Cycle 3 Report

Student Provocateurs
Cycle 3: A Film is Born
Bradford Davey
May 20th, 2007

Relying on Momentum
The third cycle involves film creation. The students have been working on the film for months. They have researched, watched, listened, questioned, brain stormed, scripted, story boarded, adjusted, and rethought. All this work was part of creating their film. For the students, after the first ten minutes of the process, they were ready put cameras in hand and go out and film the world. They have had to wait until now for filming and have filled their time with all of the other activities necessary to make filming possible.

In retrospect, the process to this point has been continued with the knowledge that someday they would be filming. The momentum of this knowledge has carried the process along through the slower times of research and practice. The students have diligently completed storyboards, scripts, costume drawings, had scene discussions, rehearsals, and carried on great debates about what should and what should not be in their film. The power of film as a medium of exploration also seems to play an important part in the project’s momentum. It is a novel technology tool for these kids but one that will be important to them in the future. However, I don’t think it is wise to rely on the novelty of film to capture and hold student attention. As time and technology progress, I suspect many students will have had their own experiences with digital filming. The ability for anyone to make personal films is clearly evident on sites such as YouTube and MySpace. These kids are growing ever more technically proficient with video capture and filmmaking. They are growing their digital literacy.

Two general question for cycle three were:
1) Can we capture all of the footage that was developed and scripted during the year?
2) Is Student Provocateurs powerful enough to carry the project to completion?

More specific questions about supporting the students were:
1) What actions can I take to support the students in editing the film?
2) Will the students benefit from editing in a group format in similar ways to editing in small groups or individually?

Shooting started in early April at the school. There are three scenes that take place at the school and we were able to shoot those first. The idea that scenes could be shot out of order was a little difficult for the students to grasp at first but they quickly adapted. The first day of scheduled shooting at the farm revealed the limited practice that the kids had given to their parts and other difficulties with costumes and props. We utilized the time as onsite rehearsal and after filming, I was able to post their work to the student provocateurs website for their review.

Deb reported that it was good for them to see their acting ahead of time as they were able to see what they liked and got a better sense of how the scenes were going to look on camera. With three trips to the farm cancelled due to construction and bad weather, the students had additional time to work on their scenes and story line. When we were able to get to the farm for filming it was a cool and rainy day but the filming needed to happen. The students were great and worked very hard to get their scenes shot and completed. We spent a great deal of time with the four lead actors to capture all of their dialogue and scene transitions. As the acting director, I felt that capturing the dialogue and scene transitions would be the most important aspect to keep the film together. We needed to return to the farm once more to shoot two final scenes. After that day’s shooting, we discussed the different options for advertising of the film project. It was important to get the advertising underway before the completion of the film because of the tight timetable we are working under. They had many good ideas about getting the word out about the film including posting fliers in local stores, making signs for telephone poles, creating a roadside sing, and posters for the two schools. We also discussed how to get press coverage for the film. An important feature of Student Provocateurs is to create dialogue about the topic from the film and this makes getting adults to attend the premiere critical.

Answering the Questions:
1) Can we capture all of the footage that was developed and scripted during the year?
The students were able to capture their film. The greatest difficulties were developing a realistic shooting schedule and determining a mode for editing collectively. I wonder now about condensing the program into a more realistic time frame that incorporates adequate time for editing.
2) Is Student Provocateurs powerful enough to carry the project to completion?
Carrying the project to completion does not seem to an issue when there is enough time. What I believe to be critical for the projects sustainability is the development of a more realistic time frame; perhaps within a standard school term, quarter, or trimester.

More specific questions about supporting the students were:
1) What actions can I take to support the students in editing the film?
Acting to create a collaborative editing environment had limited success. I think giving the students scenes before hand was helpful and getting them to focus on their particular scenes allowed then to create something true to their original scripted and storyboarded vision. In the future, I would like to see more time for hands-on editing from the students and more team collaboration and decision making on their part in the editing process.
2) Will the students benefit from editing in a group format in similar ways to editing in small groups or individually?
My experience with students editing their own film is they are empowered by the editing process and the freedom they have in doing it themselves. They are able to more clearly represent their vision and are not subject to the interpretation of an outside observer. Although the students participated in the editing process and were committed to finishing their film, I cannot say with any certainty that they understand the editing process any better than when they began the program.

