Well I’m in England right now, so obviously I’m done with my camps. Wow. That’s the first thing. Those two weeks were the most fun and most stressful weeks of my life. It was an experience like no other and I learned so much and feel so accomplished now that it’s done. I don’t even know where to start talking about it. I’ll just start typing…
“Movie and Filmmaking Camp” is an official summer camp of the Davis Arts Center. Instructed by Courtney McNeil (legal reasons; instructor needed to be over 18) this camp ran 2 sessions; 5 days per session; 2 hours per day. Students need to be between 8-14 years of age. Prices were 89.00$ without a membership to the Davis Arts Center and 79.00$ with a membership. Max class size is 12. Materials fee is 5.00$ included in the camp price. More details can be found on davisartscenter.com or on the Davis Arts Center summer course catalogue. Ewan McNeil Prepared the camp (writing scripts, working out itenary), taught the camp (I had the most film background) and edited all films. Courtney McNeil and Ryan McNeil helped with supervising students and activities.
Monday (intro and basic green screen)- Started with introductions where the kids went around in a circle and said their name and favorite movie. Then we talked about what we were going to do all week… Kinda like I’m doing now. After that I introduced the equipment and passed it around for them to mess with (equipment list in later section). Then if I had time, I went over basic movie terms, just so that the kids would know what I was talking about. After that I split them in two groups: one out to the green screen and the other to stay in and get roles for the movie. At the green screen, I split them into 3 groups: swimming, flying, and floating. When one one group was up, the others would wait in line for the camera. And after the actor was done, he/she would do the clapboard. I would teach the kids how to act in front of the green screen. And the rules about the green screen and how it works. Then the clapper would say action and the camera operator started the camera and it worked smoothly…ish. Inside, the other half of the class were talking about parts for the movie. They got to say which roles they wanted, and were assigned roles to that the best as possible. When the class was back together at the end, everyone got their role and script/costume list. After they were settled with their character and papers, we started preparing for stop motion Tuesday. Depending on class size, we split into 2 or 3 groups, each with a movie franchise them based on Lego characters. We did Harry Potter, Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean. We then went over a basic plot line of the movie we wanted to make the next day. We asked what Lego characters they had in each theme and they were to bring characters the next day to film. And that was the end of day 1.
Tuesday (stop motion)- The students waked in with their Legos to a room set up like an animation studio. Tables against the wall with a blue board on the wall and green on the bottom, lighting fixtures over each stage and and cameras set up on tripods. We then got in our groups and started storyboarding. I thought them what the hell storyboarding was, and they ended up really doing it by themselves. After that, I gave them roles. We had a director (that I picked based off ability) then 2 movers and a camera operator. After going over moving techniques and how to operate the camera, I let them go by themselves and just intervened to keep them on track. It took the whole time because you know… It’s animation. They got really creative with stories and moving characters and ended up having a really good time. And they had great Lego sets that they brought in, we had hogwarts, the millennium falcon and an ewok village. It was fun
Wednesday (special effects/vfx)- We did all kinds of special effects this day. Now, both sessions we went about it differently, but I’ll talk about the second session (because it worked a lot better). We split into 3 groups: green screen, outdoor pre keyed magic and then a group stayed in and practiced lines. We split up according to who was in each scene. The green screen did more things like teleporting, that was what everyone seemed to want to do. They’d stand looking bored them clap and get all excited because they were in Paris or wherever they wanted to be. We actually had a kid go to McDonalds. Never the less it was fun. And then outside, they did magic. We started with pre keyed footage to over lay on the video: Lightning, fire, plasma ball, energy beam. One would pretend to shoot it and the other would pretend to get hit and fall down. Another one that we did was disappearing, where we’d shoot, freeze, then start up again without moving the camera. At the end of the day, we went In and started the full movie on the green screen. And the other kids practiced their lines. I kept a couple as crew to do scripts and camera. And that was Wednesday.
Thursday (full film)- everyone came into class, we grabbed all cameras and scripts and costumes and went straight out to film. The actors knew their lines pretty well from the week and the rest of the group were crew, or inside doing costume/makeup. We filmed with 2 cameras, so the crew roles were: assistant director, camera 1, camera 2, script supervisor, and clapper. The scenes for the most part went pretty quick, some took a couple takes, but all were split up enough for everyone to remember all their lines. I was director, because we were short on time and needed to move quickly. I did let the assistant director direct the establishing shots though. Just like walking and stuff. Towards the end of the day people got tired and forgot lines, which meant more takes which meant people getting more tired and frustrated: the progressive cycle, but we always finished with time to spare.
