William & Mary

Newly revamped Youth Filmmaking Institute puts local kids on both sides of the camera

  • Lights, Camera, Action:
    Lights, Camera, Action:  Local middle and high school students participated in the 5th annual Youth Filmmaking Institute on Oct. 22-23. A screening will be held at the Kimball Theatre on Nov. 6.  Photo courtesy of the Youth Filmmaking Institute
  • Lights, Camera, Action:
    Lights, Camera, Action:  A group of students shoot scenes for their films outside of Swem Library.  Photo courtesy of the Youth Filmmaking Institute
  • Lights, Camera, Action:
    Lights, Camera, Action:  Inside the library, a student maps out a storyboard, or a sequence of scenes, for his film.  Photo courtesy of the Youth Filmmaking Institute
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The ground floor of Swem Library was a flurry of excitement, as middle and high school students bounced around the Botetourt Gallery in wigs, fedoras, blazers, fur coats and, in one case, a full-body Godzilla suit. The occasion wasn’t Halloween and the guises weren’t donned purely for fun; instead, they were all worn in the name of cinema. 

On Oct. 22–23, Swem Library and the Reeder Media Center played host to the Youth Filmmaking Institute, a workshop held every fall that’s designed to teach local middle and high school students about filmmaking. The program, which is celebrating its fifth year, is an offshoot of William & Mary’s Global Film Festival (GFF).

“This is the aspect of the Global Film Festival that melds most naturally with the community and probably in the most valuable way,” said Adam Stackhouse ‘04, who is producing the GFF and the Youth Filmmaking Institute this year with Liz Sykes ’06. “It’s really cool to be able to engage these kids in film and bring them on campus to learn things that they probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn anywhere else in the community.”

{{youtube:medium:left|3MAxMMkrvlY, 2016 Youth Filmmaking Institute}}

The institute, which is sponsored by Canon Virginia, Inc., traditionally teaches kids behind-the-scenes filmmaking skills, including scriptwriting, storyboarding and equipment usage, and culminates in a series of student-made films created with help from W&M undergraduates. The films are later screened at a community viewing.

This year, under the guidance of Stackhouse and Sykes, the workshop received a streamlined makeover, with kids working together in smaller groups on a single film. For the first time, the Institute also charged a fee, which went toward food for the students through the weekend and a formal, red-carpet screening at the Kimball Theatre. 

“It was somewhat smaller in terms of numbers, which I think is a good thing,” said Troy Davis, director of the Reeder Media Center. “Every group had one mentor the whole time who they cultivated a relationship with, so the experience was really meaningful.”

Early on in the weekend, participants separated into seven groups of five to six students and decided on their film’s genre and characters. That was followed by workshops on scripting, storyboarding, camera shots and production planning. On day two, many kids arrived with bags brimming with props and costumes, prepared for a day of filming and editing. 

{{youtube:medium:left|ilIJJae0R8w, 2016 Youth Filmmaking Institute: Meet the Filmmakers}}

“These kids got to initiate a story and then see that one project from beginning to end,” said Stackhouse. “We really wanted to make this a learning experience. Part of the hope is that, when this is done, depending on what kind of access the kids have to equipment, they can practice making more films on their own at home.” 

Throughout the weekend, W&M undergraduate students worked closely with their teams from idea generation to film editing. Each mentor was required to have prior filmmaking experience, though not all students are film and media majors. 

“My planned major is international relations but I’ve been making films recreationally for almost five years,” said William Moore ’20.  “I just thought this would be a fun and fulfilling opportunity to teach kids about something that I love.” 

Other students echoed that sentiment, adding that the experience is as much a learning experience for them as it is for the kids. 

“A lot of us haven’t worked with the particular cameras we’re using now and some of us use PCs as opposed to the Macs we’re using now, so we’re sort of learning and teaching at the same time,” said Nick Brown ’17.

Each team’s finished products — which run the gamut from horror and mystery to comedic superhero films — will premiere at an open-to-the-public screening at the Kimball Theatre on Nov. 6. at 1 p.m.

“We’re doing it up big this year,” said Stackhouse. “There’ll be a red carpet, reporters, paparazzi taking photos, and a Q&A with the students after the screening about their films.” 

Stackhouse and Davis said they hope the changes made this year will continue to fuel the growth of the Institute for years to come.

“This program definitely fits in with the library’s mission to promote lifelong learning, community outreach and creativity,” said Davis.