Classroom blockbusters

Mike Kent

Partly to film my new grandson, and partly because I fancied getting into a bit of film-making again, I've bought a new video camera and an editing suite. It's a far cry from the Super 8mm equipment I used 30 years ago.

I developed a passion for cinema as a child and like Leslie Halliwell, I can remember being overwhelmed the first time my parents took me to the pictures. When I was 6, they bought me a Mickey Mouse projector for Christmas, which shone filmstrips dimly on to my bedroom wall. Saturday morning pictures, with its cartoons, comedies and serials was an event I never missed, and as a teenager I wasn't averse to skipping school on Monday afternoons to see the latest Hollywood epic, since the programme ended around the time I normally got home from school. I don't think my mother ever suspected where I'd been.

When I became a teacher, my first school owned an 8mm projector, so I saved up for a camera, editor and film splicer, and film-making became a fixed element of my curriculum. The children loved it; we'd talk about the way films were constructed, we'd look at clips from famous films and then the children would work out a little story that we could film in and around school.

By the time I'd moved to my third school, the film-making was becoming quite sophisticated and taking the best part of half a term. One such project was "The Litter Bug". The children were concerned by the amount of litter around the school, and a story evolved about some children who dumped their rubbish wherever they felt like it. Their attitude is brought to the attention of the litter bug, a creature from Planet Tidy, who visits Earth to teach them a lesson. A vast amount of learning came from the project: the children designed and built the space monster, wrote a shooting script, created music and effects for the soundtrack, constructed a clever title sequence and then, when the film was completed, invited other classes to watch it, wrote programme notes and asked the audiences to write short reviews. It was all so exciting that the mother of the child directing the film told me she was constantly woken up early and asked if it was time to go to school yet.

Meantime, my own film-making skills were improving rapidly and a group of children helped me make a three-minute animated film called Mathmagic, showing a circle subdividing into a kaleidoscope of colourful shapes, set to a lively piece of barrel organ music. It won an award and was shown at the National Film Theatre. It was also very useful when I was teaching the geometry of a circle.

But amateur film-making in those days was daunting. You worked with one precious master copy of film, and then chopped it into pieces for editing. The soundtrack had to be mixed on to the film from tape recorders, and it consisted only of effects and music because the equipment wasn't precise enough to make speech synchronise easily.

But with my new camera and suite, the versatility is remarkable and editing is a doddle. So is adding sound. And I can even utilise blue-screen technology and have my grandson chased by a dinosaur. What fun we are going to have.

And if I was still in the classroom, I'd be finding a way around today's stilted curriculum to turn out a few Hollywood blockbusters ...

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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