Teaching video production skills to over 300 students in three days? No problem for Tom Morris when he hosted a mobile film workshop. Then two events happened in 2020 that made him realise that transferring shooting, editing and storytelling skills to young filmmakers can really change lives by giving them a voice in the community.
This is a story that I have been thinking about how to write for the past few months. What started off as a reflection on the amazing mobile film workshop that we had, has morphed into something much more.
Thinking back on this experience of putting together a Mobile Film Workshop with We Make Movies for four area high school classes in Battle Creek, Michigan, this past February, it truly is a wonderful feeling to see how far we have come from various ideas, discussions and events to having our very own collaboration and event within the community where I reside.
The need for the 2020 mobile film workshop came from the the creation of the Believe in Battle Creek Short Film Festival three years ago.
The brain child of then Pennfield High School English and Current Harper Creek English teacher Amanda Zima, The Believe In Battle Creek Short Film Festival was started in late 2017. As a collaboration with Pennfield High School and the Battle Creek Community Foundation, the purpose of the Festival was for English students to showcase their creativity in the arts by spotlighting a local non-profit that they had a passion for.
The stories; told through a combination of written articles, art pieces, and short films; were made to inform the community about the various resources that Battle Creek has and what these organizations and the people involve do to make our city a better place. The first Believe in Battle Creek Film Festival was held on May 23, 2018, at The Pennfield High School Auditorium.
For the second (2019) BIBC Film Festival, three new pieces were added to the mix. First was the addition of Harper Creek High School’s English classes. So, along with Pennfield, we now had two schools participating. The second was to start emphasizing mobile filmmaking.
The goal was to show students what was possible with “the phone in their pocket.” To capture their story.
Third was the partnership with JC Cinema in Battle Creek who agreed to host the Film Festival at their theatre.
The second BIBC Film Festival was held on May 1, 2019. We had a successful showing, as over 35 short films between the two schools were shown in two theaters at JC Cinema. Students, teachers, parents, and our community were greatly moved by seeing these short films on the big screen.
After the 2019 Festival was over, planning began immediately for the 2020 Film Festival. This year’s festival quickly expanded to include four area high schools. Returning schools Pennfield and Harper Creek were now joined by Lakeview and Battle Creek Central. The dream of making the Film Festival a city wide celebration with participation from all the local school districts was quickly being realized.
A point of conversation for the 2020 Film Festival was how we could quickly and effectively empower approximately 400 students to create and edit their short films.
The solution was to completely embrace and teach mobile filmmaking to all the students.
This time though it would be different; we needed “launch events” to build excitement for the students and show them, all in one setting, what is truly possible when you leverage various resources and collaborate together. My responsibilities as the Project Coordinator of the Film Festival were to provide support, training and teaching of mobile filmmaking to the students and schools involved in the Film Festival.
My goal for the 2020 Festival was to find a way to leverage my own experiences and knowledge, including those I had attained from attending the FCPX Creative Summits and Chicago Summer Stories events. My hope was that combining what I learned from those experiences would make the 2020 Film Festival an event that would kick off a long term goal of creating a digital arts community in Battle Creek.
In order to achieve this goal, I quickly realized I would need to find partners in and out of my community. I would need a major partner, someone from the Final Cut Pro Community. Someone who has a passion for mobile film making. Someone who has a proven track record of innovation and excellence in teaching and democratizing the mobile film making process
That “someone” would be Sam Mestman from We Make Movies.
I first met Sam Mestman at the 2017 FCPX Creative Summit, and have been communicating with him ever since. I have been been following Sam Mestman’s We Make Movies journey hosting mobile film workshops across the County for the past three years. Each time I would read an article on FCP.co about the 1-3 week workshops with 20-30 students (remember this detail as this will be important later on.) I kept thinking that this program was exactly what I wanted to bring to Battle Creek.
When talking with Sam during the summer of 2019, I asked him about the possibility of bringing his Mobile Film Workshop to Battle Creek. His response was, “I’ll take a look into it, but let’s do it!”