Friday (finish film and festival)- Started out same as Tuesday, but we had mostly actors, because it was the final fight scene. This was the hardest with the weather in the high 90s and filming for 2 hours in the sun, people got tired. It went fine at first, but after a while when I said cut, people would run straight back into the shade. And we took a lot of breaks, which meant filming even longer than needed which meant people getting more and more tired: another progressive cycle. When we got to the final scene, I handed the camera to the assistant director and he did the rest. After that everyone ran inside and hung out while I prepared the festival. I rearranged the seats, copied all the files to a flash drive to run on the projector and then started the festival, introducing each film along the way. The turn out was amazing. Each kid brought family and friends, we broke the fire code in the last camp, because there were too many people. The festival went pretty much seamlessly the both times, not too many technical errors. But we made it through and everyone had a great time in the end.
Editing– my never ending day
We filmed up to an hour of footage a, five days a week. Who edits all that footage, the kids can’t because they don’t have computers… So that leaves me. Every night I’d come home and edit for hours. On Thursdays (before the festival) I’d get home at 5 then sit at my computer until 1. Because I got behind a lot, it’s hard not being able to do anything but edit for a week. And I still missed out quite a lot hanging out with my friends which is hard for a 16 year old. These were hard films to edit too. Starting with special effects (which I now realize were actually visual effects). So visual effects, as you know, are all done in post. That means me. It took a lot of prep to get all the green screen and pre keyed footage online (talked about in “prep”). Then I had to go through each of the kids’ two recorded scenes and add the pre keyed footage and green screen background. And of course trim and cut all of them as well. Throwing on title effects and music was the easy part at least. After special effects came stop motion. I forgot how long these take! Not just to film, but also to edit. Luckily FCPX made it easy to reduce the length of pictures, but that was the least of it. First off, all the stories requires visual fx like wand magic and Star Wars blasters. Which are hard to find a vector of online… So I made one. Luckily I’m good at photo manipulations, so it was easy to make my own. After I put on the special effects, audio was my next job. Of course it doesn’t have any audio already, so I had to find and add it ALL in. Which took forever. And in the first camp, they wanted green screen too, so that was another hour. Then came the final movie. Because of time restrictions, we had to do half the filming on the last day, so guess what. I couldn’t edit the final film the night before. But guess what again… That meant I had to edit all weekend and post videos online. Editing for this was kinda annoying. So for most scenes, we used two cameras. That meant finding the twin clips and then linking up the audio and cutting in between. Otherwise it was pretty strait forward. I did have to do a trailer for the festival though. Which was not bad, but I still had to find music and stuff (I won and award for my last trailer actually). All in all editing took for ever, but was just manageable for the time I had.
the main reoccurring problem was to get everyone doing something. When the kids get bored they start messing around and misbehaving. And in film there is a lot of waiting around. It started on the first day. When we went to the green screen only 3 people were actually doing something (actor, clapboard, and camera). The others would just line up and wait In he second session people went inside to do lines, so that was one solution. But the problem continued. When we did SPFX and the movie there were still people waiting around a lot. This lead to interference in the scene, kids wandering off, etc. I created many solutions to this problem. The first was the clapboard. Completely unnecessary at this level of filming, but occupied a lot of students. The other solutions were to just simply add more crew. In the second session we added an assistant director, another script supervisor and a costume/make up team. This way there wasn’t as much wandering around. Splitting into smaller groups proved useful as well. We did that on SPFX day. The first 3 days went pretty smooth with not many problems with the kids except the usual stuff like not paying attention. The problems came with the movie filming days. That’s when not everyone was doing something and the pressure hit with learning lines. U get the snowball effect with lines. If u mess up once, then u lose your confidence and are more likely to mess up again. The other worry I had was making sure everyone was happy doing what there doing. I tried my best to let everyone have a creative part they brought to the film. I let the camera operators pick the camera locations, and I let the assistant director direct some scenes and it worked out well. But it was very difficult to find everyone a part. All the problems got fixed in the end in that area. Most of the big problems came in technology. Let’s start with my editing computer. It’s a mid 2009s model Mac book pro that my dad used for years for design work. It came with lots of programs (including photoshop/inDesign) but lots of space 350gb. Turns out that wasn’t enough. All my dads files were backed up on the hard drive. This meant my 350gb were reduced to less than 10gb of free space. With FCPX and hours of film footage 10gb didn’t last long. I got the first message saying my hard drive was full a couple days into camp. I started by cleaning up desktop files; that got me through