Film production class turning out the next generation of directing dreamers

May 6, 2011

By Tim Pfarr

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Roll out the red carpet, hit the spotlights and flash the cameras, because students at Newcastle Elementary School have footage in the can.

Five years ago, the school launched its Video Production Club. It has since become one of the most popular groups on campus. More than 50 students applied for the 25 spots in the club this year to learn the basics of filmmaking, from storyboarding to completion.

The projects help the students work better in teams, learn how to tells stories in creative ways, acquire new skills and identify their own strengths within the medium, said MJ Keller, fourth-grade teacher and club leader.

Tim Pfarr Gabriel Waldbaum, Jessica Robblee and Jana Merca (from left) recreate a scene from Jerry Spinelli’s picture ‘I Can Be Anything.’ Fourth-grade teacher MJ Keller, right, gave the group tips between takes. Photos by

The club is offered to fourth- and fifth-graders twice a year, with meetings every Thursday morning before school for 10-12 weeks. By the end of a given session, students complete a film between five and 20 minutes long, and they use their final meeting to roll out a red carpet — literally — and screen their work for parents.

This spring’s session includes 16 students, who split into groups of four to six to create their own film projects under the guidance of a teacher.

Past projects include fairy tale news, twisted fairy tales, Newcastle ABCs and music videos. This time around, students are recreating picture books on camera, with groups taking on “I Can Be Anything,” by Jerry Spinelli; “Knuffle Bunny Too,” by Mo Williams; and “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” by Judith Viorst.

For each of the roughly 20 scenes that make up each project, the students in each group divide the duties of acting, filming, directing and props. After mapping out on paper what each scene will look like, the students take to the cameras, filming several scenes around the school during a given hourlong meeting.

“Some will flourish during this part, and some will flourish during the computer side of things,” Keller said.

While filming each scene, the director calls “quiet on the set” and then “action.” In accordance with typical filming technique, the students wait five seconds after starting the camera to begin acting, which helps in postproduction.

Among those who love the process of filming are fifth-grader Dylan Strode and fourth-grader Lili Galluzzo.

For Strode, in the club for his second year, the most fun is in using the equipment and going on camera.

“At home, I don’t get to, because we don’t have this stuff,” he said. “I like acting. Filming and acting is way easier that it seems.”

Galluzzo said she loves working the camera, as well as the bloopers of acting.

“I like acting out the stuff because of how funny the stuff can be,” she said. “Sometimes you start laughing, and you just can’t stop.”

Others enjoy the creative outlet of building props. Fourth-grader Jana Merca brings her scrap-booking skills to the club.

“I get to make really fun props,” she said.

Her creations — such as top hats and snowballs — have been used in numerous scenes in her group’s recreation of “I Can Be Anything.”

It usually requires a few takes to get the dialogue down and the scene just right. Then, it’s off to the editing station — the computer at the front of the classroom.

Students use the program Vegas Movie Studio to string their projects together and add the finishing touches.

“It’s the first time we’ve tried picture books,” Keller said. “It’s interesting to try to bring somebody else’s words to life.”

She said this spring’s projects have required nearly 100 props, compared to just a handful used when making music videos in the past.

Keller, along with fellow teachers Kelly Goddard, Mariel Hanna and Mary Simonsen, lead the club, offering help and advice when the students need it, but staying out of the way as much as possible.

“My first year, I had never filmed or edited anything,” Goddard said with a laugh. She is now in her fifth year leading the club. “I’ve learned a lot about technology.”

She said the students are incredibly quick to learn the editing software, often leaving the teachers in the dust.

Keller said sometimes students even end up instructing the teachers on how to edit.

“When it comes to the editing, they outpace us,” she said.

The day of the red carpet premier, parents and school staff members come to Keller’s room to view the finished product for the first time, and then the videos are screened at lunch for the entire school.

“The rest of the school loves watching them,” Keller said. “I think this is especially true for the third-graders, because that could be them next year.”

She said the videos typically turn out better than expected, although bloopers often prove to be the biggest hits.

“Sometimes, they are only funny to the kids,” Keller said. “Others hit the funny bone of the adults, too.”

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One Response to “Film production class turning out the next generation of directing dreamers”

  1. Film production class turning out the next generation of directing dreamers « Real Film Career Forum for What I Really Want to Do on May 9th, 2011 9:26 pm

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