He officially gave me the confirmation during the 2019 FCPX Creative Summit. During his standing room only presentations at the Summit, “We Make Movies: 27 movies, 34 kids, 2 weeks — A Case Study about iOS+FCPX Storytelling” and “Working Optimally with the ‘Camera in your Pocket’ — Filmmaking Using iOS + FCPX,” Sam would tell the audience the locations where workshops have been previously held and where they were going to be held in the future.
He always made it a point to say, “And we are going to Battle Creek, Michigan, in 2020, right Tom?”
It was such a great feeling to know that in 2020 We Make Movies would be bringing their workshops to the student storytellers involved with the BIBC Film Festival.
Remember when I said to remember the detail about days and student numbers? A few days before Sam and Aubrey flew in to Michigan, I had this conversation with Sam.
“Hey Tom, wanting to touch base before we come out, how many students will we have total?”
“For how many days?”
“Give me the breakdown again.”
“We have four schools with a total of around 300 students participating. We will be at the Kool Family Center downtown and students will be bussed in. We will have each school for around 3.5 hours and there will be around 100 students per school. Except for one school on day two; that school we will be going to their classroom. That one is only 30 students. Then we go back to the Kool Center for the afternoon session, which will be around 100 students.”
Basically I had just told Sam that everything he normally plans for a 1-3 week workshop for 20-30 students had to be majorly condensed to a fraction of the time and up-scaled up to three times the students in a session.
Sam was hesitant for maybe half a second before he replied.
“Oh… Well we have never done anything that big before. Let’s brainstorm on the format, and we will make it work.”
Sam called me Monday night, February 24, when he and Aubrey landed in Detroit. We went over last minute details, making sure we had all the equipment configured for the next day.
We kindly had kit loaned to use during the workshops: 7 MacBook Pros, 7 iPad Pros, and 7 iPhone 11s. Sam and Aubrey were bringing in the various gear and equipment to demonstrate the mobile film workflow.
Even though we had brainstormed on a format, there was still some apprehension on everyone’s part. Would we be able to pull off workshops of this scale, while providing the students with an experience on par with past workshops that We Make Movies have presented in the past?
We were about to find out.
On the morning of Tuesday February 25, our first group of around 100 Students from Harper Creek High School came to the Kool Family Center. Our Mobile Film Workshop was up and running. The workshop started with an introduction by myself to our audience, welcoming We Make Movies to our community.
Sam then did his presentation, showcasing what students and young adults have created in their past workshops, and the benefits of mobile filmmaking. His theme of “Having Hollywood in Battle Creek” resonated with the audience because they could start to see ways they could create their stories with mobile devices.
Sam then finished his part of his presentation with a Final Cut Pro demonstration, showing how one can quickly put together their footage, either on a desktop or laptop Mac, to create a story.
Next up was Aubrey who discussed all of the different gear and apps, including Filmic Pro, that are available for mobile filmmaking. I heard and observed a lot of “ah ha” moments from students as she demonstrated the gear and apps hands-on.
Aubrey definitely needs to record some Filmic Pro tutorials, as her demonstrations were very informative and easy to follow. I definitely learned a few new tricks from her presentation. (She has you can check them out here! - Editor)
My presentation on the the LumaFusion app was last. Using footage I had shot on my iPad Pro earlier, I walked the audience through the process of how quickly they can create your story in the LumaFusion app on their iOS device. I demonstrated how simple it was to bring in footage, add titles and music, then finalizing and playing the finished movie. The students were amazed with how fast and efficient the process is.
While the presentations were informative and entertaining, the real excitement for the students was when we let the them literally go “behind the curtain” and try out all the gear and apps that were discussed in the earlier presentations.
We had three stations set up and broke the students into three large groups, with a timed rotation through each station. The goal was for each student to get some hands-on time with all the gear, and get them thinking what stories they could create and tell with access to these apps and devices.
At Station One the students were able to try out the iPhones in mobile phone holders. The iPhones were hooked up to a variety of accessories such as lighting, mics and gimbals. The students were shown how to record video in the Filmic Pro app.
Station Two was equipped with MacBook Pros running Final Cut Pro X. At this station students were able to edit shows together with clips Sam had pre-loaded in the library.