the first week of camp. But that message did not go away. It came up quickly again at the start of the first camp editing weekend. With no more desktop files to erase I had to look online and found out if u click on your hard drive and go to “all my files” you can see all your files in one place. There I found 10s of thousands of files of my dads dating back to 2006. Mostly videos and pics of me and my brother actually. He thought that he had deleted all the files before giving me the computer, but turns out they were still on the hard drive. I started by deleting the big files and continued editing (don’t worry my dad backed up everything). Throughout the entire week I kept getting the notifications. I went through the files deleting thousands at a time. And I had to leaf through them to make sure they weren’t important. This took a lot of time: a lot of editing time. Many hours of my session two editing time was deleting files in order to edit. I’m still deleting files 6 weeks later. That was the big problem. YouTube was another. I don’t like YouTube. It always has problems and is full of crap videos. It took forever to upload all the videos and some wouldn’t be recognized. Session 1 was fine, it was 2 that had the technical problems. This one was with gmail. In one night I posted all the videos to YouTube, and I sent them all to parents. Well… Almost. Worked fine in session 1, but when I tried to send an email to 12 recipients with 10 links in it… Google didn’t like that. It detected it as spam and would not let me send it. Even to one recipient at a time. I was up till 2am trying to solve the problem and my mom was up even later. Finally we sent it off a private yahoo account. That seemed to work. Those were all the big problems, no missing footage (thought I did, but not in the end), no absent actors (really worried this would happen), no loss of editing (actually a bit after a FCPX crash, but nothing too big; only like half an hour of editing), no broken equipment (almost with the camcorder focus, but I reset it and it was fine), only one lost flash drive (idk how this happened, but we bought them an even better one), it really went pretty smooth.
- Sony HDR CX 190 handy cam
- Cannon PowerShot S5 IS
- Nikon Coolpix L18
- Nikon Coolpix L20
- Cannon Powershot Elph 115 IS
- Octopus Go Pro brand
- 50” lightweight Portable
- MacBook Pro OS X Yosemite v.10.10.5 (15-inch, Mid 2009)
- Photoshop CS 6
- Final Cut Pro X
- clapboard wooden (universal studios)
Prep– the camp started for me 3 months early
It was winter 2015 when my mom first approached me with an idea of a film camp. She said I could always do it next year, and I thought that might be better, but when camp applications for DAC were almost due, she asked me again and I changed my mind. She thought I should and was really supportive about definitely doing it as soon as possible. One weekend morning I woke up and started thinking about it. When I start thinking of something big, I never stop. Must have been hours hours of thinking and writing and at the end I had written the catalogue description and planned out each day with short ideas of each plot for the different kind of films we were making. I ended up doing a lot of what I planned on that day when I actually started the camp. I showed the catalogue memo to my mom and she loved it, so in it went. I stopped prepping after this, because it was like January, I figured I had a lot of time. I did some posters, but that’s it. Read my PUs around then. I never moved forward. It made it through in like March, that when I knew I was teaching a film camp. With the end of the school year coming up, I continued putting it off. And when the bell rang on June 9th, everyone was celebrating and I was thinking… I got a camp in a week (actually I was celebrating too, don’t feel bad for me). I had one week. One week to finalize plans. First I had to plan out what to do each day. I figured Monday I would just talk, because that was the only day I didn’t have to do anything. My mom suggested I do some green screen to get the kids interested, and I thought that was a good idea. But most of the time I did just talk… I needed something to talk about. So the prep I had to do was to find videos about before/after green screens, and I actually made a green screen video with friends as well. My other job was making a slide show presentation of movie terms for the students. That was actually the first bit of prep I did. Then Tuesday I had always planned to do animation, so unfortunately I didn’t do a lot of prep in that area. I was planning to script the stories for the students, but the day before I decided they should do it themselves. This actually came about on Monday when we finished everything planned, we decided to to start planning stories for the next day and it worked out so well I continued it the next week. So with the stories done, not much other prep was necessary. Then came SPFX or visual I guess. Obviously all of this was done in post, so I had to find pre keyed footage from footagecrate.com I believe and I downloaded green screen backed VFX as well from YouTube. I had to find backgrounds of course which took hours scavenging the Internet, these weren’t pictures either. All video. Even the Eiffel Tower had people walking in the background. It was all unscripted, so that made it a lot easier. Then came the full movie, which was DEFINITELY scripted and guess who wrote the 4 page script? All in one morning actually, quite a feat really. Turned out pretty good as well. I gave the kids scripts to learn they’re lines and also a list of costume ideas. Again when I couldn’t/didn’t want to do something I made them do it as part of the creative process. They came with great costumes too actually. The script was the most prep though. Really it wasn’t too much but I did need Everyday that week.
