Independent film-makers

17th September 2004 at 01:00
With a little tutoring and a lot of experimenting with digital equipment, children quickly learn enough to make a film, writes Douglas Blane

Teachers need courage to let children plan and carry through an ambitious project and then present the results on a national stage such as the SETT show, especially when costly equipment is involved.

Yet this is the best way to take over territory in the deigital age, says Vicky Parfect, teacher and information technology co-ordinator at Lairdsland Primary in Kirkintilloch, East Dunbartonshire, "We attended a Masterclass course on digital video and came back all enthusiastic. It looked like a great way to get kids working together to be creative and gaining new skills in a way that would produce something they could be proud of."

After the course, the authority gave each participant a digital video camera, and Ms Parfect and her colleague Eileen Cocozza, depute headteacher at Wester Cleddens Primary in Bishopbriggs, decided to set up digital video clubs at their schools and work together. They applied for supported study funding, which bought them film editing software and another camera each, and then they decided how best to use the equipment.

At this point the pupils, mainly in P6, take up the story. "At the first meeting our two clubs got together," says Erin Sellar, "we were given sheets asking what kind of film we'd like to make: comedy, action, drama.

We didn't fancy any of them, so we came up with an idea of our own - a day in the life of our school."

The next few sessions at both clubs involved a little instruction and a lot of trial and error as the children learnt how to shoot a film. "They gave us another sheet with different words on it, like zoom and pause and stop," says Deerij Ghatorae. "We had to find them all on the camera. But when we started filming and then played it back, it kept zooming in and out and made you go dizzy."

"We really weren't very good to start with," adds Colin Cullen. "We kept getting shots of floors and walls and cutting off people's heads."

From the start the pupils looked after the equipment well, says Ms Parfect.

"Because we gave them the responsibility, they were very careful. If we'd said, 'You mustn't do this or that,' I don't think it would have worked as well."

While producing separate videos of their own schools, the two clubs met frequently to share ideas and compare progress. A little friendly rivalry developed when one school got ahead of the other, says Jonathan Hewitt.

"Our computer stopped working and we couldn't do the editing, but we caught up again after it was fixed."

Having gained some directorial and shooting skills, the children had some planning to do before setting off around the school to chronicle its character. Target audience and choice of scenes were the key decisions.

"We decided on a film showing the new Primary 1s what our school is like," says Claire Lower. "We were also aiming it at parents and new teachers."

One of the surprising lessons learnt by the pupils and their teachers was how much time and effort is required to make a five-minute film.

"You have to get things absolutely perfect," says Alex Clelland. "That sometimes means shooting the same scene again and again."

"Occasionally you can just go ahead and film," says Emma Donald, "but it's far better if you're organised and plan it all out: what people are going to do and how you are going to film them."

Both teachers took the same approach to helping the children learn to edit their films as they had adopted with the shooting - a little bit of tutoring and a great deal of independent exploration. "They learn amazingly fast if you do it that way," says Ms Cocozza.

Craig Corr speaks for most of the children when he says that the filming was a lot of fun but the editing was hard work. "You had to play it over and over again and cut lots of it out."

A Day in the Life of Lairdsland Primary and A Day in the Life of Wester Cleddens Primary will premi re at the SETT show. The films include artistic shots of children at work and play, the headteacher in her office, the janitor in the playground, a spirited rendition of the school song and a tuck-shop drama.

What you won't see is any children spoiling the shots. "When we were filming around the school the younger kids kept waving at the camera," says Lindsay Carmichael. "We had to edit all that nonsense out."

SETT A Collaborative Digital Video Club Between Two Primary Schools, by Vicky Parfect and Eileen Cocozza, Thursday, 10.30am

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