Creating an Environment for Filmmaking in Schools

22 Jun 2023

9 mins
CovCreative Film Festival
CovCreative Film Festival

While we at Into Film are all passionate believers in the power of film and filmmaking to engage young people, enhance a number of key skills, and support the curriculum, we aren't the only ones. Teachers around the UK have taken film into their classroom and experienced the benefits for themselves.

One such teacher is Mike Gunn, Head of Performing Arts at Finham Park Secondary School in Coventry. In fact, one of Mike's students is already an award-winning filmmaker, as Driven to Despair, made by Freya (aged 17 at the time) won Best Film: 16-19 at the 2022 Into Film Awards

We caught up with Mike to find out more about his approach to using film and filmmaking to support curriculum teaching. Below, Mike outlines the challenges, the benefits, and his lessons learnt along the way.

The challenges

Teaching Film in secondary schools is a tough gig at the moment. Apart from the inevitable "You just watch films all day" comments from colleagues and parents, we've had to cope with the curriculum time squeeze forced on all creative subjects since the introduction of the EBacc, as well as the exodus of students to 'proper' subjects. It's also hard to sell a subject which requires students to demonstrate proficiency in a huge range of other subjects (English, drama, art, photography, music, ICT, technology, as well as science and maths if you want to be able to handle any form of visual effects). It's that or dumb it down for the numbers.

To combat student perceptions of the subject, we went down a different route, and we were lucky enough to have school managers who have been brilliant because they understood how much value the Film Department added to the school.

Practical filmmaking is key

First, we created a curriculum plan based on the key skills needed to make a film, as well as the time we have available. Our Year 7s start with twelve hours a year, where we do a project to remake an existing 1-2 minute film sequence of their choice, shot-for-shot, in order to learn how to format screenplays, make storyboards, plan and execute a shoot (even on their phones) and then use basic video editing software. The closer their sequence is to the original, the more we know they pay attention to details: crucial for filmmaking. Year 9 learn the basics of storytelling through film: narrative, character, then visual storytelling. 

By the time we hit the GCSE and A Level specifications, we can structure all our study films around the development of these key concepts, and reinforce them through practical filmmaking.

The crucial thing is to get students to make films.

Mike Gunn, Head of Performing Arts at Finham Park Secondary School, Coventry

Fail faster, fail better

The crucial thing is to get students to make films. At Finham, it's an expectation that if they study film, they should be making films, so students make one per term, gradually aligning their efforts with the restrictions of the spec. 

The most important thing about filmmaking here isn't that they get to re-edit films, but that they make the mistakes, and learn from them next time around. It's much easier to see when something is wrong if it's being played on a full screen to the whole class, as opposed to during the edit, so creating an environment where everyone embraces their mistakes is crucial. As long as the mistakes next time around are new mistakes, then students are making progress.

Leverage extra-curricular opportunities

Decreasing curriculum time is a problem with several potential solutions. The first is to audit other departments for the films they currently use (you'd be amazed how many do use film!) and help them plan those lessons, so there is as much of a film focus as there is on their own curriculum content. 

Next, use Into Film resources to increase the profile of film across the school, with film screenings, resourced lessons, etc. It means students start to associate your subject with others and can start to see career links with what they already study. 

Extra-curricular clubs are another way to increase the profile, but while film screenings after school are sometimes useful, a club with a creative focus gives students more opportunities to make films without pressure, deadlines and more importantly (seeing as the GCSE/A Level curricula don't allow it!), collaboratively. Our Film Lab collaborated with the Creative Writing Club, and together we created another safe space for experimentation.

Within a social environment with their friends, students are often much more open to creative ideas.

Mike Gunn, Head of Performing Arts at Finham Park Secondary School, Coventry


Trips to the cinema are a good starting point for your extra-curricular activities outside of school (they don't disrupt lessons if they're in the evening), but there are lots of opportunities to take trips further. Our annual trip to Warner Bros. Studio Tours is always designed with the 'wow factor' in mind, as are trips to working studios, Pinewood's film careers fair, and other film festivals. Within a social environment with their friends, students are often much more open to creative ideas from these trips.

Try to network with local professionals from the industry, organising masterclasses with them on their area of expertise. The number of students who went into specific production courses or apprenticeships since we started online masterclasses with art directors, concept artists, stunt co-ordinators and the like is mind-blowing!

Gain exposure

It was only when we started telling our students to enter local and national filmmaking competitions, and students were getting regular nominations, that people really started to appreciate the value we were adding to the students' career capital, to the school and to the community. The only films that are certain not to win are the ones which never got entered in the first place, and students need to understand that they can't hide their light under a bushel. Besides, there is a snowball effect when one person gets nominated. Students start to believe, they start understanding that ambition has to be acted upon, and they start to aspire to punch well above what they think they're capable of.

As part of that drive, we eventually started running our own CovCreative film festival, to get students to see what they're each capable of, to celebrate their achievements, and to put their films in front of professionals. We've invited guest judges who are concept artists working on Marvel projects, Art Directors for the Star Wars films, Directors, Sound Designers, and last year we even had Oscar-winning Editor Amanda James judge our students' work. 

You wouldn't believe the buzz the students get from knowing their work is being taken seriously by people in the profession, and you never know who'll volunteer to turn up until you ask them. By the way, if you're a film professional reading this and fancy coming to see what we do, the invitation is open: we'll even throw in a free glass of bubbly!

It's not about the teaching, it's about the creative environment at the heart of our filmmaking community.

Mike Gunn, Head of Performing Arts at Finham Park Secondary School, Coventry

CovCreative Film Festival

The CovCreative Film Festival will be held at The Box in Coventry's Fargo Village on Friday 14th July. It is our second version of the Finham Film Festival which was extended as a result of Coventry's City of Culture status last year, and we hope to welcome guests from the film industry to judge our students' work under five award categories. We're really excited for this year's awards as it will involve at least four films which have been nominated for national awards, so the competition is hot!

If you're an industry professional in the Coventry area and would like to support Mike and his work, Mike can be contacted on Twitter @FinhamFilm or Instagram @creativecovfilmfest.

You may also be interested in...

Viewing 4 of 4 related items.

Into Film Clubs

Into Film Clubs

Find out everything you need to know about starting an Into Film Club.

News details

Want to write for us?

Get in touch with your article ideas for the News and Views section.