Primary school teachers have confirmed plans to settle old scores by making their most annoying students into Nativity Play innkeepers.
As role allocation deadlines approach, some teachers have confirmed that challenging behaviour over 2016 may result in being a donkey or a Roman soldier who doesn’t get to say anything.
Year 2 teacher Nikki Hollis said: “Millie is the obvious choice for Mary, but I can’t get over that time in October when she hid all the glue sticks and blamed it on Charlie.”
“I really want Connor to be Joseph because he’s always so polite and kind, but it’s a dead cert that he’ll either cry or wet himself onstage… that decides it, he’s Joseph.”
Year 6 teacher Tom Logan said: “My Three Wise Men? Those little geniuses who drank out of a puddle last week.
“And Jo, with the racist dad, is playing the non-denominational guiding Star of Hope.”
Meanwhile, public schools confirmed that they would be honouring the tradition of awarding lead roles to the children whose parents made the largest seasonal donations.”[Inspired (with less swearing) by an article in the Daily Mash]
It’s the festive season and students are starting to relax for the holidays. Now is a great time to set them a challenging exercise to keep them creatively producing all the way through to spring term. Christmas brings us a unique opportunity to reflect on life. We’re seeing relatives we haven’t seen all year, writing up wish lists, and doing our gift shopping. From the first Christmas advert all the way up to Boxing Day, Christmas presents us with a set structure.
Structure drives everything – video games, books, good and bad films. It’s inescapable but often difficult for students to come up with on their own. Setting your class the task of creating a Christmas documentary allows them to get creative with a set structure. The arc of the festive season becomes ingrained in us as we grow up. The story seeds are ripe for the picking. Will brothers and sisters get the gift they want? Will relatives get too drunk at the dinner table? How about snow – will it be a white Christmas? These are all things that a student can document in a short film. They are scenes that snap together. When there are things to unwrap, there’s inherent tension. It’s also a great time of year to practise interviews as most people aren’t swamped with work.
Screening some documentaries in class can help everyone understand what they’re trying to do. Finding scenes that are intercut with relevant one-on-one interviews are the right skill level for early filmmakers to emulate. Having everyone start the planning stage while they’re still at school will help ease them into the project. They might want to highlight things to look out for. Perhaps their brother has always wanted a Playstation – and will Santa bring it? Drawing up a list of characters (or family members) can help spark their imaginations. Who has an interesting story to tell?
You may want to introduce your class to B-roll footage. Falling snow, busy shoppers, or public decorations are great for setting the mood. Establishing shots shouldn’t require much travel as almost all of the documentary can be filmed inside of the home. The fixed structure of Christmas means that editing shouldn’t become overwhelming. Advanced techniques – such as voice over narration, video effects, and sound editing – are up to the skill level of your class.
- Ask your class how they would define a documentary. Screen excerpts from chosen documentaries that include techniques that you’d like your class to consider emulating.
- Explain the basics of structure. Talk your students through how they can follow a story strand from the beginning of the holidays all through to the New Year.
- Introduce the aspects that complete a documentary. Such as: establishing shots, B-roll footage, text overlays, intercut scenes.
- Remind students to backup their work because one day they will enjoy looking back on their films!
In case you were unaware, the first virtual reality films have already arrived on our shores. Jesus VR: The Story of Christ (2016) was recently lacerated in The Guardian. “The acting? Dire. The direction? Awful. The adaptation? Conservative and pedestrian.” But the critic, Peter Bradshaw, admits that the technology is a different story. “It’s the first feature film to be presented in complete wraparound 360-degree virtual reality. And it’s a startling, bizarre, often weirdly hilarious experience.”
The recent wave of technology advancements that brought us the likes of Netflix, Snapchat, and the on going onslaught of social media growth all driven by the consumer. The people want these things and the things keep coming but do they want VR? No one seems to be sure. The technology requires a fast computer. Oculus recommends a high-end graphics card and an expensive Intel i5 processor and this is before their 600 dollar headset. As Tom Brannister writes for Video Ink, “Virtual reality is a top down technology […] It is being pushed by technology giants and venture capitalists, without much consumer traction as yet.”