This session was a much smaller session. There were only about 6 students in the end. They were a lot younger too. That means quieter and more shy, but also not as easy to teach/work with. First day was good, everyone seemed happy. We had some smart, experienced students. When we went through favorite movies, two said Inception. Anyway, GS (green screen) went well and we spontaneously started planning for Lego SM (stop motion) day which got everyone excited. The surprise came that night: 2 students dropped the camp. I still don’t know why, they seemed like they liked the first day. Maybe the kids were too young, my mom thought they were scared at the thought of acting, or maybe they thought it wasn’t advanced enough for them (they were the two that said inception was their favorite movie btw). Anyway I learned not to get disappointed about it and not to take it personally. Day 2 went good with SM. Really cool plots and a lot of pictures. Everyone seemed interested. Day 3 with SPFX was more hectic. Need more planning. Lots of waiting around. A few girls couldn’t get off their phones. It was because we didn’t split up the groups. So only like 3 were doing something at a time. It all worked out in the end and went pretty smoothly, but was really worrisome at some points. Then day 4 on filming was great. The kids knew their lines and we split up and ran lines and had good camera operators. Acting was not very enthusiastic or well delivered, but good enough. At least they knew their lines. I tried to let one student do some scenes, because I saw potential in her. She did a few establishing shots, but wasn’t there the last day to do more. One regret. Final day was pretty good. More droppers though. The two girls who were always on their phones didn’t show. I knew they wouldn’t, because they just weren’t interested enough, but it was a little annoying. It made it easier to film with less people around though. 2 dropped day 1, 2 had other commitments day 5 and the 2 didn’t show day 5. The final day was hot and the kids kept moving after scenes and it took a while for them to get back in place. Acting improved from earlier in the week. Choreographing the fight scene was difficult with the little kids though. Otherwise we finished with time to spare. Then came the festival. I quickly went in to rearrange the room while the kids played outside. Set up the mini projector and transferred all the videos onto my moms laptop (it had an hdmi) and I was ready. Parents started pouring in and students sat up front. Went through the festival well, good turnout. lots of questions and “thank you”s from parents.
This was a bigger session with more kids and older kids. We had 13 kids in this camp. With older kids came more trust, better acting and more previous experience, but also harder to teach and they mess around more. Day one went good, had a lot of interested kids, more talkative. They got a little bored when waiting for the green screen, but not too bored. Picking Characters for the film went well, and we had one student who just wanted to be the assistant director. At the end of day 1, we split into 3 groups to do animations this time, but prepping it was more organized. Day 2 was a little more hectic. The animations got complicated with lots of characters and it was hard to do it all in the time we had. We ended up rushing and not even getting many pictures. This is when I thought I lost footage (turns out it was just a bad camera). But I still managed to make long enough videos with the footage we had. Day 3 was a lot more organized, but still a bit hectic. We had 3 groups this time. One on green screen with Ryan (My brother; assistant in the class), one with me doing vsfx base footage and the last one with my mom in the classroom running lines. The groups got excited and looked like they were having a lot of fun. But they were distracted and hard to control at times. When filming started on day 4, everyone was much more prepared than last time, because we ran lines in class all week. They got through the entire first part without the cut in the middle like the script indicated. Crew for the first half of filming was good and small. the Witches for the next scene were on makeup, so they were occupied inside doing that. They were really good in the second part though. we had more crew as well which worked in both ways, mostly bad. That wasn’t the big problem though. On the last scene of the day, it took 7 takes. Seven! I know that like nothing for pros, but thats a lot for kids. Their confidence drops so quickly and the acting gets sloppy. That was the hard part. The last day went well. This is when there were a lot of people waiting around in the heat. We took a ton of breaks (to my dismay). It was too hard to control all of them for more than like 15 minutes, especially toward the end. It started out hard. It took 3 takes for the first scene. It was only 3 lines. the fight scene was easier this time and the end scene I even let the assistant director film it. All worked out in the end. Then came the festival. I set up the room and people started coming in. More people and more people and more people. So many people that we broke the fire code and had to move to a bigger room. The one minor problem was that I forgot to transfer the final video files onto the flash drive. And I also forgot that I needed to run them through my other application to reduce the file size. So… they took about ten minutes to transfer. That meant a lot of stalling, which was easy, I readjusted the projector a couple times, switched out the screen, stalled the start of the festival, and just talked a lot to the parents. Anyway, the festival from then on went really well. Parents said their thanks and kids left inspired to make more of their own films.
Well that’s it. All 4,000 words of it. This camp was an amazing experience and I’m planning to continue teaching it for the years to come. With experience behind me, I plan to improve it further get it more well known. This is probably the biggest achievement of my film career… so far.