Editor’s note: Strength in Flexibility is an ongoing series highlighting changes local businesses are making to adapt to life during the coronavirus pandemic.
At Florida Film Academy, students always are up for a challenge.
After all, creativity is what fuels the future filmmakers, animators, graphic designers and special-effects makeup artists learning under their instructors’ tutelage. Critical thinking and problem solving also go hand-in-hand with the academy’s creative curriculum.
But the challenges COVID-19 has presented to Florida Film Academy students and instructors are unlike anything they have faced before.
Like many businesses, Florida Film Academy shut down temporarily in mid-March, right around spring break. Co-owner Stefanie Robinson and her team were able to think quickly on their feet, using that time to create a plan.
“That gave us the entire week of spring break to quickly move every single program that we do to online,” Robinson said. “We didn’t cancel our classes; we didn’t stop our programs. We shifted everything to online so our kids wouldn’t have to skip that. We had a lot of families contact us, because they lost their jobs. … Some parents called us and said this was the last thing they were canceling, because they just couldn’t.”
Robinson said she had a responsibility to them to keep the creativity flowing.
“They’re the reason why we are fighting to keep our doors open during this time,” she said. “I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said this hasn’t been the biggest struggle of our 10 years of service to the community, because, of course, we’re working probably 10 times hard than we ever have just to keep the lights on, just to keep the rent paid, just to keep the staff paid.”
To help students and their families during this time, the staff has been offering free online programs and experiences for children to give them something to do. One day, the staff hosted a virtual get-together called Pet Day at FFA. Children could hop online for an hour, see their friends and instructors, and show off their pets.
And with the academy’s shift of its usual class offerings to online, it also presented the opportunity to do something Robinson and her team have been wanting to do for a while — create a series of new, live online classes.
“We’re using Zoom, so they’re able to see each other and connect,” she said. “They’re still collaborating on stories. Sometimes, the projects vary — they may be doing something individual … other times, their challenge is to connect the story and they have to figure out how to problem solve that, if you will. … In a class like acting, we do a lot of improv.”
Although the lack of socializing has impacted the academy’s students, Robinson said, this new online experience has forced them to problem solve and be more creative than ever before. In fact, some of their best projects has come from this, she said. Students also have been successful in making their work a family affair.
“Because of (being) online, the parents are getting a real glimpse of what the kids are actually doing, and they’re a part of it,” Robinson said. “I had a dad dress up as a lizard for his kid’s film and act in his movie, and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ … Those are the priceless bits in all of this, the glimmers of hope and beauty through all of the things that are going on.”
Face-to-face summer programs also will continue as usual, with an 8:1 class-size ratio. Instructors will wear personal protective equipment, and children will have the option to do so. Florida Film Academy staff will be cleaning more often and wiping down all equipment after each use.
Social distancing and frequent hand-washing will be encouraged, and parents will be treated to private in-home screenings of their children’s films.
“With creative people, there’s always something — there’s always a way to make it sparkle,” Robinson said. “You have to find the silver lining. You have to find those moments of beauty in things, because that’s what keeps us human. Storytelling at its core is human nature.”