Scott Ramsey, Home Town Documentary (2016)

This was my first year as a Movie Camp instructor and it was an eye opener. We began with the significant challenge of making a short documentary in three days about Main Street in Batesville. This project was a follow-up to a previous documentary done in the camp a few years ago. Our group was composed of nine students from grades 4 through 12. The wide age range of our participants presented some challenges as it was difficult for our young campers to engage the subject matter at the same level as our older students. In addition, it was sometimes challenging for them to be still and quiet while we were conducting interviews. Thankfully, our older students did a great job of exhibiting patience and engaging the younger campers in meaningful ways, allowing them to participate fully in the project.

We began our time with a morning of film basics. We set up our camera in our workroom and discussed framing and composition, lighting and exposure, as well as sound. We were able to experiment and see and hear the effects of our different choices while discussing reasons we might choose different shots or lighting.

As we prepared to start our interviews and begin collecting cover footage, we took a few minutes to watch the previous documentary that we were following up on. We talked about content and style and discussed as a team what style we wanted our final product to have and what sort of content we needed to get to tell that sort of story.

Our group had a couple of older students who had some experience with small film projects and who were able to provide significant leadership for the group as we sorted out our direction. The group discussed potential questions to ask of our interviewees and how our questions would influence the story we would ultimately be able to tell. They came up with a great list of questions and we set off for our first interview.

After just a few hours of training and discussion in the morning the students did a great job of recognizing good and bad places to conduct the first interview. They were aware of potential lighting issues and did a great job of setting up to take advantage of available light sources. We were able to get a great first interview. We spent the rest of the first day and all of the 2nd day collecting cover footage for the shot list we constructed and filming our interviews.

The students took turns operating the camera and sound, and a few of them rotated serving as the interviewer. Our youngest student, a rising 4th grader, took some time to operate the camera and capture some cover video for us. He had learned a lot about framing and was very diligent to consider his whole frame when setting up his shots. It was clear he took the responsibility very seriously. Another of our older students did a great job of manning the marker board and helping the group figure out shot lists and an outline for our film. He was a terrific leader that the other students really responded well to, and who was able to approach the subject matter with a lot of thoughtfulness. One of the older girls in the group is a musician who pushed us for the entire project to visit a small music store on the street. We didn’t have it scheduled and never had time to stop in, but on the final day of the camp she continued to press. I allowed a small group of students to visit the music store and they returned with a great recording of the owner playing a piece of music that served beautifully as a soundtrack for our film. She had a vision and persevered until it came to fruition.

Our final day was spent reviewing footage, selecting soundbites from our interviews, and beginning the process of assembling the film. The students worked in groups reviewing the interviews and making notes of the soundbites that they thought worked best for the film. We outlined the film based on all we had heard and what footage we had been able to capture and started assembling the film.

The students did a great job of working together. They demonstrated tremendous flexibility and determination when things didn’t go as planned and ultimately produced a film that I think they can all be proud of. It was a real privilege to guide them through the process and help them achieve their goals.

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