Guest post by Lisa Bigelow, Youth Services Librarian at Wilmette Public Library
The first year of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, I was charmed by the creative, eclectic, and often hilarious entries. The following year, I thought, “We must do this at our library.” My coworker Janet agreed.
Almost immediately, we began planning for Year Three. Starting early was essential. Summer seemed the likeliest bet for attracting a critical mass of kids, and we needed to get it on the calendar. Also, we’d never executed a project of this nature or scope. We needed time to talk.
Ideally, the kids would have executed every step of the process, from pre- to post-production. Realistically, with limited time and resources, Janet and I had to decide some parameters ahead of time and do some of the work ourselves. In the end, this is what we came up with—and we think it was an experience we can be proud of!
Choosing a filmmaking method
Neither Janet nor I had much live action experience. We also foresaw continuity problems if our actors were unable to attend every session. Additional concerns included set design, permission slips if we needed to leave the building, script memorization, and sound engineering.
On the other hand, we’d previously held popular stop motion animation workshops with 5th through 8th graders. Kids used point-and-shoot cameras to capture still images of sets and action figures, then uploaded them to laptops to edit them into a continuous piece. We decided for our first year we’d focus on those skills rather than making a foray into a new medium.
Planning our calendar
Our stop motion workshops typically last two hours, but this time the kids would need much more time to create characters, scenery, storyboards, and script. An all-day workshop didn’t seem practical, but since it’s hard for kids to commit to multiple sessions, we didn’t want to stretch things out too much. We settled on three weekly two-hour sessions and hoped for the best.
Choosing the book ahead of time allowed us to prepare more thoroughly. It also allowed us to provide a copy to each kid at sign-up. We chose Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, because it had previously been on some of the schools’ reading lists. We hoped some kids would already be familiar with the story.
Identifying key scenes
In our stop motion workshops, we’ve found teams of three to four kids to be optimal. Opening the 90-Second Newbery program to more kids and covering the entire book meant breaking the story into segments for different teams to cover. Janet and I reread the book and chose half a dozen key scenes for the different teams to cover.
We decided the kids would draw their characters rather than building them out of clay or other materials. Because multiple teams would be filming at the same time, we needed multiple copies of the characters. We decided the most efficient option was for the kids to create puppets that we could duplicate. We found a puppet template with articulated arms and legs.
Week One (2 hours): Introduction and character creation
We introduced the kids to 90-Second Newbery and stop motion animation with some sample films. We discussed the plot of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and our approach to the story. Each kid created a puppet for a different character.
Follow-up: We scanned, duplicated, laminated, and assembled the puppets. We used matte laminate to eliminate glare and small, colored fasteners (found in the scrapbook aisle of the craft store) to attach the limbs.
Week Two (2 hours): Storyboards and scenery
The kids formed teams. They storyboarded their scenes in comic book format, incorporating the script as speech balloons. They created scenery and props. We discussed what kind of music to use for the soundtrack and whether to record voice-overs or use silent movie placards for the dialogue. They voted on voice-overs.
Follow-up: Janet and I searched the Internet for royalty-free music choices. Jamendo.com turned out to be a particularly useful site. We created a unified script using dialogue mined from the storyboards.
Week Three A (0.5 hours): Voice-over recording
We were feeling crunched for time, so we invited everyone to an optional recording session half an hour prior to our final session. We recorded the voice-overs with a handheld mp3 recorder.
The kids voted on their favorite soundtrack music of the songs Janet and I had screened. They filmed their scenes at stations set up around the room. Each station had a felt backdrop hung on the wall, a tripod, and a point-and-shoot camera. The kids taped their characters and scenery to the backdrop and moved them as necessary between shots.
Importing the images
In our usual stop motion workshops, kids edit their own films in Windows Movie Maker, but this time we wanted the greater power and flexibility of iMovie. Janet and I imported the still images from the cameras into iMovie, working scene by scene.
Voice-over and sound effects
We edited the voice-over clips and added them to the scenes, adjusting the timing of the image transitions as needed. We found royalty-free sound effects in the iTunes library and online, taking our cues from the kids’ storyboards and the movie itself.
Assembling the film
We imported the individual scenes—which now included both image and sound—into a new project. We added transitions between the scenes, credits, and the music soundtrack.
Uploading the film
We uploaded the movie to YouTube, added closed captioning, and notified the kids’ families—while the movie was set to private/invitation only. After their approval, we made the movie public, posted it to our library’s Facebook account, and notified James Kennedy and the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival.
We were so excited when our film was featured at multiple screenings this winter! If you missed it, you can see it on the small screen here.