IPad Pros with the the Lumafusion app loaded were at Station Three. Students were able to shoot video footage and then start their editing process, all on one device.
Looking around you could see and feel the excitement of the students as they experimented with all the gadgets. The only real instructions we gave them was to go and have fun. Some students immediately began creating their own short movies on the iPhone, while others experimented with different settings in Final Cut Pro. The third group of students interviewed their friends on the iPads, then started adding graphics and music from the Lumafusion app to complete their short film.
Once all the hands-on sessions were over we reconvened as a large group. We asked the students how their experience was, receiving a resounding positive response. After the first school left we had some downtime to reset and get ready for the next class.
We repeated this process once more on Monday with Battle Creek Central. After the last of the students left for the afternoon, we discussed how we felt the day went, then packed up and started planning for the next day.
The second day started with a morning trip to Lakeview High School, in the in the middle of a nice snow storm because, after all, this is Michigan. This session was more the size of what Sam and Aubrey were use to, around 30 students in a classroom, but the time was still the same as the previous day’s sessions with only 3.5 hours of time with the students.
We did our same presentations, and then gave the students hands-on time with the gear and equipment. After that session was finished we packed up and headed back to downtown Battle Creek to set up our last presentation with Pennfield, which had around 100 students.
There are two details that I need to mention. Both days, after the second school session were over, we had impromptu mobile filmmaking sessions with middle schoolers and a couple parents from the 2019 Film Camp hosted at Lakeview High School in August 2019.
On the second day, the teachers from BC Central came back in the afternoon to get some one-on-one training on the equipment and workflows the students would use. We got to observe people of all ages and skill levels learn how to work the gear and make their own mobile short films.
After the second day was over, when we had finished packing every piece of tech, gear and equipment used during the workshop, Sam and Aubrey looked over to me and smiled.
“We just finished our biggest classes to date!”
We had just completed two days of workshops with over 300 students total. The presentations were a unique experience that was on par with the quality that We Make Movie Mobile Film Workshops are known for. We had surpassed our expectations.
For the third day, which happened to be a snow day for the teachers and students at all four schools, we met up for dinner to discuss our thoughts from the two-day event and what would be our immediate and future goals for the Film Festival.
When we were finished we had a roadmap through the 2020 Film Festival event, which would be the start of creating a digital arts community, and beyond, Our long-range plan would see us expanding and growing our digital arts community, in part by collaborating with companies and school districts outside our area. We were ready to usher in a new and future generation of mobile film makers and digital artists, providing them with the platforms to tell their stories and be heard.
It was now time for me to put our immediate plan into motion.
Over the next two weeks I went to Pennfield and Harper Creek High School for “Mentor Day.” Mentor Day was to help students in various phases of their projects, and to answer questions they had regarding the process and their projects.
Emails with BC Central and Lakeview were also exchanged discussing Mentor Days for their classes. Harper Creek and Pennfield also were booking additional Mentor Days for March. The Community Foundation ordered additional mobile film gear for the schools to use. I was excited that all the pieces were coming together.
April would be the month that the projects would be finished and each school would have their own Mini-Film Festival. The four schools, each in their own way, would celebrate the completion of this long journey, with booths displaying their art work and written stores, and screening their short films in front of their schools.
May would be the culmination of this year-long process, as the top five short films from each school would be showcased at the Third Annual Believe in Battle Creek Film Festival on May 6, 2020, at JC Cinema.
These events are what I look forward to the most. To watch the pride on the students’ faces as they step onto the world stage to shine a light on causes and beliefs that these future citizens and leaders in our community believe in; to help them realize that they can make a difference through their short films, arts and stories; to be part of the process that helped create a future generation of mobile film makers and digital artists that were ready to stand up and be noticed are the reasons I agreed to be the Project Coordinator of the Believe In Battle Creek Short Film Festival.
Then Covid-19 hit.
And everything changed.
Schools were closed, stay at Home orders were issued, social distancing was implemented, businesses were either shut down to the public or opened with restrictions, remote classes were being figured out. A lot of events were pushed back and eventually cancelled.
Including the Believe In Battle Creek Short Film Festival for 2020.