A lot of the current uses of VR do not need writers. The construction industry is using it to create project models – it’s helping them to woo clients and impress investors. Small subsections of the real estate market are testing to see whether it works as a means to offer remote home viewings. In the military industry VR has been used to train soldiers and doctors. Crane operators are even being trained with it. None of these listed so far require creative writing. These virtual scenarios need to be setup, yes, but that’s not writing in the tradition sense.
This changes when we approach the medical industry, where VR has been used for important therapies and pain management. Bannister tells us “There is a unique opportunity for emotional storytelling here.” And he’s right. Crafting a story to reduce the pain of others is what writing is about. Empathy is rich in novels and studies have proven that voracious reading helps one to relate to their fellow humans. VR is inherently absorbing. Firsthand Technology describes their creation like this:
SnowWorld transports the patient through an icy canyon filled with snowball hurling snowmen, flocks of squawking penguins, woolly mammoths and other surprises. Patients are drawn in, throwing their own snowballs as they fly through the gently falling snow. Often they become so engaged, they don’t realize their procedure is already over!
Clinical trials have shown dramatic reductions in pain for patients. This may be the first ‘children’s game’ to have a rave review from the New York Times. Virtual reality games and movies will need writers just as much as regular games and movies do but the exciting frontier is on the edge of research, among the snowy worlds, and retail brands such as North Face, who are experimenting with VR to add emotion to shopper’s experiences. Visual writing has been evolving ever since cavemen started painting. VR has proven that there are still new frontiers to explore.
At a time when the boundaries between cinema, video, and television are being blurred, it’s interesting to note that the line between film theory and film practise is ever present. There have always been theorists that also make films but despite technological advances this number isn’t growing.
A wide range of British Universities offer practical filmmaking as a course but they separate it from film studies. Many students who are interested in film find it hard to choose between the courses and certainly don’t appreciate the wide divide in the middle. The equipment needed to produce short films is now readily available to students in the form of their smartphones, and yet, film studies courses still don’t incorporate many (if any) creative modules.
Dr Eylem Atakav, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia, recently directed A Documentary Film on Child Marriages: Growing Up Married (2016). Julia Wagner, writing for the Huffington Post, said that Dr Atakav “credits making this film with immeasurably strengthening her understanding of the medium, which she’s taught for ten years: doing something helps you to understand it better.”
Dr Atakav went further to say that she wants more films to be made in the academic arena – to benefit not only the students but the institutions too. She said: “encouraging scholarly activity that turns theory into practice helps institutions to engage with the public and policy makers more efficiently and in a way that has impact on society and culture particularly in the context of Arts and Humanities.” Wagner also pointed out Dr Joshua Oppenheimer as another filmmaker rising out of academia. Oppenheimer is the director of heavy hitters The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014) and is a Reader at the University of Westminster.
One of the responsibilities of university is preparing students for real jobs. Popular complaints about film studies, and the humanities in general, is that there aren’t many practical applications of the topics being learnt. Many say that these subjects are just preparing students for further study and jobs in academia – in a kind of unproductive circle. These students stand to greatly benefit from the practical use of filmmaking and editing technologies either to broaden their learning or to get a few student films onto their C.V.s
At the opposite end, students graduating from practical filmmaking courses and heading towards the industry need to know about cinema history. At a time when the classical methods of producing and disseminating films are being turned on their heads by the likes of Twitter, Snapchat, and Netflix, students deserve to have the knowledge of where we came from so they can start to understand where humanity is heading.
The amount of video content being consumed by the public is at an all time high. The meteoric rise in popularity of online video essays mean that film theory is just as relevant today. (see Every Frame a Painting for a shining example.) The historic split between theory and practice deserves to be made whole. In the coming turbulent years, hopefully educators in academia and industry will learn to see what the others have to offer.
