What started out as a class that involved the analysis of films and evaluating a story’s transition from book to film soon found itself awash in movie magic as Film Literature teacher Melanie Mason decided to move students behind the scenes.
“We did lots of film analysis and wrote papers and students weren’t engaged,” Mason said. “So at some point along the wild road, we decided what better way to teach kids about film than having them become filmmakers?”
For the entire semester, students not only learned about what it takes to bring the written word to life, but they learned how the skills to do it on their own. They received a crash course in camera angles and audio quality before taking on their biggest project yet: a short film with a message.
“All projects have to have a driving question and the goal is whatever the students create has to answer that driving question,” Mason said. “Their driving questions is something to the effect of how do we create films that enlighten others? They have to have some sort of lesson, some sort of takeaway.”
After determining their films’ directions, the students were off and running to build a script, assemble a cast of actors and put them in front of the camera to embody the story, the driving question that the whole movie rests upon. Mason admitted that the semester was not without challenges as some groups doubted if they’d even have a completed film to show.
“I honestly walked into this class thinking it was probably going to be easy and simple,” student Maycee Nix said. “It’s not that you’re going to just record something and edit it. You really have to consider the work you have to put into it.”
The challenging semester also brought along its own curriculum, teaching students how to work together to achieve a goal and to be prepared for whatever gets thrown at you.
“This gave us a great idea of the fact that we can’t just fire someone from our group,” student Trevor McCloughan said. “It forced us to work through with others more so than maybe other projects would.”
As they always do, though, the students pulled through and after weeks of planning, casting and filming, the time finally came to take their semester of work and share it with the world. On Wednesday, Dec. 20, the student filmmakers as well as friends, family and members of the community sat in the Bones Theatre in Columbia City for a festival featuring their films on the 44-by-22-foot theater screen.
“We’re trying to give students as authentic of an experience as we can,” Mason said. “The Bones Theatre has been more than accommodating and they really love to make it as big of a night for the kids as they can.”
Up until last spring, the screenings were hosted at Eagle Tech. In an effort to help bring the students’ work to a wider audience, a partnership was forged between the class and the Bones Theatre.
“It seemed like the obvious place to show the films,” Chris Jones, owner of the Bones Theatre, said. “We want to see them succeed and to enjoy movies, the art and the craft of making movies.”
Although the big premiere would be an exciting time, a lot of the students had butterflies in the days leading up to the festival. Their nerves ultimately revealed their pride in their work and the desire to put the best product onscreen.
“Other people haven’t seen it yet so they are going in with a completely different mindset,” student Ian Rhoades said. “But because it’s ours…we’re going to be all concerned about the details.”
It may not be Tribeca or the Academy Awards, but for Mason and her students, seeing their friends and neighbors and loved ones coming to celebrate their creativity and hard work is the best accolade.
“For them to get the recognition and seeing people going out and applauding them on the red carpet that’s huge in a lot of ways,” Mason said. “They doubt themselves, but when they walk in and see all the people there to see their films, the community support and seeing that the community is interested in what they’re doing is so important.”