Published on: 15 March 2018 in Longform

My Margate Workshop: Deborah Paige on the DCF ‘Directors in Schools’ scheme

Reading time: 4 minutes and 48 seconds

Directors UK member Deborah Paige recently gave a two-hour workshop on “Making a Film on a Mobile Phone” at a state school in Margate, under the Directors Charitable Foundation (DCF) ‘Directors in Schools’ scheme. She tells us about the experience below.

I arrived in Margate Station on a damp, murky Wednesday morning – met by teacher Miss Potter. I learned that she’d only been in post as head of Media since January, having moved from high achieving St Albans. The new head teacher, Mr Tate (in post since September) has a special interest in education in deprived coastal areas. So – lots of new brooms. I was quite shocked by the state of the fabric of the school – 60’s-built and fading fast, though with capital plans in place now to address that. Nice atmosphere for all that.

Nine young people (15 years or thereabouts) started shuffling in to the media room at 9am. It’s shabby but with plenty of computers (the students head straight for these) and a good big table in the middle of the room. A strange mix of lethargy and volatility prevails.

I peel them away from their screens and keyboards to sit around the table. I ask then to say their names and a film or actor they like. As so often with this age group, answering audibly and without giggles or embarrassment was, for many, a hurdle too far, but we ploughed on.

I went through my aims for the workshop; that they should:

  • Learn about the basic components that go into making a short film sequence
  • Experience film making as a collaborative process 
  • Film a short sequence that they and their group can feel proud of

By way of inspiration, I showed them the opening sequence of Citizen Kane – about as far away from any film they’d cited as you could get, eliciting some interesting and perceptive comments.

Then on to the main thrust of the workshop. First, how to get the most out of your shots:

  • The frame and how you want to fill it 
  • Types of shot (size, moving/static etc.)
  • Asking ‘whose story is it?’/‘what is the action?’
  • Putting it together (process of editing even though we will not do any as part of this workshop) 

Then a practical exercise. I’d planned for them to work in two groups of five, but in the end this broke down into one group of five and two of two (not worth unravelling or questioning the group dynamics which gave rise to this, I thought).

I gave them a brief to design and choreograph a sequence in which an object must be passed from one person to another (as many times as they wanted; they should create a story based on this simple transaction). They were to find and use a corridor location, appoint a camera op and a director (or 2 in 1) and to PREPARE AND REHEARSE before shooting.

After a sticky start, things started to happen with a little help from Miss Potter and I and they began to see what they could do and how they could make a story.

One of the least engaged boys suddenly got it and quickly worked out how to improve his shots. He and his colleague produced a beautiful, elegant piece of work. A breakthrough. We were held up by the bell/lesson change over (drawback of working in a school corridor – but on the other hand, it got people interested in what we were doing).

We did a final take before returning to the classroom to share the work. We talked about how shots/action could be improved and stories made clearer, before going back for final re-takes and a chance to change camera ops.

A final viewing was a satisfying end to the session but didn’t allow quite enough time for a proper feed-back session, which I regret. It was a bit of a scramble to the finish (a familiar experience!).

But two hours had flown by. I had a really enjoyable and fulfilling time and left the group feeling on friendly terms, with interest aroused, progress having been made, a sense of achievement and a foundation laid. Great kids – and I wish them really good luck with their GCSE project. The teachers seemed to enjoy the day as well, and Miss Potter provided the following message: 

“Thank you so much for today - I can honestly say that the students have never spent a two-hour block so engaged in their tasks. it was also really useful in supporting then in their short film project for course work ...”

I would highly recommend running a school workshop to anyone considering it. Keep it simple, be encouraging and give plenty of praise and the rewards will come!

The DCF ‘Directors in Schools’ Scheme arranges for experienced directors to take workshops in under achieving state schools with the aim of stimulating interest in stage and screen culture, and the director’s role in it. If you would like to volunteer, please contact [email protected].

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