It’s well known that jobs in any niche industry are hard to come by and the film industry is no different. This article will cover some of the more conventional ways into the film business and then some unconventional ways that have popped up over the past few years.
Apprenticeships are great way to learn whilst also earning money. This involves working onsite and being trained while you work. In an industry that runs on who you know, this can be a great way to show what you’re worth and begin networking. There are laws that protect you being overworked and underpaid. Employers are looking to see if you’re enthusiastic about the industry and what your skills are. What they’re after is passion and whether you can communicate effectively.
A degree is an additional route but has less chance of success. It’s not as focused on practical work in the film industry as an apprenticeship would be but you learn a whole wealth of knowledge that prepares you for many jobs instead of narrowing down in a sector. You’ll want to research what universities have good links to the industry. As we’ve mentioned, finding a job means knowing the right connections. Many universities offer the chance for their students to go and work on projects with real producers and directors. More importantly, towards the end of your degree, many institutions set up days where you can show off what you’ve created to industry insiders.
The type of degree you choose should depend on what aspect of the film industry you’re trying to gain entry to. If it’s writing, then a Creative Writing degree might be appropriate. If you’re looking for something more general, then a bachelors in Film and Television might suit you better. Earning a degree also offers you the chance to enter other areas of work outside of film. The long term nature of a degree means you will have the chance to do creative work and gain a good idea of whether it’s something you want to do as work.
As the film and media sphere gets turned on its head by the revolutionary ways to share and monetise video content, there are new avenues that one can take to get your foot in the door. These are risky and unorthodox but might tempt the most passionate to give them a try. Being an online content creator is a 21st century job and the type of content you create is pretty much up to you. There are trends you can ride but it’s best to do your own thing. There are different platforms such as Youtube, Twitter, Vimeo, and Twitch. Thousands of people are trying to strike their claim in these markets and it’s fiercely competitive but the rewards can be great.
Gaining a viewership online opens up the chance for sponsorship. Companies will literally come to you to advertise their products. Once you’ve shown the world what you can do it also proves to industry insiders that you might do well with a more traditional means of production, i.e., it becomes vastly easier to get your projects greenlit. Becoming famous online is near impossible to plan and no one would recommend it as a career path but if you’re able to put out content while working a daily job or studying in school it might just be worth a go. The worst case is you gaining a bunch of experience and a portfolio.
The path to becoming a next gen media maker gets easier every year but not necessarily clearer. Gone are the days of sharing VHS tapes and booking public broadcast airtime. The YouTube uprising is in full swing, 13-24 year-olds watch more content on YouTube than they do via their television screens. Nurturing young media makers today means preparing them for the online world but what exactly does that entail?
The Digital Platform Revolution has changed the kind of content people care about. It’s also changed how we want it to be delivered. Traditional media companies are either struggling or drastically altering their business plans. The pending purchase of Time Warner by AT&T will soon pair up 130million+ mobile customers with Time Warner’s large offering of content – including Warner Brothers, CNN, HBO, and more. Meanwhile, YouTube’s partnership program is allowing next gen media makers to become celebrities, and highly paid influencers, all from the comfort of their bedroom – or their local Youtube Space. (If a YouTuber has more than 10,000 subscribers, they have free access to sound stages in nine major cities!)
In 2016, people live on-demand lives. Their schedules don’t allow them to catch their favorite shows at airtime – and why would they when television ad breaks are becoming more and more frequent. This increased advertising is supposed to make up for the loss in viewers but common sense tell us this will have the opposite effect. Cord-cutting is on the rise and there are over 47 million U.S. Netflix subscribers – 87 million worldwide. With the rise in on-demand services, media makers have a wide array of platforms for content distribution, most of which are free to use – and monetizing content has never been easier. Product sponsorships and pre-video advertisements are easy to set up, and if you’re a larger channel the companies will come to you – this is how influential, and widely viewed, online content has become.
