gearing up for Cinemakids

I tweeted this yesterday but wanted to give an extra plug for Cinemakids here on this blog. Cinemakids is an amazing organization that provides filmmaking skills and tools to youth who may otherwise lack these opportunities in their homes and their schools. Organized by UT Professor Mary Celeste Kearney (who blogs at Girls Make Media) the two-day program encourages youth ages 6-12 to celebrate youth-made films and participate in a free workshop focused on filmmaking basics. After being grouped together, the kids write, direct, and act in their own short film which is scripted and shot in those two days. Right now Cinemakids is asking for films, videos, and computer animations created by youth 18 years-of-age or younger. The deadline for submissions is July 1st. Entries that are selected will be a screened at a 2 day workshop in the fall for youth ages 6 – 12. Though the actual workshop won’t be until the fall, I thought I’d share my experiences volunteering for Cinemakids in case anyone is interested in participating in this year’s workshop.

Last year I volunteered on the Selection Committee and for the 2 day workshop. Being part of the Selection Committee was fantastic. It gave me the opportunity to see some amazing short films submitted by youth across the country. The 2 day workshop was hectic but ultimately wonderful. I worked with a mixed group of boys and girls, ages 8-9. I had 6 kids in my group and we had a total of 3 adult volunteers including myself.

Cinemakids is able to have youth shoot, and complete, a film in 2 days by relying on “on the spot” editing – meaning the kids had to shoot the film in sequence. There was no editing after the fact. This made a big difference in how the group had to approach everything, from set locations to how many scenes to include in the film. The workshop is held on UT’s campus and luckily there are plenty of ready-made sets including buildings, statues, a turtle pond, and the clock tower.

On the first day the youth attended the screening and viewed the youth-made films we selected. We try to select a diverse group of films in the hopes that the screening will inspire the kids and allow them to think of the endless possibilities they have in creating a film. First day we brainstormed with the kids about what kind of movies they like watching and what movies they’d recently seen in the theater or at home. This was a great way to get the kids talking with one another in a small group and to have them start thinking about common themes or stories they all liked. Turns out my group all liked sci-fi and monster films, and they built a story around these two genres.

One of the biggest things Cinemakids emphasizes is that everyone in the group should be both in front and behind the camera. This “rule” mitigates stereotypical gender roles in which boys handle the technology and girls merely perform for the camera. In my group everyone had the opportunity to direct a scene and be directed by others. Overall, all the kids wanted to occupy both roles, though I did have one really shy boy who didn’t want to appear on camera. In the end the group decided he could do voice-over work in a scene involving a talking turtle.

The volunteers and I assisted the kids with outlining a plot for their film and creating characters. This was one of the hard parts of pre-production since several kids wanted to be the hero of the film. Ultimately, we had multiple main characters and heroes (including a girl hero!) in the film. All of this brainstorming and story-boarding took up the first day of the workshop. It was hard (very hard) to get the kids to agree on a story and not add too many plot details or twists. For ex: one kid wanted to have an underwater adventure and fireworks and everything – we had to keep reminding him – “how would we be able to film/show this?”

This question in general (“how would we film this? How would we show this?”) was a great exercise for getting the kids to understand the various ways you can “show” something in a film, and the best part was that we allowed the kids to come up with these ideas themselves. By asking such questions as: does the character say they are good? should we “show” that they’re good – if so how would we show that? what are some acts of kindness, or how would we know someone is good in real life? the kids created their own representation of kindness . . . which in their film involved a zombie returning a stolen purse to the rightful owner. That first day we also went over how to use the camera and illustrated some basic camera movements such as a tilt, a pan, and how to zoom in and out.  We also helped the group figure out a consistent form of communication between the director and the actors, such as counting down “1, 2, 3, action!” – (then pressing record) and (turning off the record function and then saying) ending a scene with “Cut.”

On the first day we also scouted out locations on campus within walking distance and made a list of where we wanted to shoot certain scenes. We also figured out costumes and props. In a very DIY style the group relied on whatever the kids already had at home (including Halloween costumes) and whatever we could all put together over night with basic items like cardboard boxes, tin foil, and duct tape (both of which came in handy for the creating robot guards).

The last thing we did that first day was have the kids each create a title card. The title cards not only introduced the name of the film – which was Opposite Day – but they also set up the complex backstory involving multiple planets and technology gone haywire. Each kid was able to create a title card with their section of the prologue and then do the voice-over work for their title card at the beginning of the film. Writing all of this down I’m amazed at how much was accomplished this first day!

On day two the kids filmed the entire thing from start to finish. The volunteers and I would sometimes act out a scene to help the kids be aware of blocking and how to position their bodies so that their faces could be seen on camera. Though the kids had scripted their scenes and knew the overarching narrative, the majority of the dialogue was created on the spot. Therefore, each scene was rehearsed three times prior to filming so that everyone could remember their lines and their places. At one point the kids couldn’t agree on how to film a battle scene where the three heroes defeat the robot guards. One group member suggested disarming the robots with the a joke – “Why should you never sleep next to a pig? Because it will hog the bed!” – and everyone enjoyed that unique and unexpected touch.

At the end of day 2 of the workshop, my group was surprised at how much work went into making their short film. Originally they were hoping to create a 20 minute film over the course of the workshop, and they all thought this would be easy. It was fun to show them how much time and effort goes into setting up each scene, practicing each scene, filming the scene, and the regrouping to another location and repeating the process. In the end Opposite Day was only 3 minutes long! Months later Cinemakids held a screening where each group could see their finished film along with the other films created during the workshop. For a short film Opposite Day packed a punch in every second. The film ended up involving aliens, zombies, superheroes, robots guards, a talking turtle, and a ninja! As is often the case, if you foster kids’ creativity you will not be disappointed (or bored) by the results.

Overall, Cinemakids allowed these kids to see that media is highly constructed, from the costumes, to the sets, to the dialogue, and the story. By pulling back the curtain and showing the inner workings of the filmmaking process, and placing those same skills and tools in kids’ hands, Cinemakids prepare youth to think critically about media and popular culture. And if we’re lucky, Cinemakids inspires youth to continue documenting their visions and stories!

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~ by actyourage09 on May 25, 2010.

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