Caught on tape

Making movies helps students help others

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To prepare students for the real-world business situations they eventually will encounter, William and his fellow students learn by doing through a unique film project. Moments of authentic learning include sitting in meetings and trying to mesh divergent business objectives, and balancing creative ideas within tight time constraints. When it all comes together, our "client"–United Way–walks away with a sound, effective product, and our creative partner–Riddle Films–has given students a stronger grasp of how it all works.  

Going into the community and actually helping people is great. In my third year working on the project, I got to be team leader. I led the sessions, was a lot more involved with the agencies, learned how to make a film and do editing and sound." —William Fujarczuk, Appleby College student

As a service opportunity, the film project brings important stories to life and helps United Way of Oakville with its many employee and community fundraising initiatives. As an experiential opportunity, it helps students gain valuable film production/post-production and business industry skills as writer, sound-and-camera person, editor and producer; students also develop skills in collaborating with peers, project supervisors and clients. As a creative experience, it is all-encompassing with strong impact on everyone involved.

Telling the story ... creatively

The students work one-on-one with agency directors and their clients, many from disadvantaged homes, all struggling to overcome obstacles. Finding a way for the films to tell these private stories while meeting corporate goals and professional artistic standards is the creative challenge our students face. Susan Dobson, faculty leader of the project, tells students "it's all about knowing your subject and your audience."

"The students work with the heads of the United Way agencies, actively listening to the vision of what the film needs to be. Afterward, the students script interview questions that aim to get the answers that will match the agency's message, and then the interviewing process begins." Even finding out who will be willing to be on camera can be a challenge.

The process quickly moves from scriptwriting to interviewing on camera, and then outdoor shoots round out the pieces; from the first meeting to the final presentation of the films, it takes a mere nine weeks. Andy Jelinek, Appleby's director of service, feels the process demands and sets up an environment of creativity and professionalism for the students. "They have to listen to the vision of the United Way agency, but also be sensitive enough to ask the film's 'stars' good questions," she notes. "Often, we are speaking with people who are sharing their life story, and they have to feel comfortable telling this to a 'kid.'"

"It's exciting to see the final product, especially when you know the creativity that's involved with taking an idea or concept, and then working together to make a cohesive piece that combines visual, audio, text and story," Dobson says. "At the same time, students are learning all the skills from the business world, including telephone etiquette, the protocol of the film profession and ample problem solving along the way." Collaboration is a key component as well, since the groups of four students need to agree on everything from doing animation and colour correction to finding appropriate music and archival shots.

Remembering the purpose

At the heart of the films is the United Way's very real need for fundraising. With this in mind, the United Way Film Project students need to ensure the featured agencies are shown as worthy of support, and as providing a service to the community that is desperately needed. The films are shown at the United Way of Oakville's annual general meeting, and CEO Barbara Burton notes that they "have been an essential campaign tool." Andy Jelinek adds: "Because the films have a unique student perspective, they have a depth that the agencies can't achieve. We find that when adults realize how important it is to the students, this furthers their incentive to give."

Of significance, too, is the focus this creative endeavour brings to areas that are least understood or talked about in this affluent region. Appleby student Caroline Murdoch found the experience especially eye-opening. "I didn't have any idea that these programs existed, and the film project let us see exactly how the organizations run and whom they help. I take it for granted that I can read, but it's so hard to actually go through a day without being able to read. It was really inspiring to see the (Oakville Literacy Council) clients take the initiative to change their lives so drastically by learning to read."

While helping to meet a community need, the now-four-year-old United Way Film Project has become an important program of creative opportunity, expression and insight for our students.

—Anita Griffths
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