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Film stars make it big

Pupils from Banbury will see themselves on the big screen when the movie they made premieres at their local cinema, reports Sean O'Sullivan

How many children with special needs does it take to make a Christmas movie? In the case of Frank Wise special school in Banbury, the answer is 98.

All the children in the school spent this term making a film that will be premiered in front of 400 people at the Banbury Odeon on December 14 and then seen by others on DVD.

The film features recreations of great sporting moments, and classes have gone out to venues such as Old Trafford, Twickenham, Christ Church College and the indoor snow at Milton Keynes' Xscape venue to shoot their scenes.

Digital video has been an integral part of work in the school for many years, and this is the third time since 1996 that it has chosen to create a film for its Christmas production.

Anthony Munday, the teacher in the ninth family group, feels that the Christmas event has an important influence on the perception of the use of video within the school.

"Making videos with the pupils can help them understand the work they are covering, and there are all sorts of ways that each pupil can have input into the making of the film," he says.

"But the special thing about making a Christmas film is that it raises the whole status of creating movies with your class. The fact that our pupils are going to the cinema in town and will see themselves up on the huge screen with surround sound and a packed auditorium is astounding! We all talk about celebrating children's work and displaying it nicely on the walls - well how about a wall that's four metres high and 10 metres wide, with the paparazzi outside?"

Each class chose its own sporting moment and then the hard work started.

Working to tight deadlines, the pupils met each week to share progress and discuss how to video and then edit their work.

Storyboards were the essential first step, then visits were organised, and trips made to shoot the required footage. As the diary filled up, several classes found they had more than just an exciting venue to film in: the class covering Jonah Lomu's storming run through England's rugby team in 1995 managed to get Will Carling and Sean Fitzpatrick joining them, while the class who chose the World Cup of 1966 filmed with Sir Bobby Charlton.

Meanwhile, the nursery children went to Stratford race course with their hobby horses and handmade jockey outfits to recreate Frankie Dettori's seven wins in a day at Ascot, and got television racing presenter John McCririck to record a personal introduction to their section.

Teacher Dean Cooke believes that taking the children out is a great way for them to get fresh enthusiasm for the things they work on every day in school.

"They get to go somewhere new and work on ordinary skills in extraordinary settings. And they love it," he says.

Once staff got the agreement of the Odeon cinema to show the film everything moved into top gear to make the premiere a Hollywood-style event.

A red carpet has been organised and some pupils will arrive in a limousine.

TV cameras will be among the press pack covering the event because the project has attracted the interest of a company making a short documentary to be shown on Teachers' TV early next year.

This showing of a school film in a commercial cinema is a pioneering step.

The movie has been made entirely through simple programmes, such as iMovie and iDVD on the school's Apple Mac computers, and the final cut will be recorded on DVD. This can then be played directly on the cinema's new projection technology, which can show ordinary DVDs or be linked to computers for presentations. We could be witnessing the birth of a totally new role for your local cinema.

Pupils at Frank Wise in Banbury have grabbed their 15 minutes of fame: who's next?

Sean O'Sullivan is deputy head of Frank Wise special school


Set a timescale

* Decide deadlines for storyboards, filming and editing.

* Include weekly update meetings (and remind people on the day).

* Allow at least a full week between finishing the project and the screening.


* Study adverts and films that tell a story. Plan for clips of just a few seconds.

* Sketches of stick people will do; add notes on the type of shot.

* Aim to cut straight from one shot to the next without transitions such as dissolves, so vary the shots over the sequence to avoid odd jumps.

* Use photos and symbols to help pupils create storyboards.


* Use a tripod - the only time you don't you should have a definite reason.

Nothing improves the quality like a stable shot.

* Check the settings on your camcorder. Is it on auto focus? Does the battery indicator look low?

* Check the visual and aural background as you frame the shot. For example, avoid lampposts sticking out of people's heads - and don't shoot as an aircraft flies overhead.

* Record cutaways (shots that don't focus on the main action) and wildtrack (background noise). These give you flexibility when you edit the film.


* Sound and pictures are of equal importance. Make sure you allow time to work on both.

* Back up. Even a three-minute movie takes a great deal of work - and you don't want to lose it.

* Be a perfectionist - if you notice a tiny problem, you can be sure your audience will, too.

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