Into Film Clubs
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Our Into Film Club of the Month for May 2018 is Wales High School in Sheffield, which is run by Liam Sanderson, who works at the school as the technical tutor for A-Level media studies and film studies. We spoke to Liam to find out more about all the filmmaking that's been happening at his film club.
How long have you been working on filmmaking with young people?
I've been working on filmmaking with young people for nearly ten years now. The after-school clubs started out as an opportunity for the younger students to make their own films, and they began by producing stop-motion animations.
But they soon got bored with animating plasticine models and asked if they could make their own live action films outside the classroom. The first few attempts mainly involved lots of running down school corridors with a camera and play fighting in classrooms.
I felt it was important not to instruct the students or bore them with the techniques of filmmaking. I wanted them to have fun and learn from their own mistakes. But at a certain point I also wanted them to produce a final product and have something to show for all their time running around with a camera.
What was the first film you made with your students?
The first film made by our film club was The Switch.
I gave the students a simple concept, a spin on the traditional spy/espionage thriller. The film would essentially be a series of hand-offs between the students involving a mysterious briefcase. Then I gave them free reign on how to do the hand-offs, two people walking towards each in a corridor, swapping the briefcase in an elevator, etc. Then we all came up with different ideas for where the briefcase should end up and what should be inside.
We finally all agreed that the funniest idea was to have the briefcase's final destination be a school toilet and the contents of the briefcase should be a toilet roll delivered to a waiting student.
All the students starred in the film and when they didn't appear in shot, they took turns operating the camera. We shot the film in about half an hour, just quickly running around the school and grabbing shots.
Could you give any tips to any club leaders who are keen to make films at their film club?
I have since recommended the process we went through to make The Switch to other teachers and people working in schools, it's a great starting project for young filmmakers. Using the strict concept of a series of hand-offs, the children's imaginations can fill in the gaps and decide what is inside the briefcase, letting that dictate the ending. For example, a bomb is taken to the headteacher's office, the film cuts to black and ends with a bang. It's a really effective way of creating a simple and engaging short film and involves the students in the story telling process.
After The Switch you went onto make more films, how did that go?
Following The Switch, more new club members joined the film club and the films became more ambitious. Rather than making a film featuring another series of hand-offs, I encouraged the students to make something that showed them once again working together towards a shared goal, and this ultimately led to The Test.
Again I gave them a simple story concept with a beginning, middle and end. It was to be a heist film. A group of students would team together to cheat at a maths test. I then left it to the students to fill in the gaps… and that's when it got complicated! The problem was, everybody wanted a part in the film. So we had to adapt the idea and come up with a way creating parts for everybody whilst maintaining a simple structure.
Children's imaginations can be frighteningly brilliant and if you can control their ideas within a tight structure, the results can be truly amazing. The script became much more ambitious, with fantastic new characters and a richer, more complex storyline.
The film was shot in small sections over a number of months, with two students shooting everything simultaneously with two cameras, this gave us plenty of options when we edited the film, allowing to maintain the film's relentless momentum as the narrative progressed.
I edited the film but I made it a collaborative process and used it as a way of teaching them how to use editing software. The students could view everything on the white board, and as we had multiple takes, we would view each one and the students would decide on the best take to use. The final film was a great success and screened at film festivals around the world and won numerous awards.
One of your students' films recently won our Film of the Month competition, what kind of impact did that have on the filmmaker?
We've been lucky enough to have two students win the Film of the Month competition! It's fantastic recognition for all their hard work and gives their films a platform for wider exposure.
What are the challenges and rewards from filmmaking with young people?
I'm lucky enough that I rarely work with many lazy or challenging students. On the whole, they are a pleasure to work with. The challenges however can be two extremes, working with students who have no ideas and having to help them workshop and develop a narrative, or somebody who has too many ideas or overly ambitious. I once had a student who submitted me a script for a Vietnam war film he wanted to make, it featured a scene where a soldier jumps on to a helicopter that is in flight. Suffice to say, we never made that film.
As I mainly support A-Level students, engaging younger students in filmmaking has paid off, as many of the students have gone on to take A-level Media Studies and Film Studies. They arrive armed with bucket loads of technical knowledge and experience from working on numerous school film projects. This is also one of the reasons why our A-Level filmmaking has been so incredibly successful.
Any final bits of advice for educators who are about to start filmmaking with their club members?
It's very difficult coming up with ideas for short films and when a young filmmaker is faced with a blank page, they have no idea where to start. With younger students, I appeal to their sense of humour. They can become distracted easily, so if you want them committed to a film project, they need to be fully on-board.
Another successful way of developing ideas is getting students to talk in groups. Every year when our A-Level students are preparing to write their scripts, we have a roundtable discussion. Everybody pitches their ideas to the rest of the group. At this stage, some students will have fully formed ideas and others may only have a vague concept. This group dynamic can be very helpful, especially for those struggling.
I'm certain all the students who have participated in our filmmaking projects, would agree, regardless of how the final film turns out, the creative, collaborative process of producing a film is a hugely invigorating and rewarding experience. Not to mention the laughs!
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