I had been working at the North Carolina Museum of Art for about a month when my colleague asked if I wanted to lead a summer workshop for teens the following the summer (my first clue that everything happens months, no, years, in advance!). I said yes, of course! My background in broadcast journalism and video lent itself to constructing a filmmaking workshop for teens, using the Museum as their backdrop.
Flash forward eight months, when six teens, ranging from a rising 8th grader who had no experience in filmmaking to a rising 12th grader preparing his portfolio for NYU film school, sat in the conference center ready to learn. The diversity of ages and experience startled me for a minute, but there was no time to waste! Three hours a day for one week is not a lot of time. The best way to learn video is not by sitting in a classroom reading a textbook. It’s by getting out, learning the technology, drafting scripts, scouting locations, and collaborating with your group. This is exactly what we did.
The camp focused on heroes and villains as a theme. I wanted the students to understand the importance of character development and narrative. For example, in one exercise we looked at Sir Henry Raeburn’s Thomas Robert Hay, Eleventh Earl of Kinnoull (1785-1866). The teens stood in a circle in front of the painting. The first student started a fictional story based on the painting with one sentence. The next student continued with one sentence, and so on, until the final student wrapped up the story. Then they went around again, but this time they had to fill in the gaps between their sentences to add to the story and character development. In the end, they created a robust and thoughtful story about the Eleventh Earl of Kinnoull.
The group of six split up for their first of three videos. In their groups they created a backstory for a hero and villain. For their final project, they worked all together to create another short film focusing, again, on the conflict between a hero and villain. During their first video, the rising 8th grader and rising 12th grader were in the same group. When I peeked in to observe their progress, the 8th grader had taken charge of the camera and was directing his two groupmates. Be still, my heart! Collaboration and communication happening naturally through a fun process at the Museum? As an educator, I was thrilled.
Emily Kotecki is associate coordinator of teen and college programs at the North Carolina Museum of Art.