The dark side of all this prosperity is that there are instant critics who will shoot down videos the second they are posted. Competition, and the dating of video trends, mean that next gen media makers need to have their fingers firmly on the pulse of the online world. For students whose aims are more towards the traditional TV and Film industries, the Digital Platform Revolution means that it’s never been easier to get noticed. Producers are interested in viral videos and fan campaigns. If you have a following then they will listen.
Alongside the shakeup of video distribution is the revolution in camera technology. Today, most students carry around a smartphone which is well equipped for shooting low budget pilots and shows. These students should still be taught the old ways of doing things but there should also be case studies on the kings of online content, like Casey Neistat (5.8million subscribers, 1.3billion views) whose genre defining vlogs have shown the world that internet video can be serious business. It can’t be long until there’s an Academy Award for best online video. For next gen media makers, learning how to manage digital platforms can be just as important as film theory.
Alongside rumours of a white Christmas, there isn’t a better event than the John Lewis Christmas advert to signal that the festive season is among us. The retail giant has cast a black family for the first time, who star in an imagined Christmas morning where Buster the dog beats a young girl to her Christmas present: a great big trampoline.
The £1m advert, featuring a cast of CGI animals, and a very white Christmas, has been tackled by the the satirists over at The Poke. They responded by editing the advert to have a different and realistically grim ending. John Lewis have said that, following last year’s Man on the Moon advert, they were shifting away from “sadvertising.” Perhaps this parody is a karmic response.
This year’s Research in Film Awards, organised by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, raises the question: is film a good medium to showcase research? The award’s mission statement is to “showcase, reward and recognise the best of the large and increasing number of high-quality short films … produced as outputs or by-products of arts and humanities research.”
In 2005, there were just 20 researchers who listed film or animation as a creative or artistic output of their AHRC-funded research. In 2013, that figure had grown to 149. Alongside this data, it’s also easy to point to recent groundbreaking documentaries and the renewed respect they have begun to acquire. Before the Flood (2016), a documentary film about climate change, gained considerable press due to the growing undeniability of research, and the starpower of collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio.
AHRC’s multimedia editor, Emi Spinner said: “Just making a film provides a reason for people to get in touch and share ideas and expertise, which can be very productive in itself.” She added, “I really do believe that a well-made film can shift the debate just by reaching the right specialist networks, as well as a general audience.”
Certainly we can look at Chasing Ice (2012), a tour de force in the glacial effects of climate change, and admit that film has a deserved place in sharing research. Environmental photographer James Balog’s journeys into Greenland, Iceland and Alaska, and his goal to capture images that would help to convey the extreme effects of global warming have garnered a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
However, this view isn’t shared by everyone. Writing for the Times Higher Education, Matthew Reisz found that “in the US, Howard Hughes Medical Institute does not support public engagement through film at all.” Reisz also found that “requests for funding to make [research films] ‘would occur in a very small percentage of awards’ and would not constitute a ‘significant element of funding requested’, according to Valentine Kass, programme director for advancing informal STEM learning at the NSF.” In his investigative article, Reisz went on to outline similar viewpoints at other American research groups.
In Britain, attitudes towards research funding for films is different. The Wellcome Trust, among other research councils, regularly provide funding to researchers for public engagement, of which films are counted. The changing mood towards film as a medium for research can be tracked alongside the social media trend of the early 21st Century. At a time when science needs to be viral for people to care about it, pop-science curators such as Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson have guided public discourse on issues such as the fate of our planet and journeys to Mars, in TV series and short films. In summary, the beautiful medium of cinema deserves the noble goal of the dissemination of science-based research.
Lookbooks are a tool that both professional and amateur directors use to bring their films to life. They’re visual planning tools – and can contain anything from images to character sketches, location ideas to different colours and textures. For students, lookbooks can be a great way for them to contextualise their thoughts, unblock their creativity, and discover what genre and tone their prospective films belong to. Lookbooks can also be created from already existing films – this is an easy way to deconstruct movies and explore motifs.
