Kid Moviemakers in the Digital Revolution

The Rhode Island International Film Festival holds several
summer workshops on digital moviemaking for kids; making movies
since the age of 12, Rob Burke’s work has screened at Sundance
and the National Children’s Film Festival, as well as on
HBO’s “30 by 30” program.

As a California native it’s
probably not a shocker that since childhood I’ve been awaiting “The Big One.” Or
that I’ve always thought the one thing that could reshape the
world as we know it would come in the form of an unavoidable
and cataclysmic seismic event. It’s occurred to me lately, though,
that The Big One of a different kind is happening right now,
all around us. Armed with high-quality consumer digital technology,
thousands of young moviemakers are quietly reshaping our entire
visual world.

With their inexpensive digital video cameras of a quality unimagined
a generation earlier, and powerful home computer systems featuring
huge storage capacities and slick editing software, kids have been
discovering that they have the tools of a mini movie studio right
in their parents’ den. Non-linear editing programs such as Final
Cut Pro give users many of the same editing choices previously
reserved for more expensive Avid and Pro Tools editing systems,
while special effects programs such as After Effects are also readily
available. Likewise, DV cameras, with their tolerance for lighting
variables and their digital sound recording capacities, provide
young moviemakers with a tremendously forgiving tool for capturing
stories.

News about the benefits of digital moviemaking—from the low production
costs to the high shooting ratios, limited technical constraints
and array of editing options—has now trickled down to kid moviemakers.
Though traditional indie moviemakers often grouse about having
too little money, kid moviemakers usually have even less; the minimal
cost of tape stock and the freedom from “archaic” procedures such
as developing and printing has given them new opportunities to
express themselves.

The result has been a volcano of services and programs aimed at
accommodating young moviemakers, with everything from training
camps and intensive film seminars to new software and film festivals
created specifically for this young crop of budding auteurs. Though
firms such as Sony, Panasonic and Apple have not yet actively pursued
teen moviemakers specifically, the products these companies are
making are all easy to use, readily available and certainly within
the technical grasp of most teens.

Just Add Story

“The sophistication [of the final works] is what amazes me,” comments
George Marshall, executive director and founder of the Rhode Island
International Film Festival and its sidebar event, the KidsEye
Film Festival. The RIIFF also runs summer camp workshops that teach
kids digital moviemaking in intense five-day seminars. “A lot of
the kids today have had so much experience already with all the
digital equipment available to them. This stuff just didn’t exist
when we were that age; the result is that they’re learning the
language of film much faster. Once they learn the tools, they just
work to put the story in.”

“These kids are learning a foreign
language, like French… it’s second nature to them…
They’re
learning sooner, and they’re speaking without an accent.
It’s very exciting…”

One teenager making the most of the moviemaking
opportunities presented by digital video is Rob Burke, an 18-year-old
presently enrolled at the University of Washington. He’s been
making films since he was 12, starting with an old 16mm camera.
The traditional amateur medium for decades, 16mm is also relatively
expensive to use and has all of film’s technical hurdles. After
completing his first short, Naughty Pooch, starring his dog,
Greta, Rob knew he wanted to continue making films—but that he would have to make
some important decisions as to how to pursue his interest. “After
finishing Naughty Pooch, I was playing with the idea of getting
a digital camera,” says Burke. “Ultimately I went digital because
I could make a lot more films. It’s a lot cheaper, you can have
a better shooting ratio and it’s just easier.”

Burke continued making films, using digital
video to make dozens of shorts and a music video. His work has
played at numerous festivals, including the National Children’s
Film Festival and Sundance’s Gen Y screenings, as well as on
the HBO program “30 by 30,” a program
devoted to showcasing films by young moviemakers. With each project,
Burke has become more proficient at exploring story and technique,
adding increasingly complex storylines and character development,
as well as special effects and intricate camera moves. “When you’re
actually shooting and editing, that’s when you learn. The mistakes
you make, the things that work that you didn’t think would work—that’s
when you learn what you can do on your next film. My first film
was pretty basic and linear. I shot it as I imagined it. My next
film was sci-fi, and I tried new techniques, used a jib and dolly.
It’s all about exploration and trying new things.”

Burke is now at work on his first feature, a kid’s action picture
entitled Max Rules, shot all on digital video with a professional—and
mostly adult—crew. The film is described as “Mission Impossible meets Ferris
Bueller
.” Burke completed principal photography over four weeks
last summer. “We shot on a Sony HDW-F900 camera… I’ve been editing
on an Apple G4 using Final Cut Pro. What’s been great is that I
can edit anywhere, so I’ve been cutting in the dorms, between classes
or late at night if I can’t sleep.”

