using different camera angles. They eventually figured it out, but it took a lot of focused discussion to get them to understand that clips of any length more than 15 seconds just won’t yield a good project in a short film construct.
The “Premier” showing of all films is tomorrow at one school. There, we’ll have to hang a sheet between two tether ball stands and use the speaker system and projector from the classroom. These small elementary schools on the mesa don’t have lots of resources, but they are very creative to make up for what they lack in that department.
I’m making the DVD, grabbing the iMovie files exported to quicktime to my USB stick, and then bringing them into iDVD on my laptop. I’ll burn the DVD’s and those will be shown at the “Premiers” at two schools using either a laptop or a DVD player. Parents and media have been invited, and a radio interview was broadcast on the local station.