Into The Unknown

By Michael Bonner-MacKenzie

The Proposal

A few months ago, we were approached by Boston High School to teach a group of nine Year 10 girls (14-15 year olds) how to make a film as part of a challenge week. We said “sure why not?”

The week was structured so that 4 days were spent on the various challenges given to the year group followed by a presentation day on the Friday to show off what they had achieved. Groups were involved in everything from horse riding and animal welfare to dancing and car design, and of course filmmaking.

We had a big challenge in such little time. Our goal was to make and edit a short film (5 mins or less), and also film and edit the dance groups’ routines.

It seemed logical to me to attack the situation with structure. 1 day pre-production. 1 day filming. 1 day editing. 1 day doing the dance video.

Day 1 – Pre-Production

First off an hour was spent with all the groups in the hall doing a bonding exercise with an egg (enough said!). Once that was out of the way we went back to what would be our production office and editing suite; a room full of PCs and a broken projector.

I gave the group each a piece of paper that said Treatment across the top and told them to summarise an idea they have for a short film. Each of them came up with an idea that we could realistically happen on school grounds with a budget of 0 and limited equipment. They then presented their ideas, which ranged from zombie apocalypse to teen comedy. I decided we would need to take elements from some of the ideas and brainstorm as a group to have a realistic concept. Following this as a group they wrote the script scene by scene.

I was pleasantly surprised that this was done very quickly.

I then gave out a list of production roles which each of them chose one of, again with no argument and quick resolve all the roles were filled, these were: Director, Assistant Director, Script Supervisor, Camera/Cinematographer x2, Sound, Lighting & Production Design, Editor, Assistant Editor.

Following this with our script in hand, we set off with a camera to take stills for the perfect settings for the scenes. For each scene they found the perfect location, whilst also deciding the angles and shots they wanted to do which was later compiled into a shooting script.

In under 3 hours, pre-production was completed, which is incredible in itself! At this point the group didn’t see the importance of pre-production and planning; they found it boring as they couldn’t yet see what the impact it would have on their finished film.

At 12pm Mr Brammer, who seemed to have a sixth sense that this was the exact time we needed him, joined us. We split the group into two and showed them different filming techniques and shots. Mr Brammer taught them angles and camera placement by setting up a scene they could film and see a real-time by watching the rushes back in sequence on the camera, instantly seeing how the shots come together, whilst I taught them how to colorize a film directly using the white balance and then how to do tracking shots and a retro-zoom. This was no mean feat as we had no track or dolly and the camera had a un-adjustable digital zoom (rather than a physical zoom), meaning we had to make do with a book trolley and hope the zoom would achieve the shot.

Limited as the cameras were, they were very good for school cameras and would do general video projects just fine, but this was no general video. With a fixed lens, digital zoom and only supporting 1080i (we all know how temperamental interlaced can be), we made do. The book trolley used as a dolly worked relatively well. Overall with what we had, I think they did a brilliant job considering not only the lack of equipment but also of time.

3:25pm and school ends. Fewer than 6 hours and all of pre-production complete as well as some practice with the gear.

Day 2 – Production

We jumped straight into filming on day 2. The Director sat with her team, with a script and shooting script in hand, planning the shooting order. They were ready and eager to go and get shooting as the pre-production was out of the way and the real filmmaking was about to begin…

From the techniques that were learnt on day 1, they went through the shot list and, by the end of the day, had amazingly shot all but 7 of the 70+ shots in the shooting script.


Day 3 – Dance Video Filming

Day 3 started with getting the last 7 shots of the film before 11:30 as they had to go and film the dance group. No extra time was left for shooting the film so it was imperative that these shots were completed in time. Luckily, we made it.

We set up our 2 cameras in the hall at either side of the stage ready for the first take. A third camera was available for the second take, so we utilized it by setting up one camera on the balcony, one camera directly in front of the stage and the third camera in the wings of the stage.

From these two takes we had 5 angles to edit together. We ended the day loading up all the rushes for the big edit day.

Day 4 – Post-Production

I showed them the basic controls and let them dive in.

The editor and assistant editor edited the film. They only had time to do one rough cut. Considering the time they had to do it, the high quality of the first cut is a testament to the production planning and organization, as well as their natural editing talent. They just got on with it and asked me every so often if they got stuck. I also taught them about continuity and tightening certain parts up.

Two separate workstations were editing the dance routines along with another workstation editing together a blooper reel. I got the dance routine editors to stack the rushes for each angle, put in the audio track from mp3s (given by the dance instructor), and showed them how to line them up. This made them all in time and gave them an opportunity to do a live style edit.

Everyone else started putting together the presentation for the following day.

Editing it is definitely something you learn by doing once you have been shown the basic controls, with someone to guide you along the way when required.

Using Sony Vegas on systems not really meant for that type of workload (low RAM and basic CPU) and with single 14inch 4:3 screens, it was a miracle that it was all completed in time. Rendering took forever and often failed.

In 6 hours they were able to edit a short film, a blooper reel and 5 dance routines on 4 computers simply not specifically designed for professional video editing!

Day 5 – Presentation

After all the groups set up their group tables in the main hall to tell the story of their week, they took to the stage one by one presenting their experiences. Our group took to the stage and briefly described their week before premiering their masterpiece followed by the blooper reel. They received a huge applause from the audience including local MP Matt Warman. It was a great success and they were quite rightly very proud of their work.

In Summary

They all listened to their director and did what was required of them through their role(s). There were no arguments and no time wasted; if any time was wasted, the film would never have been finished in time. In the end they all understood the equal importance of each role, big or small, and understood that all roles are essential to making a good film. They also realised the need and importance of pre-production and planning once it all came together in the edit, which I told them from the start they would. I think it is remarkable that this group of nine girls, who had no knowledge or experience in filmmaking, produced in just 4 days work at such a high and impressive level. It was a new experience for me and one that I enjoyed beyond all expectation.

You can watch all three videos below, or on our youtube channel.

Glass (Short Film - 2015)

Glass (Short Film Bloopers - 2015)

Dance Video Edited By The Film Group - 2015

Blog post date: 07/2015