In case you missed my last update, here's a bit of a TL;DR. My name is Ian Cessna and I've been teaching a group of local high schoolers about the filmmaking process from front to back this semester. I got a lot more emotional than that about how amazing the students are and how great of a response we had to launching this first year, but you get the gist for the time being.
I'm back to give you another (albeit shorter) update of where things are at. As I mentioned in the last blurb, when the stay at home order was placed, we hit the tough decision of deciding whether or not the class could still fulfill its original function if we weren't able to meet in person. Knowing by this point from spending 3 hours every week with them that the students are absolute geniuses, I reached out to them to get their opinions. In a Google poll, 100% of them said they wanted the class to continue, and an overwhelming majority fought for the ability to still meet "as a class" by doing a weekly Zoom. Just to prove to you how generous these students are, here are some responses on the poll to a simple "Do you have any other thoughts?":
"Thank you for trying to bring this back. I miss being in this class!!"
"I also think it’s important for all of us to keep a bond so having live interaction I think is vital! I miss everyone."
"I value the ability to interact with my classmates and guest speakers and I think it could be nice to have a live chat once a week."
"I would prefer if we could do something live, but honestly I am fine with whatever makes your life easier, as this is undoubtedly stressful for you as well!"
Ultimately I couldn't NOT keep working with these students. We had just gotten into some of the fun topics like cinematography, directing, and production design, and I wanted to make sure the students had all the tools they needed to confidently make a film. So we had to creatively readjust how the class was going to work. AND creatively readjust how we could ask the students to still make a Magnum Opus (final film project) if we might be stuck inside for the rest of the class' meetings.
The class function actually came a lot more naturally than we may have first expected. With recording lectures by screen recording my presentations and recording Q&As with filmmakers, the students are able to watch the materials whenever they can fit it into their schedule--that was something we always wanted to be conscious of, because they were going through a much bigger transition in their entire education. One of the coolest unexpected benefits of the class having to go virtual is that we can talk to filmmakers that don't have to be in Milwaukee. Our staff is so connected to local filmmakers present and past that they've been a tremendous help reaching out to some folks who have moved to LA, New York, or wherever else to call in and tell the students about their Milwaukee roots and how they got to where they are now. And still, once a week for an hour and a half, students are popping in to talk about what they learned that week, ask questions, talk about their favorite quarantine movies and shows, and work together to brainstorm how they can still make films being stuck alone in their houses.
That last piece, I know, has been a challenge for them. They're working on their school materials every day for hours, and some struggle to still want to pick up a camera at the end of the day. Even more defeating, they've had to reframe their ideas for these final films so that they no longer have an entire cast of characters or require a crew to make it work. Ideas like a girl traversing between two worlds of gender performance--one masculine and one feminine, a family struggling in Milwaukee's housing eviction crisis, two friends leaving for college, a documentary about a concert that one student's music production company was planning, another doc about assisted care facilities and what they're like for the people living in them and their families--all these ideas had to be dropped for the time being because of the restrictions of COVID-19. But we've been working together to find alternatives. We've been researching short films made all in one place or on a computer screen. Each week we update a document with Tik Toks (yes, I'm hip with these high school students!) that are basically short films. Some of the students who were planning to do documentaries are even still going to try making it work, emailing folks who they wanted to interview and setting up Skype Q&As that they can record and use in their edits. Others are using archive footage they had previously recorded to make a story about the contrast of then and being stuck inside now.
I guess that's my point here. These students are so resilient. Whether we were going to be in class and they had to plan an entire short film from start to finish or they're stuck inside now and have to persevere through some creative challenges--on top of everything going on in the world--they're going to make it work. Seeing their excitement every week in our Zoom meetings as they talk about breakthroughs they've had with ideas, new footage they shot on a hike, new animation software they're learning, or films they saw that inspire them, I know they're still going to make some amazing films by the end of this thing. Who knows, maybe even better.
Stay tuned for further dispatches from our incredible High School Filmmaking Course!