When the Festival was cancelled, I took it extremely hard. Personally, I felt like I had let all of the students down.
Everyone who was involved and participating this year felt that we were making a huge difference in our community. For me, knowing that the students would not have their celebratory moments at the Film Festival was the most crushing feeling I felt.
What I had to do was not dwell on what was lost, but what we had accomplished in relation to our plans this year.
We had our first ever community/school district wide Mobile Film Workshop. We were able to show over 300 people the power of mobile filmmaking and what can be achieved with the “device in their pocket.” We can scale the experience to accommodate a group of 20 for three weeks in a classroom to a group of 100 in an auditorium for 3.5 hours. We can bring together students from four different school districts to a central location and show them how they can create and tell their unique stories.
The goals and plans that we discussed for creating a digital arts community aren’t cancelled, just merely delayed while we figure out new ways to reach and engage the students and digital story tellers. Already opportunities and new and unique workflows are being discussed and utilized.
Having Sam and Aubrey from We Make Movies here in Battle Creek this past February, presenting to their largest groups to date, was an amazing experience. This event exceeded my highest expectations. Sam and Aubrey truly are pioneers and pillars of the mobile filmmaking community. I look forward to collaborating with them on future projects, including bringing them back to Battle Creek to teach another group of 300 digital storytellers for the 2021 Believe in Battle Creek Film Festival.
Who knows, maybe in 2021 it will be teaching over 600 students over a period of four days virtually on Zoom!
The above was my story about the experience of bringing my communities together to create something that has a longing impact.
Then the events of May 25 happened, and our nation has been turned upside down.
I have read, watched, discussed with people and myself about the events that ended with George Floyd tragically losing his life at the knee of a police officer.
This event has triggered a nationwide protest. People are speaking out. They are tired of not having a voice, not being seen or heard, being dismissed, feeling less than human. They want change; they need change; they deserve change. The system is broken; it needs to be rebuilt. Everyone has a voice that needs to be heard; Everyone has a story that needs to be told.
How can I help facilitate change? How can I help people find their voice and tell their stories. How can I help people be heard?
How can I? Well, I already know the answer.
The long term goal of The Film Festival is to create a digital arts community as well as a new generation of digital story tellers. That long term idea is now my goal, period.
The blueprint created from our mobile film workshop can be scaled to groups of all sizes. I can use my knowledge and experience with technology and mobile filmmaking to show everyone how to create and tell their stories.
I can use my knowledge in television and video producing to create platforms where people who have a voice now will have a forum to have their voices heard.
I can use my experience from bringing my Final Cut and film festival communities together to empower the people who need to tell their stories to the people who need to listen to these stories, to create a dialogue between them that creates change and unites their communities.
I can and will be part of the process that moves people forward and together.
I will be part of the solution, I will collaborate with and create opportunities that facilitate discussion and change in Battle Creek, then onto other communities. I will continuously learn, and everyday use what I have learned to be a part of empowering our future generation of citizens and leaders. I will commit to these tasks to make sure that one day we live on a planet where all people are seen, heard, and treated as equals, which begins with giving everyone a way to have their voice heard.
I am also looking forward to reconnecting with my BC Film Festival Community, the partners, the students and everyone involved with this great event and cause. We will figure out new ways to continue empowering these students to use the tools in their pockets to create their short films and stories.
Most of all I look forward to seeing how I can continue to expand my bubble, to continuously think and venture out of it, to bring people from my different communities together, to continue creating new projects to collaborate with various people. This stems from teaching mobile film making to a new generation of digital story tellers, and celebrating their triumphs together.
My digital story has truly just begun.
Tom Morris is the Playback and Facility Coordinator at AccessVision. A Public Access Television/Community Media Center in Battle Creek, MI.
The past four few years Tom has collaborated with Battle Creek area schools and students in a variety of video related projects: Westlake/Channel 56 News in the Lakeview School District, The Believe in Battle Creek Short Film Festival, various projects with teachers of broadcast and digital video programs, as well as helping out Volunteer Producers at AccessVision with finding faster and more efficient workflows to create their shows and tell their stories.
Tom is Final Cut Pro X User, Community Member and Mobile Film Creator Enthusiast.