Filming it like it really is

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
Sara James on how she and her fellow boarders decided to get their message across to a cynical public.

Some people are so negative about boarding schools - usually basing their ideas on the past. Some of my non-boarding friends occasionally say things to me like "How do you cope with being a boarder?" or "I feel for you, being sent away to board". This really annoys me. They don't know that boarding is great fun.

A lot of us at St Andrew's feel the same. A few months ago we decided that the best way to change people's opinions was to make a film about what boarding is really like. The planning was fairly easy and, with a bit of help from our teachers, we sent off our ideas. We were gobsmacked when we heard that Channel 4 were coming to see us. (I think my English teacher would prefer me to say "astounded" or "stunned"!) The day before they filmed, the Channel 4 producers talked to 20 of us about what we thought should be included in the programme. They seemed to be really interested in what we had to say and asked all sorts of questions about our boarding life. We told them what we would like to be in the film and they agreed to almost everything. We all voted on which girl and boy would be good, "familiar faces" to present the programme. Amazingly, I was chosen as the girl! We then gave them a tour of the school.

Filming began at 9am the next day in the boys' boarding house. Just after lunch, the girls joined in the filming in the dining room, a classroom, the children's common room and the gym. I presented some of the clips. We were not told what to say, we just had to describe things in our own words, so that it really was a boarder's point of view.

We then went on to The Lodge (the girls' house) where we did some clips of waking up, going to breakfast and playing board games. We also filmed some "vox pops" where children gave their own personal views of boarding - and filmed our housemaster's family. It was hilarious to see two of his children, William and Elizabeth, singing and dancing everywhere. Henry, who is only seven months, was brilliant - he just smiled at the camera.

I found it great fun, but difficult. I kept jumbling all my words up and forgetting what I wanted to say, but the crew were really friendly and encouraging. I never knew how precise filming had to be, and how many gadgets were needed for what I thought were simple jobs. For example, they had to move the camera, the lighting and the microphone for every shot - which took ages.

The producer always counted us in before we spoke and the lights were incredibly bright. They played back bits we had done on a small screen - it was particularly funny to see our mistakes: half of them caused by us laughing!

I really enjoyed myself for those two days and I think it was a great experience for everyone involved. I would not mind being a TV star but I now realise how hard it is - and how easy it is to make a fool of yourself.

It was weird watching ourselves on television but we were all really pleased with the way it had come out. They had filmed it just the way we wanted and we hope that lots of people watched it so that they now know what boarding schools are like. They're not cold, cruel places. They're happy, fun and, best of all, you feel part of one big family. It's great!

Sara James, aged 12, is a pupil at St Andrew's School, Eastbourne. Their film was shown last month on First Edition

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