Film Club (2015-2019):
Behind-the-Scenes of Middle-School Movie Making
Soon after graduating Film School in 2015, I asked the Principal of my local elementary school if there were any young creative writers I could mentor. He smiled and said he would get back to me. Three weeks later, he introduced me to a bubbly group of eleven-year-old girls who had just "finished" a fantastical screenplay largely inspired by Harry Potter.
Sure enough, their good vs. evil script boldly hinted at all the magic, quirky characters, challenging relationships, drama, conflict, adventure, and heroism of their muse--but much of the deeper storytelling was still locked in their imaginations. They could not yet see this as clearly as my film-pounded brain was trained to do, so I began our first "class" by asking what they really liked about Harry Potter.
A flurry of answers came from all girls and filled up our whiteboard. Beyond all the obvious magical stuff, the girls identified themes like friendship, courage, kindness, and overcoming fear...as well as details about costumes, settings, training, etc. At the end, I asked them to identify all the things that were in their own script and to explain where they were. Their response this time was more of a light dusting, as they started realizing just how much was missing.
In all fairness, I must say their first script--written in 5th grade--was impressive. Together, they had conjured 87-pages of imaginative settings, characters, and relationships with a lonely underdog that had yet to discover her true potential. I could see exactly what they were trying to achieve to the extent of "seeing" what was missing. The hard part was in convincing these budding filmmakers of all the writing that still needed to be done without bursting their bubble of eagerness to start filming NOW!
Be assured that I wanted to shoot this film as much as they did, but the story holes that needed filling were too large. One of the first scenes, for example, was about the main character being bullied at school--something she would not yet overcome--but most of what was written was DIALOGUE. Nobody in that scene was moving, least of all, the bullies! They were just talking--or, rather, talking too much--and this was true of most of their script.
Certainly, I could have guided the girls on-set and allowed them to direct from there, but I wanted them to at least visualize on paper what the characters would be DOING, just to have a solid launching point. The ultimate lesson was in getting them to rewrite the entire scene with MORE ACTION and LESS DIALOGUE...and to do it in one page rather than five.
With maybe a little magic, the girls not only rewrote the scene in one page, but they also added props and further clarified the characters and their relationships.
During shooting--the following week--the girls saw exactly why they needed action (and how they could modify it on-set) and how efficiently the scene played with less bully-talk. It was a great lesson, one that developed competence and confidence, but inadvertently fueled the girls' desire to do hasty filming instead of more writing.
Over the next two years, the girls and I engaged in a comical tug-o-war between me wanting them to add more story dimension and them wanting to film scenes that weren't quite ready. In the end, we both won...but not before learning tons about time management and teamwork...and about how much thought, planning, and effort really go into the crafts of screenwriting and filmmaking.