Creating lookbooks also enables students who are working together to get on the same page. The great thing about this exercise is that the scope is up to you. This is a project that can be completed in one class. Students can be encouraged to look up photographs and paintings, and to take screengrabs from movie trailers or TV clips.
Planning projects is something that a lot of people struggle with. We prefer to jump straight into creative endeavours. A lot of the planning methods that students are used to, such as spider diagrams and beginning-middle-end structuring don’t fuel their imagination. They bring back memories of struggling to write stories in English class. The great thing about lookbooks is that you can point to big time directors who used them to create their films. Often, these lookbooks are published and are available online. When students see that this is a tool used by the pros, they will respect it and want to emulate them.
Lookbooks can be part of teaching your students how to pitch their projects. Modern pitching is less about “being good in the room” – today, pitches are far more multimedia-based, where the image is king. Teaching your class about the foundations of pitching will follow them all the way to their first professional projects. Your students will remember the first time someone guided their thoughts into structured planning, the time when they stood in front of their class a little nervous but excited, and prospered.
- Describe the concept of a lookbook and show your students an example of what one might contain. Point out how real working directors use this process to address any worries that this is just another grade-school-level planning method.
- Set your class the task of creating a lookbook from scratch or deconstructing one of their favourite films into a series of images, moods, colours, and so on. This can be done in class or for homework – as single or group work.
- Have students upload their work to a shared space and encourage feedback from everyone. Perhaps explain the concept of a criticism sandwich – positive feedback, constructive feedback, positive feedback.
- Finally, use this exercise as part of the planning, and creating, of structured short films.
Research by the British Film Industry looked at over 1,000 UK films in the past decade to research the representation of black actors. They found that the amount of films with black actors had (unfortunately) stayed relatively the same. Discrimination at the top of the industry is an open secret – from the same study, 59% of UK films produced in the last 10 years contained zero black actors in lead or named roles. David Oyelowo, star of Selma (2014), recently said that he had moved to L.A. due to the lack of opportunity in the UK.
Many believe that discrimination should be tackled in the classroom and that education is the route towards inclusivity. This way, the decision makers of tomorrow are aware of the issue and are in a position to change it. When the problem is this clear (BFI also found that only four black actors are listed in the UK’s 100 most prolific actors) the industry needs people working at every level to battle against it.
BFI creative director Heather Stewart said: “The number of lead roles for black actors has not really changed over 10 years and the types of films in which they have had leading roles suggests stereotyping.” She added that “Diversity is one of the biggest issues facing film – audiences want to see the world in which we live reflected back at them.”
Luckily for us we still have the indie film scene, which began tackling all forms of discrimination decades ago. Campbell X, a powerhouse of British queer cinema, said: “Films that show black people as complex, layered and authentic are being made right now by indie filmmakers who are black. Just because they are not on mainstream TV or cinemas doesn’t mean they do not exist!”
When media events like the “whitewashed” Oscars are on the news, this can be a great time to bring up the topic of discrimination in British classrooms. Younger generations have always been more progressive, and the opportunity to explore this sensitive subject in a safe environment can guide young minds towards thinking that discrimination is a real issue – one that has often had to be battled by creativity alone.
Pointing to the watershed moments in film history can be a way to avoid the doom and gloom of current-day politics. There is a lot to be learnt from milestones such as the first interracial kiss on television (Star Trek: The Original Series – Plato’s Stepchildren. 1968) all the way up to Laverne Cox’s breakout success as a transwoman of colour in Orange Is the New Black (2013).
However you choose to interpret the misgivings about the British film industry and its treatment of people of colour, know that the future is bright. Never before has there been such awareness of social issues or high levels of investment into discrimination-aware cinema. If you have any doubts about our collective future see: The Butler (2013) and the who’s who of black entrepreneurs who rallied behind it, or the revolutionary movement of Black Lives Matter.