Making Media That Matters week 6 came and went in a flash! I arrived to our Kaimuki film space, armed with a renewed excitement for our program because of the Women of Wonders film fest I attended earlier in the week. Several of our former MMTM students presented original films at the festival, speaking with such articulate vulnerability about their films and the experience of making them, that I was (yet again) reminded how fortunate I am to get to participate in this truly original program. So, I bounced into our film space with gusto, ready to learn more about filmmaking and watch the creative process unfold.
We began the evening with our standard opening welcome from Vera, then by naming one thing that we like about our appearance. I was a little hesitant to pose this question, to be honest. Women and girls get bombarded with damaging messages about their appearance daily, so I tend to steer clear of focusing on our physical “looks” as much as possible, instead hoping to instill confidence around our students’ intelligence, humor, kindness, and tenacity. However, it’s also important that we understand our unique beauty in every way we can manage, especially when we’re receiving such destructive messages elsewhere. So, I asked. The answers did not disappoint. “My eyebrows are amazing.”
“I have a dimple that doesn’t show up when I smile, only when I chew.”
“I love my stretch marks!”
“I like that I can raise one eyebrow.”
“I like my eyes – they change colors.” I was concerned that there would be a lot hemming and hawing around this particular question, or that a few students would try a “Wellllll I hate my stomach, arms, and legs, but I guess my eyes are ok” kind of an answer, but it was nothing of the sort. The readiness to recognize something that they enjoy about their appearance was lovely, and gave me hope about younger generations of women. Too many women in my own life, for example, would struggle profoundly with that request.
Next, we moved on to what Lisette (our film instructor) called an “intensive story workshop.” Even though our production teams have created vague story ideas for their films, this was the session to really solidify the premise of the stories, because all too soon, we’ll be headed into production. Lisette informed the students that we would need to streamline ways to make the film more easily produced, because of limited time for shooting, casting, coordinating time to film in the MMTM space, costumes, set design, etc. Lisette had prepared a difficult story assignment for our groups, and reminded us that we are not “locked” into our original story idea; everything is subject to change. She also reiterated the importance of being personally connected to the theme of the chosen story. We want our young filmmakers to understand how important it is that they speak from personal truth, as that is what will resonate with the audience and leave a lasting impression. Making Media That Matters is more than just the title of our program – it’s our whole philosophy. Lisette then outlined the strict parameters of this particular story-building exercise. They were:
2 characters ONLY, with specifics such as name, age, visual description, personality traits, and clearly defined goals.
No dialogue. Think about how to portray story through a silent film (other than sound effects and music).
Only ONE main location. Think about how the environment is going to add to the character.
5 scene maximum to tell the story.
The use of one meaningful object.
One memorable moment must be incorporated.
Try to come up with one line of dialogue during that memorable moment. Choose the words wisely.
Phew! Those restrictions were intimidating even to me! I sat down with a production team I haven’t worked with much, and observed their dynamic. Every participant on this team is vastly different from one another. Their personalities could not be more diverse, so I was anxious to see how they would work together. As always, things were a little slow-moving at first. They immediately reverted to their original story idea of a woman that works in the corporate world, and is depressed and bored with her life, losing all of her “spark” and creativity. The vague idea was to have a meaningful moment in which her creativity is reignited. One of the film mentors asked, “Why is the setting an office? Have any of you worked in an office?” The students all slowly shook their heads no. “Why not a school, then?” I offered, “or some other place you have more experience with?” They all agreed to change the main character from an adult woman in an office setting, to a 16-year-old teenager in high school. We began tossing around the idea of a young girl that struggled in school, despite being intelligent. She is an artist and feels like school testing doesn’t reflect her artistic nature or her intellectual strength. The new story line seemed to get the group excited. The students were more engaged, feeding off one another’s ideas and throwing out both hilarious and highly conceptual ideas. Even though they are quite different from one another, I was impressed when one of the more outspoken girls said to a much more introverted student, “What do you think about this scene?” in an effort to engage her more. I adored that they were looking out for each other, and trying to make certain that everyone’s voices were heard and valued. Our team decided that they wanted the film to be an “experimental, abstract comedy” and that they wanted to use camera tricks to turn other characters into inanimate objects to reflect the monotony of standardized testing. I widened my eyes incredulously at one of the other mentors. Sometimes these kids really shock me with their ingenuity. I mean, can you get more creative than the camera panning to a teenager taking a standardized test, then to the teenager all of a sudden turning into a banana, then back into a teenager? All for a commentary on the insane tediousness of homogenous academic expectations? Brilliant.
After a few hours of vivid storytelling, bouncing ideas off one another, and “I’ve got it!” moments, we all came back together as one big group to share what we’d built. It was great to hear what the other production teams had been working on. When it was our group’s turn to share, we had a little difficulty explaining our concept. Some of the ideas present as very “out there” but really, they’re just exceedingly conceptual and hard to put into words. Some of our team members struggled to convey our ideas, but I wasn’t worried. I know it will all come together when we start filming, and I was extremely proud of their originality and inventiveness, which is what I made sure to tell them after we shared our ideas. 😊 We were almost out of time and ready for our final closing question. This time, we had to decide, “If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?” The answers were somewhat surprising. I expected tons of famous actors and actresses, musicians, and writers, but nearly half of the room chose family members, which was especially heart-warming. It goes to show that no matter what, profound human connections mean the most. I think we’re building some of those human connections at MMTM.