It's that magical time of year where we enter festival season. An opportunity for you filmmakers to push yourselves creatively, technically, and efficiently, further than you have in your careers thus far. Television Production 2 classes begin the New Jersey High School Film Challenge, otherwise known around the media cave as "5-Day." Five days to write, shoot, produce, and edit a 3 minute short film competing with other high schools across the state. The event culminates with a day full of workshops run by industry professionals, a surprise screening, and the opportunity to make connections to several surrounding schools and production houses. The opportunities are amazing, and just being able to be around peers who share the same passion as you is a great feeling. Oh, and there is pizza too. Quite a lot of pizza...
Let me take a second to bring up to speed some things regarding the challenge this year. The event is held at Jackson Liberty High School, which has a fantastic media production curriculum and department. It's quite impressive. Since selection is limited it was decided that only the best film in each class will be invited on the trip. All submissions will be voted on by myself, Mr. Sherman, and Mrs. Harak. There is also ONE wildcard winner that will be voted on, and can come from any of the TV 2 classes.
Prompt: There will be a prompt issued on the first day of the challenge containing required elements to your film. Last year they were, FILM TITLE, CHARACTER NAME, and PROP. The character name must be spoken at some point in the film, and the prop had to be both seen in a medium shot and close up. The prop did NOT have to be a crucial element to the plot.
Time: The duration has been changed from 4 minutes, to 3 minutes. Films can run over 3 minutes, but will be penalized when it comes to screening and awards.
Acting: Anyone can act in your film. If you are a group of five, you don't necessarily have to be in the film at all. Parents, teachers, siblings, etc. can be in your film.
Music: All music in the final edit, must have rights cleared. Meaning, unless you made it, performed it, or paid for it, you do not have permission to use it.
Content: I will quote this from the official rules so there is no discrepancy from what I say vs. what they say.
"Your film should not be gratuitously or explicitly violent, obscene, or sexual. Likewise, entries should avoid students involved in risky, questionable, or illegal activities without also exploring the outcomes, ramifications, or consequences of those activities. School’s should follow their own policies in regards to acceptable content when applicable."
Credits: Credits are a mandatory part of your film, and must include the director or directors names. Credits count towards your total run time.
Submitting/Uploading: Must be submitted by the final day at 4PM. Failure to submit on time means disqualification from the challenge.
Given the high pressure that surrounds filmmaking I'd like to offer my sage advice that could help along the way. We have quite the time conundrum this year as the switch to block means I only see some of you twice this week. Also with PARCC It may effect who is in the classroom at any given time. That being said, here are some things you can do to prepare yourself. First, identify your groups before class starts. You know who you work well with, and who gets you going creatively. Find them, and bunker down together. Two, utilize google docs/drive. Even though we are in the midst of covering screenwriting, don't slow yourself down with formatting or using time to get comfortable with the new writing software. We will continue that after 5-Day. Google drive allows you to continue working outside of class, and share things with group mates. Got the creative itch in the middle of the night, pop on and make some updates to your story. You can share it instantly.
Speaking of story. Start thinking NOW! Yes we don't know what the prompt will be, but if you have a few threads of an idea you can try and shape the prompt around it. The last thing you want to do is use too much time coming up with your idea. The biggest part of the challenge is time, and we don't have a lot of it. You should have a story idea quickly, and get started on shooting as soon as possible. Pre-production materials are up to you. I'll say it thousand times and stick by it until I die, but storyboards help. If you do them correctly, then your film is practically finished before you even start shooting. Factor this into your pre-production time. As far as content, I know some films last year really pushed the boundaries a little bit as far as to what is "appropriate" or not. We can flex a little bit, but still need to adhere to the festival and school rules.
Use class time effectively. If you are shooting your entire film outside of school, then you should not waste a freaking second of class time. Story, tweaking dialogue, storyboards, gathering props, rehearsals, mock shoots, blocking. Anything that can be done to help you should be done. Sitting around doing nothing WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.
Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. If you don't feel you have complete mastery over the DSLR, then don't use one. If you are not checking exposure, white balancing, and focusing for EVERY. SINGLE. SHOT...then don't use it. This is not a matter of pride or shame, but about making sure you can work efficiently. I may have a small handful of microphones to give out as well. This could help with audio quality.
The best mentality I can say to have is to not view this as a 5-Day film challenge, but as a 120 hour challenge. It will exhaust you, but try and utilize every moment you can. Obviously, this is a balance between your other classwork and personal life. My take? Make it personal. I know that sounds silly, but if you make it a personal challenge as well as a graded school project then you won't notice the time until it's up. We have spring break right around the corner, and we are working on scripts in class until then. If you need to burn the candle at both ends for a week, now is the time to do it.
It'll be a long week for all of us, and hopefully you find the experience and challenge worth while. I know it's a lot to go through, but in the end you'll discover the effort has given you a project you can be proud of. And hey, maybe win some awards along the way. If not, no sweat. It's all about the journey and experience. Also, "10-Day" is right around the corner ;)
It's Mr. Leonard. Teacher, Videomaker, Professional Goofball