The Film
The film represents my best evidence for what was done and the work that was completed to meet the goals. All of the footage, edited and unedited, can be viewed at The unedited film segments, called “ruff cuts,” can be seen by following the links with the gorilla on them. The final ruff edit film can be scene by following the links with the eggs. Both represent the tremendous effort by the students to get the film captured.

The original idea was that the students would work on editing their film once they had a chance to practice and learn about film editing. The issue was that we ran out of time and I greatly underestimated the amount of effort that would be necessary to get sixth graders to edit a film. I have edited with their input. We have had discussion about the editing process and what is needed. What they have not experienced is getting to edit their own work on the computer. I would like to work this into the project at an earlier point next time and grow their understanding through hands-on experience; perhaps with some lessons editing rehearsal work. Editing is a difficult process and perhaps the most technical portion of making a film. Further development of Student Provocateurs will need to address the editing issues and time constraints for making the film.

What strikes me the most about the project at this point is that it is not a sustainable model. My hope was to design a program that could be utilized as a model for other programs and to create a website to house all of the information necessary that would be free to download by any school. There are three notable challenges to this. The first, Deb Barone has dedicated her science curriculum to this program for the year, something I do not think can be counted on from other teachers. This cannot be a necessary component for the film programs success. Relying on this would greatly limit the number of classrooms that might host the film program in the future. Second, she and I had to get permission from the school board to make the curriculum change. Third, I have dedicated a great deal of time and effort. These three things together represent blocks to a sustainable program. It is difficult for a teacher to dedicate a great amount of class-time to a project that falls outside state or national standards because of the pressures of standardized testing and achievement. It was a great milestone in our efforts when the school board and principal accepted the alterations to the curriculum.

To address the needs of creating a more sustainable program, my cadre learning circle members and I discussed possible solutions. We identified two missing elements to help with the challenges stated above; ties to national and state curriculum standards, and the reduction of time it takes to do the project. Therefore, I would like to establish is a connection to national and state standards and a reduction in the scope of the film itself. The importance of the film is that it provokes dialogue. Dialogue is developed from powerful ideas and clear vision. Different groups of students will direct their attention to a variety of important topics and create meaningful films that continue the ideas of Student Provocateurs.

The first Student Provocateurs film is about 16 minutes in length. Former students have made “energy videos” that were 2 to 5 minutes in length. They were able to complete their films in about 30 class days. They also worked on other areas while the films were being created with about 2 weeks dedicated to filming, editing, and producing their work.
Additionally, Margaret suggested that the program be offered through the Boys and Girls Club or other youth program. This would allow for the continuation of powerful ideas and stories to exist while helping to bring educational opportunities to students who perhaps need it most. This is a new direction for me and working with a population I have not had much experience. I do think that these ideas and a possible new direction and audience would offer a rich and powerful learning experience for all participants. These ideas clearly merit further exploration.

Now What?
The film debuts in two weeks on June 2nd, 2007. There is still much work to be done on the film, editing and working some final sequences, and getting the word out to bring people in to view their work. There is also the matter of the documentary film that I would like to produce that captures the process for the students. I think that this will be an important piece that will show others what path was followed to achieve what we have produced. The documentary will also serve as a powerful reflection tool for what actions were successful, or perhaps not so successful, this year. The documentary is already underway, and with the film project coming to an end, I should have more time available to complete it.

Updated time-line for the Student Provocateurs Project
Activity Description Time Frame Item Completed
Purchase computer and camera First week of January X
Students watch “Making Your Movie” January 15th X
Visit Students for first time at Lane Avenue School January 18th X
Documentary footage capture January 18th – June 6th On-going
Student choose movie topic January 22nd X
Begin script writing January 23rd X
Begin story board February 5th X
Mid script review February 8th X
Mid story board review February 14th X
Camera practice February 14th X
Finish script February 21st X
Finish story board February 29th X
iMovie software practice February 29th X
Begin filming March 1st X
Trip 1 to Casey Farms March 14th X
Trip 2 to Casey Farms March 28th Canceled
Trip 3 to Casey Farms April 4th X
Final filming and film review April 4th Canceled
Film download to computer April 5th X
Begin film editing May 16th X
Film editing May 23rd X
Student film review May 23rd X
Public showing advertising May 21st X
Public showing advertising May 28th X
Public showing June 2nd
Student film copies to students June 2nd
Public interviews June 2nd
Documentary film production June 6th
Final Documentary film production June 11th
Documentary showing to students June 14th
Exhibitions June 20th – 22nd