Lent, Teaching

Day 21: Future Movie Makers

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.” 

Lent, Writing

Day 9: Aphantasia, past life regression, and a movie script

About a year ago, I discovered I wasn’t normal. I mean, I’m a writer who has made a career in television. I’ve never been normal. However, I discovered I am a part of a small group of humans who do not see with their mind’s eye. I have Aphantasia.

“Aphantasia is the inability to visualize. Otherwise known as image-free thinking. People with aphantasia don’t create any pictures of familiar objects, people, or places in their mind’s eye. Not for thoughts, memories, or images of the future.”

 I never knew that I was different. I always thought that when people said they saw pictures in their heads, they were speaking figuratively. It wasn’t until I was working with a friend, editing a story, did I learn it wasn’t a figure of speech. He asked me to picture the scene and my head, and I told him I couldn’t. This sparked a long conversation about how when I close my eyes, I only see darkness, and if there are lights, I’ll see yellows or oranges where the lights are.  Being unable to see images in my head is probably why my writing is, so dialogue driven. It also probably has a lot to do with why I love to take pictures of everything that happens. I can look at pictures, know what was happening,  and it evokes emotions, but I can’t recall a memory and see it in my head. 

I haven’t always been this way. Or at least there are a few distinct moments I know I saw images in my head. 

The first moment was my first year of high school. My drama teacher was out, and we had a substitute. I can’t recall his appearance, but I still hear his voice. Thinking back at this moment as an adult and teacher, what he did was weird as shit, but as a high school freshman, it was pretty cool. The substitute asked us if we wanted to be part of a group activity where he guided us through a past life regression trip. I am unsure if we knew what that meant, but it sounded way more interesting than reading our anthologies and writing a response. 

The substitute had us line up in a row in front of desks. He asked us to close our eyes and focus on his voice. He told us to imagine a blank chalkboard, and on the chalkboard, we were supposed to draw a circle. We were guided to draw the number 5 (or ten; I can’t remember everything from twenty years ago), erase it, and continue until we reached zero. Once we reached zero, he told us to imagine a field with flowers and warm sun. We should feel safe there. 

And what is crazy is that I could picture all of this in my head. When I try to do this now, I only see darkness. It wasn’t until I was talking to my editor did this moment come back to me. I had, at one point, actually seen images in my head. 

After the substitute guided us to the field, he went down the line and asked each one of us a question. I don’t remember exactly what my classmates said, but I know one said she was a princess. I think another said she was in the holocaust, and one said she was on the Titanic. Each time he asked them if they felt safe, and oddly, every one of them said yes. 

When he got to me, I wasn’t prepared for what came out of my mouth. He asked me what I saw around me, and I said I felt sand, and he asked me if I was at the beach. I told him no. He then asked me to look around, and I told him I couldn’t because it was night and dark. He asked me if I was standing or sitting, and I told him I was kneeling. I told him my hands were bound, and I heard people rushing towards me. I told him that the hair I could see in front of my face was dark, and it was not mine. And then he asked me if I was safe. My heart raced, and I told him no. Next, all I remember was his voice getting louder and louder, telling me to wake up, and I remember feeling sweaty and having my classmates look at me, unsure of what was happening.

For the next seven years, I would have random dreams that would expand on what I had in my supposed past life regression. Do I think that this was a past life that I led? No. I’m unsure what I experienced, but it was very vivid. 

It wasn’t until I was halfway through college before I could get the story out of my head. I took a scrip writing class and asked my teacher if I could write a historical script. He said he didn’t approve of them because students did a horrible job writing them. I didn’t like that answer. I had to get this story out of my head. So I asked if that meant I couldn’t write a historical piece. He told me to go ahead, but the likelihood of me passing with a good grade was slim to none. 

I wanted to impress my teacher. He was a former writer for Golden Girls and Dallas, among other shows. 

I took what he said as a challenge. I knew I could write a fantastic script. So for the next few months, I wrote my 90-page script. He had the class break the project into 30-page chunks. When I turned in act one, I expected him to tell me to try again. But the only note I received was, ” please edit your work so I can give you a better grade.” I was excited by that and went on writing. By the end of the semester, I had finished the script and the story I started seven years ago. I never saw those images again. But what I had was a script called Blue Lotus, and the only A in that class.

After going back and reading the script, I couldn’t help but giggle. Some of the dialogue is totally cheesy, but I still love it.