Monday, January 3, 2011

Digital filmmaking class weblog 2011--Day 1

"Many of today's filmmakers gain considerable experience at a very young age and have a wide variety of of digital equipment available to them." ---Tyler Cullen's Digital Moviemaking

"Everybody's a filmmaker today." ---John Milius

Weary from grading too many essays over Christmas break, I began teaching a two week special digital filmmaking class for a select group of 13 students in a school in South Carolina.

I've kept daily weblogs about this class before. The most successful group of previous posts (I think) can be found lower on this page on the right hand side, from two years ago. Last year, the class was hampered by a big midnight bust (for unmentionable reasons) that obliged two students to suddenly disappear from the class. Another one got sick, so the remaining students regrouped into one bunch, and eventually made a film called "Third Night" about an evil photograph that makes a guy obsess over the girl who's featured in it. After following her around dreamily, the guy eventually gets run over by a car. I liked the long film shoot of the guy getting run over the best. We obtained permission to use one of the student's homes in town and spent what seemed like hours out on the road in front, with the obsessed guy lying on the asphalt, facedown in the cold, as we waved at on-coming cars and told the people in them to not run him over. The resulting film worked out well enough, but I prefer it when we have enough students to compete on different projects. That group also shot a zombie film in the school's untouched new wing, but it was not a serious effort. I'm still gunning for a really serious scary zombie film this year. Some of the seniors put down the idea, saying the makeup would be too difficult, but then I say "Ha! What of the 12 year old girl who shot a full-length zombie film? Care to watch the documentary about it?"

Anyway, this year's new class has already had its first technical snafu. The IT administrator arranged for someone to install a beautiful new projector for the classroom, but the sound was screwed up in the process. So I spent the hour before class hanging around as the IT person kindly sought in his infinitely patient IT way to get some sound to assert itself on the overhead speakers. One of the students, named Ryan, has agreed to be my technical genius and assistant this year. He hauled all of the class equipment on a big cart into the classroom, and tomorrow he will show the class how to work the cameras (we have two new fancy ones) and edit using iMovie. Last year, after various snafus with Pinnacle software, we switched over to all Apple products (I'm writing this on a MacBook now). Three students are using their MacBooks for the editing this year, and I've become something of an Apple snob after years of wandering in the Dell hinterlands.

I also taught the students some beginning pointers about the need to be concerned about lighting (with daylight preferred). What other class leaves one happy to see a sunny day? I also stressed the tendency on their part to not pay enough attention to good dialogue, acting, shot composition, and sound. This year, we have two microphones that should help with the sound mix (in previous years we had to rely on the camera microphones).

Otherwise, I kept things light, not wanting to emphasize right away how much work they may plunge themselves into soon enough. I told them to think of me as the executive producer of their work, and I will do what I can to stay out of their way.

They formed three groups with the names Afterglow Films, Los Jefes, Inc., and Bad Horse Productions. They also figured out who would direct this year (two women and one guy). One of the guys in the female-directed group said "We are feminists!" They have begun to sketch out some preliminary ideas: a horror film involving a killer in the school hallways, a sinister (but not necessarily evil) doll that follows someone around, and the beginning of a two hour film involving a murder.

On the drive home I wondered, why not a dream heist film? I'm hoping this year for genre-defying, out-there, hallucinatory creativity. Why not a lipdub like this one from Emerson College? Shall we visit the Atlanta shoot of "Walking Dead"? We will see.

7 comments:

Just Call Me Alice said...

Mr. Film Doctor sir, you say that you want a dream heist film, yet you also wish for creativity? I'm a bit curious as to what you want. I can understand wanting creativity in the cinematography, but how creative can you be when you spend your whole time simply stealing the plot of Inception?

And as for your comment about the zombie flick, some cinematographers and washed out actors prefer to do something slightly more on the sophisticated and artistic side, which simply obtained within the realms of a cheesy zombie film. Commercial success is not the main concern for your high school students. Some people prefer beauty in cinema.

Just Call Me Alice said...

*cannot be obtained within the realms of a cheesy zombie film.

FilmDr said...

That's fine. I'm just imagining possibilities.

Hokahey said...

FilmDr. - Oh, by all means be an Apple snob. I am too! Back in '06 when I started our Film Club here at school and I wanted to learn film editing, I started on a Dell, got frustrated, then borrowed a Mac in the art lab, and learned in a few days what took me weeks to learn on a Dell.

That summer I bought my own Mac desktop and learned editing on the '06 program (now iMovie is totally different) which had many similarities with Final Cut. I still have the '06 program, plus this Christmas Santa splurged and I got a MacBook with the 2011 iMovie so I can edit footage from my HD camera.

At school I now have a huge 2010 Mac desktop which is the God of all computers. Students use that for editing, though our film club (not a graded class) is dying from lack of student inspiration and lack of willingness to use their very limited free time to work on something. One group started a sort of mocumentary of Paranormal Activity, and they have tons of footage on the Mac. They just need to sit their butts down and edit.I give suggestions in Film Club, but they need to do the work. I won't interfere with that.

But I get to have fun writing and directing short movies with my Drama Club and the kids love doing the acting. This year we shot a 15-minute sci-fi movie about four teenagers who get special powers from an alien device - called Whatever!. It was lots of fun to edit.

I have read your previous logs, so I know about last year's ups and downs. I hope this year goes better. Don't you find that there has to be a student or two to be the driving force? When I started Film Club in '06, there were two students who had ideas and produced. Then they left, and I had one student who created and directed all the Film Club movies. Last year she left, so that leaves students with great ideas but no assertive drive to carry them through to completion.

Looking forward to your next entry.

Hokahey said...

FilmDr. - Oh, by all means be an Apple snob. I am too! Back in '06 when I started our Film Club here at school and I wanted to learn film editing, I started on a Dell, got frustrated, then borrowed a Mac in the art lab, and learned in a few days what took me weeks to learn on a Dell.

That summer I bought my own Mac desktop and learned editing on the '06 program (now iMovie is totally different) which had many similarities with Final Cut. I still have the '06 program, plus this Christmas Santa splurged and I got a MacBook with the 2011 iMovie so I can edit footage from my HD camera.

At school I now have a huge 2010 Mac desktop which is the God of all computers. Students use that for editing, though our film club (not a graded class) is dying from lack of student inspiration and lack of willingness to use their very limited free time to work on something. One group started a sort of mocumentary of Paranormal Activity, and they have tons of footage on the Mac. They just need to sit their butts down and edit.I give suggestions in Film Club, but they need to do the work. I won't interfere with that.

Hokahey said...

Continued -

But I get to have fun writing and directing short movies with my Drama Club and the kids love doing the acting. This year we shot a 15-minute sci-fi movie about four teenagers who get special powers from an alien device - called Whatever!. It was lots of fun to edit.

I have read your previous logs, so I know about last year's ups and downs. I hope this year goes better. Don't you find that there has to be a student or two to be the driving force? When I started Film Club in '06, there were two students who had ideas and produced. Then they left, and I had one student who created and directed all the Film Club movies. Last year she left, so that leaves students with great ideas but no assertive drive to carry them through to completion.

Looking forward to your next entry.

Sorry for going on. I'm back at school, I'm tired, but my brain won't shut down.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Hokahey. I still wonder if my blog entries work best when things don't work well. This class has been enthused and hard-working thus far. One group plans on making a full-length feature during the spring semester, so I feel lucky.

Once I switched over to an MacBook, I wondered how I ever got by without it.