An enormous clock glares down at them, almost menacingly, counting down the time until their deadline. When the clock strikes zero, their little flash drive, filled with all their creative energy, editing work and completed films must be placed in the bucket. There’s no wiggle room, no second chances, no more time.
“When you get in that editing room, there’s no going back,” said Sasha Moore.
“We couldn’t be a second late,” said Maddie Kidd.
This is a real world experience, filled with all the pressures of a real-life journalism or filmmaking job. And it was tough, said Lori Farber’s Maitland Middle School film class. The students attended the Student Television Network (STN) conference along with more than 2,500 other middle and high school students in Los Angeles in March. There they attended workshops with writers, directors and journalists, who gave advice on their craft. They also participated in six contests, and were the only middle school students to place or get honorable mention in every competition they entered.
“We were there to win,” said student Alexis Kidd.
They participated in contests ranging from making a love song music video and a commercial, to doing on-the-spot reporting, interviewing other students about their passions and turning it into a feature news segment. Every contest had a time limit for the brainstorming and filming, and then another time limit for editing. They got to head around the convention center and venture a little outside in L.A. to film for their movies, dangling their cameras off parking garage ledges and taking advantage of their hotel’s skyscraper views.
The students have been very successful in the past at the conference, and knew they had to live up to their reputation once again.
“They have such high expectations for themselves,” Farber said. “They try to keep raising the bar.”
The students all take Farber’s class during the school day, and then the 29 who attended the conference spent two hours after school twice a week for six weeks to prepare for the competition. They held mock contests like the ones they’d encounter at STN, with time limits. They failed many times during those practices, dry on ideas, getting writer’s block and missing deadlines. But the practices paid off, and each team had a very specific strategy going in.
In its April 27, 2011 edition, the Observer published a story about a “Future Problem Solving” team from Maitland Middle School which won the elementary school division of the Future Problem Solving state competition. That team went on to take 3rd place in the international competition, competing against teams from approximately 27 other states and 16 countries. The team is now in the middle school division. Despite being 8th graders competing against 9th graders, they recently finished second in the state and en route to the international competition.
One team’s commercial, which won first place, was filmed using a stop-motion animation technique they knew they’d use going into the competition. They were selling Hurley board shorts, and as their actor spun around to show the shorts off, arrows would pop up, touting the specs: water resistant, super stretch, recycled polyester. It was a plan that could be risky – the judges could’ve hated it, but the students knew they’d remember it.
Special, memorable features like that were what gave them the edge, said Moore, who won first place for their public service announcement film about what to do in different emergencies. In her movie, they used unique shots, capturing their subject’s perspective from above, below and over their shoulder as they contemplate jumping off a bridge. There’s even some digital fire in one scene.
To learn more about Lori Farber and to watch her Maitland Middle School class’ films, visit farbermedia.com
It was also important to make sure their film had a logical storyline, which has been stressed frequently in Farber’s class.
“Making a story that makes sense and flows,” Farber said. “We’re really the language arts process told visually.”
“When you’re editing you’re the one who really tells the story; it makes or breaks your film,” Moore said.
Farber loves seeing that kind of passion in her students. She said she imagines some of them winning Academy Awards or living their dream reporting on CNN. She just hopes they all take with them the lesson she holds closest to her heart when it comes to making visual art.
“I want them to make films that make the world better,” she said.