My name is Ian Cessna, and I've had the absolute pleasure to be the instructor of Milwaukee Film's inaugural High School Filmmaking Course. Of course, as an institution we love the ability to bring Milwaukee area high schools our Education Screenings curriculum and/or filmmakers through Reel Talks, and give students a little slice of the film world here in our city. But we are so excited to have this class to be able to be intentional with any students who are considering pursuing film as the next steps of their education/lives. Our goal is to provide a semester long course that covers the filmmaking process from start to finish and empowers young filmmakers to start making—and maybe even completing—a film by the end of the semester. All this said, as Milwaukee Film’s Education team and I dreamed about the class and planned what it could look like, we would have been excited to have a class of 10-15 (and honestly thought we’d be lucky to have that many applications). We ended up with 39 applications, as it turns out. And let me tell you, every single application was exceptional. It got to the point where we couldn't say no to anyone else, and we ended up "settling" for a class size of 24. I was secretly very excited about this.
From the very first class, I knew it was a really special group of students. We ended up with 13 different schools represented with students in every grade level, all bringing such a beautifully unique perspective to the class and their thoughts on film. But as soon as we stepped into the classroom, any differences were set aside and they were all just young filmmakers excited to share their passion. Each one of them have been so generous with what they share with the class, ask great questions, and contribute their perspectives. In our first eight weeks, we covered topics like Idea Development, Screenwriting, Casting, Location Scouting, The Film Crew, and got into some hands-on production experiences with topics like Sound Recording & Mixing.
Each week, we start with students walking in to a classic film score, which they all (mostly successfully) try to guess and then discuss. I then have one or two students each week present for roughly 5 minutes about their favorite movie and why it's so important to them as a filmmaker. I then present on our specific topic that week.
My favorite part—and I think the students would agree this is their favorite as well—is when we have a visiting local filmmaker come in to share their work and experience. In the first eight weeks, we had a producer, a director, a sound designer, a production designer, a camera operator, and more come in to speak to the students, each helping them work toward their "Magnum Opus,” the final film they’re tasked with making in the class. Some students are working in teams, some by themselves, but they have all been tasked with making a "personal film," fiction or documentary, and I know they are going to make something very special. By the end of the eight weeks, we still had all 24 students coming to class regularly.
Now that the pandemic has affected the class much like I'm sure it's affecting all of you, we've had to creatively readjust how students can still interact with the material. The major unfortunate setback is that this all started right when we were getting into the production-heavy lessons that would have let students work with cameras, lighting, etc. and try fun exercises in class. However, we're making it work and still having fun. I'm recording lectures using Loom and still (to the student's excitement) involving local filmmakers through recorded Q&A sessions I set up with them. I've set aside our normal class time each week to host a Zoom "hangout" where they can ask questions about the lecture, give updates on where their projects are at, and recommend movies/TV they're watching in quarantine. While not a 24-attendee class session, these have been such a bright light in the midst of the craziness. The students continue to be so generous with what they share and offer positivity to any situation. The hope is to eventually get the local filmmakers to join those Zoom meetings, but I'm taking it one step at a time. I'm so excited to be able to continue working with these students despite the circumstances, and even if their films may end up being more COVID-related than we had ever anticipated, I know they have some big ideas for the film industry and will pave the way for a new generation of filmmakers in Milwaukee—in person or not.