Thursday, 25 April 2013

Perks of the Job

School Dinners, anyone?
What my work lacks in terms of financial reward and job security it makes up for in fun. This thought occurred to me this morning as I stirred green food colouring into noodles and ransacked my house for plastic arachnids.

These goodies are for the second part of our film, where our bewildered new pupil experiences the trauma of having to eat in the school canteen.  The pupils contributed red looking gore and thick tomato juice and ladled the concoction onto the plate you see pictured.The festering eggs were donated by my colleague, Jenny, who is working on this project with me. Or perhaps I should say Jenny's hens.

All lots of fun, but it does bring home how scary the whole experience of arriving in a new school in a different country must be.

We got through a lot of filming today! As well as the canteen scene we filmed our opening sequence in which the reluctant pupil is escorted to school by his mum.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Who needs zombie make up?


We have just over five more lessons allocated to our film project - so time is truly of the essence.  Filming starts tomorrow: we plan to film the first couple of scenes of the movie in under an hour!

As time and money are equally tight, today's lesson had to broach the subject of costumes.  The pupils were keen on full zombie regalia for the second part of the film and were beginning to envisage rather a big budget affair with make up and ghastly robes.

I showed the pupils this very short film clip I had taken of myself the night before. Using imovie the pupils had to render their fluffy and approachable English teacher in as terrifying a way as possible. I think they did quite a good job!

My aim was to show them that a little special effects wizardry can do away with the need for fancy costumes and make up. I'm not sure whether this aim sunk in or not- they were having far too much fun distorting my face.

As you can probably tell, I'm still getting to grips to working with a Mac! Hopefully my pupils will be able to help me out here...

Friday, 19 April 2013

From Concept to Storyboard

The last couple of sessions with my teenage film makers have been busy and productive.  At the beginning of Thursday morning's class I drew a mountain on the board as a simple visual representation of a story with a beginning (the bottom), a middle (the summit) and an end (the other side of the mountain.)

Starting at the beginning, we wrote up an outline for the film, guided by questions (from me) and discussion with each other.  The learners were keen to contribute their ideas, especially to the rather gory middle section (yes, I know - it is supposed to be a welcome to the school film for new EAL pupils, but please rest assured that it has a very happy ending!)

At the end of this session I showed the group one of my favourite short films, The Black Hole.  This was partly to reward the group for their hard work, but also to show them how a very short film can have a beautifully crafted plot, and how a perfectly thought out shot can reveal a character's inner life in a couple of seconds. I love the simplicity of this film's soundtrack too.

Today the pupils story boarded their ideas.  We used the free printable templates from which have enough space underneath to include information about camera angles and dialogue.

I also showed pupils this clip about camera techniques. After one viewing I asked pupils to tell me what terms they remembered and when they might use these different techniques in their own films. For example, they might use a close up of their main character's face to show his feelings of anxiety on the first day of starting a new school. Or they might use a point of view shot as the central character walks through the school.

By the end of the lesson pupils had story boarded the film's first section. We have six more sessions to complete this film, so I hope they do their homework over the weekend!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The right mix: a new film project with teenagers.

The right ingredients?
Today I started work on a new film project with three EAL pupils at my local high school. I felt quite nervous beforehand – it has been a while since I have undertaken group work with teenagers– whatever would I do if the project elicited nothing more than a gothic roll of the eyes and deathly silence?

In the end, I was most pleasantly surprised by the pupils’ enthusiasm!  The trick will be, I think, to keep the momentum going over the weeks that follow and produce something which does justice to the talents of the individuals in this group.

Unfortunately, one pupil was absent today,  but I was lucky enough to have two fantastic members of staff present who contributed a lot of ideas and enthusiasm to the process.

  •  I brought out a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon, and started mixing an imaginary cake.  I added some flour to the bowl and passed it on to the pupil on my right who added butter.  We went round our little circle with each person adding whatever they thought was an important ingredient to our “cake.”  
  • It was easy to agree on the ingredients for a cake. I knew it might be harder to agree on what makes a great film! A quick circle of the mixing bowl elicited a few ideas: someone said “funny” and someone else said “good people."
  • It was at this point I brought out some suggestions:

Costs lots of £s to make!
Good music (soundtrack)
Brad Pitt
Handsome actors
Is in Polish
Makes you cry
About 1 and a half hours long
Beautiful scenery
Has animals in it
Nice costumes
Is in Hungarian
Makes you think
Has a happy ending
Is fast moving
Is in English
Is exciting

  • Pupils read the suggestions and ticked the ingredients that they thought made for a great film. Unsurprisingly people had different ideas, so this generated some interesting discussion.

  • I then showed the pupils extracts from three short films. Two of the films were made by  groups of adult ES(O)L learners. The third film was made by a local group of young film makers. I gave everyone in the group a small whiteboard and a marker pen. After each film they had to write down a number between 1 and 10 which reflected their opinion of the film they had seen. On the count of three they had to show each other their score and back this up with an opinion. This was interesting: it gave me an insight into what kind of film the pupils might like to make. Also, I could see that pupils were, in some cases, watching the films and thinking "I could do better than this!". 
  • Now came the tricky bit. Before the end of the lesson I wanted the pupils to agree on the kind of film they were going to make. I gave them a brief: I want them to make a film which can be shown to incoming EAL pupils who arrive new at the school. The film has to be welcoming and positive: apart from that they have creative freedom! Aware that our presence was becoming more of a hindrance than a help myself and the other staff members left the pupils in peace for five minutes to discuss their plans.
  • Did we return to a stony silence? Not at all. The pupils had already agreed on their idea and as I write this I am aware that I do not want to give too much away, for fear of taking the shine of the finished film. Suffice to say, the pupils had approached the brief from an angle I could never have predicted and I am very excited about the next few sessions!