Burke is quick to point out that while DV is
providing moviemaking opportunities, storytelling is still a
learned ability and really the crux of creating an engaging film. “Digital
is giving many more people the ability to make movies. At the
same time, it always comes down to characters and storylines
and making a movie people want to see. You can have all the flash
you want, but it’s got to have a story and characters you care
about.”

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects
of this emerging group of young moviemakers is the age range
of the kids involved. While Rob may represent a group of accomplished
older teens, the trend is that very young kids are getting in
on the act. As Marshall remarks, “Kids stretch boundaries, and this is only possible because
of digital equipment and the access they have. We get stuff coming
in from eight and 10-year olds that was cut on Final Cut Pro… It’s
like these kids are learning a foreign language, like French, and
it’s second-nature to them. They’re learning sooner, and they’re
speaking without an accent. I’m not sure where it will lead, but
it’s very exciting.”

Digital Blue’s easy-to-use special
effects software is made for kids ages seven and up.

Jared Martin, a 13-year-old from Davis, CA,
has used his family’s computer and iMovie software to edit documentaries
about his community. He’s worked on several for his local home-schooling
association, and he’s done one on Sutter’s Fort, an historical
landmark in California’s Gold Country. Most recently he’s been
documenting a habitat reclamation project, in which he and his
friends have been helping to restore native plant species to
a local ecosystem. “It was so easy to start,” Jared
says about his video projects. “The editing was easy. Getting the
focus down, that was harder.” With each film, Jared says his mastery
of the technique gets better.

One new product that’s had a very successful
launch is the Digital Blue Digital Movie Creator, a tool specifically
designed with young moviemakers in mind. Priced at around $100
and geared toward kids ages seven and up, the system features
a compact, easy-to-use digital camera that simply hooks into
a PC. Kids can download their footage and then navigate some
very user-friendly software to edit and add simple pre-programmed
effects. The camera is comfortable and light, and easy for small
hands to hold and use. It captures and stores up to four minutes
of footage recorded at “normal” quality,
or one minute of footage at “high” quality. And if one can sacrifice
mobility and record directly into their PC, then it’s really a
function of the computer’s memory as to how much footage one can
shoot. The software helps with edit effects such as wipes and dissolves,
as well as special effects such as “eyeball bulge.”

“ It was so easy
to start,” says 13-year-old Jared Martin about his short
video projects. “The editing was easy. Getting the focus
down,that was harder.”

Though some younger children might need parental help at first,
it’s clear that this system is something that most kids would soon
be able to use on their own.

Ten-year old Savannah Keller of Livonia, Michigan,
has made several films using the Digital Movie Creator. Her film,
Dino-Fight, is something she made in two hours and is a battle
between Lego dinosaurs, complete with sound effects, inter-titles
and animated stars. The film recently won Digital Blue’s own
mini film festival of two-minute long entries. Fifth-grader Keller
says “I was sitting at home and
I decided to make a movie. It’s really easy, because you just hold
a button down with your finger and it records whatever you’re holding
it at. It was the third film I made.” For Keller’s next project
she’s considering making a film about her uncle’s cat, whose hyperactive
disposition might lend itself to a “giant cat on the rampage” storyline.

Ten-year old Savannah Keller sets up the
final scene of her award-winning film, Dino-Fight.

Twelve-year old Brad McClain from Livermore,
California, uses his Digital Movie Creator to capture skateboarding
moves that he and his brother perform, which he then assembles
to music. Inspired by the growing number of professional skateboarding
films, McClain finds the system useful both for shooting from
a moving skateboard, as well as for getting right into the action
when he or his brother performs an intricate skateboad stunt.
Says McClain, “Movie Creator
was easy and you can add music, special effects and transitions.
And if there’s something you don’t want, there’s a button that
shows the entire clip that makes it easy to cut.”

A generation earlier, young moviemakers might have started with
Super8 cameras and shot no-edit, in-camera films that were susceptible
to lighting difficulties and had minimal (if any) sound. This new
group of pre-teen directors takes for granted that the capturing
of image and sound is a given. With that expectation in place,
they’re able to leapfrog to the next plateau, and quickly gain
an innate understanding of the building blocks of filmic storytelling.

As an ever-increasing number of young moviemakers
share their work, the future promises to be very interesting.
George Marshall speaks for many of us when he says “I think it’s just amazing—the
stories that such young voices have to tell.” MM

How Can You Do It?

