With the Second Year MA class, I’ve been working through an adaptation of some of Bruce Charlesworth’s coursework. I originally adapted this with his permission into an editing course for my Fulbright proposal. Upon my arrival, I met with some unexpected limitations in technology and equipment availability, as well as a very different academic structure. I reorganized quickly, and merged the photography course-work with the editing outline, and began a program of restriction guided assignments.
The first of these directives was to ask that students take pictures that fit two
criteria. One, that they compose using some sort of geometric guide (rule of thirds, Golden Ratio Grid, Golden Triangle/Spiral, etc.). Two, that there had to be some implication of action pending, past, or taking place. This was a very loose guide, and it was my first directive, so I wasn’t very strict. I think I was not necessarily making my requests understood well. As I had only been at St. Francis for a week, and I was trying to get reorganized, I wanted to assign something to give me an idea of the current skill-set of my students, their motivations and give myself some time to rebuild a curriculum.
It resulted in some interesting photos. The majority of these were shot around a campus construction site. Through this assignment I learned that we had some basic digital photo-editing to work through, as well as some information to give about basic exposure/f-stop/depth-of-field/ISO mechanics and their inter-relationships. Experience controlling the cameras was a bit limited, even though it seems like there was a lot of shooting going on before I arrived. On the other hand, This could also be a language barrier issue. As a group, we seem to be working through it though.
After those photos were submitted, I had completed the restructuring and assigned the rest of the semester based around activities adapted from this directive labeled as The Extraordinary Event. Beginning with that, students were asked to come up with some significant life events. These were shared in class. Then students were instructed to choose one event and shoot a set of staged photos based on that event. I asked that they be color matched, and that the style of the photos lent something to the overall narrative arc of the set. In this way the assignment covered some elementary production design, casting, directing, and color correction.
This resulted in two really lovely sets. One told the story of a brother who came along with fireworks one day to cheer up his sister. The other outlined a coach and his relationship with his young pupil at the pool. Both of these were cast, shot and edited with extreme care, and such seriousness. they both contained great performances, especially considering that they were done with children. It is very encouraging work, and the core of students now producing work has really solidified. I find this amazing in just a couple of weeks worth of work, but, then again, these are Master’s level students in their last year.
The Extraordinary Event
That brings us to this current moment. Out of the photo-narratives given, as a group the class was asked to choose one that we felt was possible to produce as a short video narrative. The pool-side story was the most popular setting. I won’t hide the fact that I was a fan of this direction. The pool offers so much visually. The story seed also contains so many possibilities for recognizable characters. Plus, the water motif is as loaded as it is versatile.
For the rest of the semester, I’ve shifted the emphasis to group work and focused heavily of loading the front end of the project with writing exercises from a script workbook. I brought the workbook with me as a tool for focusing writing and I’m glad that I did. It is immediately turning out to be a good way to solve a problem that came up in several discussions at UW-Milwaukee among members of the faculty as we all tried to ferret out how to coax students into making narratives instead of situations. I chose this set of tools to try and shift the focus from immediate and occasionally haphazard, production towards a more considered approach to the writing and planning before shooting.
So Far So Good
Again, I come back to this word, challenge. It’s a challenge to be here for certain.
There are so many restrictions, technologically, linguistically, and even chronologically. Students here do not always have the kind of access to equipment I am accustomed to at home, so it is sometimes hard for me to judge how far to push in terms of work-load demands. I keep adapting assignments to be in line with the available technology. This ultimately feels good to me, although at some point, and this is probably that point, I have to solidify the curriculum in order to create an end goal for students to shoot form. I think I’ve done that here. My students all work very hard, and now have a clear road-map to refer to.
My home life seems to have stabilized enough for people to fall into routines that make sense. I feel like I just passed my Fulbright Fellowship Mid-term examinations! Whew. I think I’ll go somewhere next week.
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