When I started teaching middle school, I was told my students wouldn’t be able to keep up with a higher curriculum. Or at least that’s what the previous teacher had my administration believe. I’m thankful that I don’t listen well and love a challenge.
Probably one of my favorite classes to teach is my film class. I start the year teaching them proper scriptwriting format. At first, the idea of writing this way is daunting to most of my students. I have quite a few kids in intensive reading and lack faith in their writing abilities. But by the end of the first nine weeks, every single student has written me a 15-page script. Most students go over my page limit, and I want to pull out my hair because now that means that we’re going to be creating 15 to 30-minute movies.
When I went on maternity leave this year, I was hoping that all my students wouldn’t have been able to spend those three months filming their projects. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. My students could not film their projects, and by the time I returned, there wasn’t enough time for everybody to film their projects’ edits and continue with the year. So instead, I had them break down their scripts into a three to five-page video diary of their main character.
Students could recreate their original idea or base the video diary on their favorite character. At first, everybody was upset that they would no longer be able to film their full-length film. But after breaking their script down into 3 to 5 pages, they appreciated the character work they had to put into developing their new story. We took about two and a half weeks to film and edit their projects. After they were done, we watched the films in class. I have a new rule. All students are to give me their cell phones before we start viewing because a few kids have secretly recorded other people’s projects and made fun of them. I do not like that students think they can make fun of each other in this way. Nobody is an Oscar-winning director, writer, or editor. None of my students should be making fun of each other for anything that they created because every single one of them is still learning and improving. No one is perfect. Even when they move on to high school, I will not approve of such behavior. They are still learning and still trying. No one needs to put each other down.
When I was out Monday, I had my students do a table read of the feature-length script they were going to work on for the majority of our last nine weeks. When I posted the assignment at 5:00 in the morning, one of my students responded at 5:30, saying that I was going to torture the poor substitute with a Gong show. I told her that if they misbehaved, they’d be writing me a two-page response, single-spaced, font Arial, size 12, on how they could all improve their short films I had just graded. Needless to say, I got a very positive review from the substitute. The Substitute was also highly impressed that an 8th grader wrote a 27-page script. And how well she handled the students and their reactions to reading some of their lines for the first time.
She based her script on a three-year-old inside joke. A part of my TV one curriculum is to show them the 1902 French film A Trip To The Moon. Everyone in her class called the “astronauts” the cult of magicians. She wrote about how the leader had spent nearly a hundred years trying to find the woman that would rule by his side. And how he trapped an alien race from the Moon and would turn all humanity into their slaves. But the cult leader found his partner in middle school and had to pose as a middle school student. The whole film is adorable and silly.
Today we had another table read that I supervised. My director had more control over the room and was guiding her classmates on how she wanted their lines delivered. I had her director of photography sitting next to her. I explained even though she may not have lines; she needs to know everyones’ lines and start thinking about how they will want to film the project.
My class asked me when they would start filming the project, and I told them after spring break. They all groaned.
“Guys,” I had to talk them off the ledge. “We have two days left, and raise your hand if you plan on getting a hair or your style changed.”
Nearly every single student raised their hand.
I sighed at their giggles. “That’s why we’re wanting.”
“So what are we doing the next two days?” Someone asked.
“We are going to move the desk and block out the film, so when you guys go out to shoot your project, you’ll actually have an idea.”
A few kids nodded in agreement.
“Don’t you think that could have been helpful with your short film?” I asked, and everyone agreed this time. “That’s why. We have limited time, and I want you all to do it to the best of your ability.”