Whether you’re a young moviemaker
yourself or know of a budding auteur, the following is just a sampling
of some of the film festivals, workshops and services available
to kids and their parents.

Austin Film Festival
A behemoth in the world of adult screenwriting, for 10 years the
Austin Film Festival has also been encouraging youngsters to try
their hand at storytelling through their Young Filmmakers Program
(formerly known as Kids ’N Film).

Black Media Foundation
BMF summer programs teach video production to minority youth in
New York City, and in 2002 three BMF students were invited to
the Sundance Gen-Y Studio. BMF also offers summer programs in
print journalism.

Chicago
International Children’s
Film Festival

Sponsored by Facets Multi-Media, CICFF also hosts the Take One!
workshops for kids to learn about moviemaking and other media arts.

Digital
Blue’s Digital Movie
Creator

Digital Blue makes several digital film products aimed at kids,
including the Movie Creator, a digital video camera/software package
that lets kids shoot and edit their own short films.

Educational Video Center
The EVC offers for-credit video workshops to 60 New York City high
school students per semester. The classes help students learn production
techniques and media analysis. Their work is presented in a public
screening at the end of the semester.

Kid Filmmakers
Though based in Newport, Rhode Island, Kid Filmmakers is a year-round,
traveling moviemaking educational program aimed at kids ages nine
through 17. In addition to videography and 16mm moviemaking, the
academy also holds various acting, animation, costuming, directing,
editing, film critiquing, lighting and sound, producing and screenwriting
courses.

Kids First! Film Festival
In addition to films for kids, this touring fest
also includes a slate of screenings by kids—and
relies on the younger generation to serve as
festival curators and panelists.

New Orleans Video Access Center
NOVAC offers a workshop for teens ages 13 through 19 with instruction
in writing, storytelling and media literacy, not to mention digital
video production and editing.

New York Film Academy
NYFA teaches both moviemaking and acting for film courses to high
school students at their many campuses around the world.

911 Media Arts Center
Located in Seattle, 911 has youth seminars on
video and multimedia production. “Reel
Grrls” is
a program that teaches video production and
criticism skills to teenage girls.

NW Film Center
Portland, Oregon’s NW FilmCenter runs workshops, classes, and
a summer academy for teen moviemakers, as well as a film festival
for young moviemakers from the Pacific Northwest.

Raindance Film Festival
This annual event in London, England hosts instructional seminars
for kids. Workshop topics have included short drama, documentary
and animation moviemaking, as well as storytelling and acting.

Rhode Island International Film Festival
Hosts the KidsEye Film Festival sidebar and the KidsEye Summer
Workshops to learn moviemaking techniques. Now in its fifth year,
the Summer Workshops offer new year-round weekend programs in
camera, editing, screenwriting and more.

Scenarios USA
Combining social education with creativity, Scenarios
USA is a NYC-based, non-profit organization
geared toward allowing kids to express themselves
in an artistic manner, with the goal of “helping
them make healthy decisions about their lives.” Their
annual “What’s
the REAL Deal” writing contest gives winners the chance to
make a short film, which is then aired on TV, the Internet, at
film fests and in schools nationwide.

Squeaky Wheel Workshops
A Buffalo, NY-based media arts center, Squeaky Wheel offers kids
film and video camps, teaching the basics of moviemaking with either
Super8 or digital video cameras. There are also animation workshops
using Flash or traditional film animation techniques.

Sundance Film Festival
Among the most prominent film festivals in the
world, Sundance goes to great lengths to include
young moviemakers. “Reel Studio” is
a series of lectures and seminars on moviemaking for high school
students held during the festival itself. “Reel Stories” is
an intimate workshop for young documentarians to work with professional
documentary moviemakers, exploring the medium and taking artistic
risks while making short documentary videos. Both are held in the
rugged Utah mountains near Park City.

30 by 30: Kid Flicks
This HBO program features works directed, written
and produced by moviemakers under the age of 18.

Wickline
Casting’s Film & TV
Camp for Kids

A camp run at schools in Pennsylvania’s
Delaware Valley for kids between the ages of
eight through 15, the program teaches kids the
basics of film and television acting, as well
as directing for video, news broadcasting and
improvisation.

Young
Artists’ Workshops

The International Film and Television Workshops, in Rockport, Maine
offers a wide variety of moviemaking workshops and classes for
high school students. Students use both 16mm and DV equipment
to learn basic production techniques.

Young Filmmakers Academy
YFA offers classes to kids from nine to 18 years of age. Several
student films have been featured on Nickelodeon and HBO and in
film festivals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.