Tag Archives: Teen Drama

Eat the Frog, Part III

I posted a while back, a script that I had written even earlier that I use with my students for a number of purposes. I’ve used it to teach them how to write and format screenplays, we’ve used it as an audition piece, as an acting exercise, as a directing exercise, and as a sample of how an idea goes through the different processes of treatment, outline, screenplay, shooting script, and storyboard on the way to becoming a film. But until last year, we never actually made it.

Last year, we decided to film the script as a project that would introduce some new members of our Filmeisters club to the skills and procedures of filmmaking. The filming of the project went pretty well, I think, and the students started to understand some things like why films are seldom shot in chronological order and to think enough about the quality of light to wait a month and a half to shoot a scene for the seasonal shift to put the sun where we wanted it at a time of day we could shoot. And where in the past, students might have used music they didn’t have the rights to use, on this project, we reached out to Leftover Cuties, whose music we loved, about using their songs on the soundtrack and were given permission. I posted stills from the shoot in an earlier post. There’s been a lot of good learning.

One of the other things we learned was to record sound separately from the video. Video cameras tend to auto-level the sound they record, so they try to make the traffic in the background of your shot the same volume as the dialogue the actors are speaking. Recording sound separately gives you much cleaner sound and records (mostly) only the sounds you want to hear. However, by the time we got to editing, I didn’t have time to teach the editors how to synch up the separately recorded sound and work with it, so we had a couple of false starts on the editing and then summer came and whole thing got sidelined.

Almost a year later, I sat down on our April break and got out the all the footage from the film again, and started to edit it. There were still some audio problems to fix, but thankfully the actors were still here (which is not always the case in international schools – actually two of the supporting actors had moved to other schools, one of which is in Sweden), so we were able to do some dialogue replacement and a bit of foley to clean up the rough bits.

When I wrote the script, I wrote it as an acting challenge, to give student actors something more real to play than the big, jazz-hands parts that populate school musicals. I wanted to write something where the story wasn’t so much in what people said as it was in the way they said it. When we started filming, I realized that one of the most important scenes for me is the opening one between the two boys. When I wrote it seven or so years ago, I had been aware of homophobic attitudes in the boys at the school where I was working. So I really wanted to write a scene where the boys considered the possibility of one of them being gay in a sincere and accepting way. Where one boy’s perception that the other might be gay wasn’t a punchline or a shot. However, if the lines were delivered in the wrong tone the whole thing would come off as exactly that. In the filming, the actors changed some of the lines, which changed some of the subtleties, but overall, I think the scene plays as I intended. I hope the larger audience will see it that way too.

I am really grateful to have the opportunity to work with students who are willing to put in the work and the hours it takes to make even short films. For the courage of the students who are willing to act in them, especially when they are asked to play something close to their real selves and real emotions. I love how much I learn about these students when we work together this way. I love how talented they are and how much they develop so quickly.

I hope you enjoy the film.

Diploma

This year, I started a filmmaking activity for students at my school. A group of juniors signed up, already seasoned from a local film festival win the previous year and eager to get started on a new project. They decided they wanted to make a zombie film. I warned them that the downfall of most student films is trying to create something that they would see in a summer block buster without having control over locations and props and special effects that block buster budgets pay for. I encouraged them to think smaller and tell a story more dialogue-centered and character-driven. They summarily ignored me.

For which I am most grateful. When they set their minds to making a zombie movie, they started working on the story about a student who is determined to finish his diploma in spite of the zombie apocalypse. It isn’t a comedy. I told them they would have to work hard to sell me on that premise, that the only way I’d believe it is if finishing the diploma was like an anchor of routine in a world gone mad. We agreed that it would also be best on our non-budget to show the zombies as little as possible, and to get somebody figuring out how to do zombie make-up as quickly as possible. Bad zombie make-up makes a thriller into a comedy in a hurry.

The students set to work. Jun Sekiya took over the writing duties and, ten drafts later, produced a screenplay of about 20 pages. A screenplay usually translates to a page per minute on screen, so they were looking at a 20 minute film, which is a significant undertaking. With some script rewriting and ad libs along the way, the final film comes in at 42 minutes. Normally a student film that long would make me vary wary, but the truth is, these boys did a really solid job and the film is worth the effort, because in the end, it isn’t really about the zombies; like all films worth watching, it’s about the characters and how they are challenged and grow.

The filmmakers took their movie to the Kanto Plains Film Festival and won a gold medal and the Palm d’Or, the festival’s top prize. The film also won awards for Best Camera (Sunbird Tsai), and Best Editing (Jun Sekiya), shared the award for Best Actress (Hiyori Takashima) and got a nomination for Best Actor (Yuki NItta).

Sometimes it’s easy to forget to dream big when your pockets are feeling light. Our group, who call themselves the Filmeisters, have a few other projects on the go (including another zombie script), but those will have to wait for the fall. I am grateful for having the chance to work with these young filmmakers, and for being reminded of how much I love the art of filmmaking.

Eat the Frog

This is a short screenplay I wrote a few years back to talk about script-writing with students in the filmmaking club at my school. One of the challenges for student filmmakers is that they tend to think in terms of big budget, two-hour films which are very difficult for them to produce convincingly. The idea of this script was to write something that had some decent story to film, a bit of range for the actors to play, used accessible locations, but allowed for enough creative interpretation that students could put their mark on it. Some students are shooting a version of it this year, so I look forward to seeing what they do with it.