The benefits of using filmmaking are huge, particularly when developing young people’s creativity, as well as soft skills such as communication and teamwork. The different roles on a film set are great at targeting specific skills, so directing is brilliant for leadership and decision making while operating the camera is great for developing listening skills.
Film is like literacy, in many ways: you wouldn't teach writing without reading, so use film watching in tandem with filmmaking, as this will help extend your group's film vocabulary and make them more adventurous when making their own films.
When looking at adaptation, for example, a combination of the two can bring about improvements in writing and decoding skills because of a deeper understanding of narrative from having to think visually. Watch the film adaptation of something you are studying in literacy – for example, I've used the "hide and seek" sequence in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – and compare it with the written section.
How does it compare? Why has the director chosen the information they have? I have then asked children to make their own film adaptations of poems, which is a great way to get them thinking about what the important information is for a new audience.
Filmmaking can seem a daunting task when you're getting started. The key thing to remember is that you don't have to make a whole film every time you use film in the classroom! You wouldn't ask your kids to write a long story in every literacy class. Do short activities to help build basic understanding – ie, looking at shot types, or low-budget special effects, as well as using film as a tool to deliver modules.
I believe a key principle when you start to teach filmmaking is the intention. Young people nowadays are inundated with technology and many will have used phones or tablets to film themselves or their friends in a social setting. Encouraging them to think about framing and what information they want to share on the screen is the first step in getting them to think visually and become filmmakers.
Rotate roles during your filmmaking sessions so that everyone gets the chance to experience the dizzying heights of being director, as well as the groundwork of being the runner. Every role on a film shoot requires different skills, so rotating means that every child receives a well-rounded experience and the chance to discover what they're good at.
Simple filmmaking activities
- When starting out, try short activities like Into Film's 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 activity, as this will enable students to make a complete 'micro film' immediately, which can be motivating and fulfilling. In English literature, for example task students with creating a film using 5 different shots, 4 key quotes, 3 characters, 2 locations and focusing on 1 key theme. This format can be adapted across different subjects and to suit the needs of your students. An example can be found in Into Film’s Macbeth Power Players Resource.
- Make sure you give students a starting point. This can be linked to the topic of work you are doing. I've used fairy tales as a starting point, which work well as they are so well-known.
- You can also spend short sessions focusing on different shots or techniques. Find film examples of the technique you are looking at, then ask your group to reproduce it themselves.
- Plan, plan, plan! Make sure that your group has planned what they are going to film before they are handed a camera. This can be in the form of a storyboard or a shooting script (a list of the shots you want to get), but it's essential that this is all written down before filming begins. For simple, student-facing guides to assist young people with every step of the filmmaking process download Into Film’s mini filmmaking guides.
- During your editing sessions, make sure you have some alternative activities planned for any students who are not actively involved in the editing process. Ask them to go out and film pick-ups (any extra shots that may have been missed during your original shoot), create their own sound effects, foley sound and soundtracks for the film, or create promotional materials.
- Encourage students to showcase their work by organising, promoting and holding a screening or even a mini film festival at the end of term or the school year.
Opportunities to learn about different aspects of the filmmaking process and careers in film from industry experts are available at the Into Film Festival, the world’s biggest youth film festival, taking place from November 8th to 24th in venues throughout the UK. All screenings and events are free. For programme details and to book tickets visit www.intofilm.org/festival.
Tamla Bonnet is a film, drama and dance practitioner who has worked in arts education for the last 13 years.