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The making of THE TEST

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The film was awarded 4-stars and Best Entry in the Under-16 Category at BIAFF 2013 and was selected to represent Britain in the programme for UNICA 2013. It was one of several BIAFF entries from the school.

Still from 'The Test'.Located on the outskirts of Sheffield in an area called Kiveton Park, Wales High School has established a reputation for producing fantastic young film-makers. This was evident at the recent BIAFF, when the school picked up two awards, including Best Entry in the Under 16 Age Category for their film The Test.

The Test was produced by the school’s film and animation club which was established in 2011. It takes place every Tuesday after school and is run by media technician Liam Sanderson. We asked him to tell us more ...

The club started out as an opportunity for the younger students to make their own films, and they began by producing stop-motion animations using the excellent free software AnimatorDV.

Still from 'The Test'.But they soon got bored with animating plasticine models and asked if they could make their own live action films outside the classroom. The first few attempts mainly involved lots of running down school corridors with a camera and play fighting in classrooms.

I felt it was important not to instruct the students or bore them with the techniques of film-making. I wanted them to have fun and learn from their own mistakes. But I also wanted them to produce a final product.

I came up with a few ideas that allowed them to have fun, but produced a film with a beginning, a middle and an end.

The Switch

The first film made by the film and animation club was The Switch.

I gave the students a simple concept – a spin on the traditional spy/espionage thriller. The film would essentially be a series of hand-offs between the students involving a mysterious briefcase.

Then I gave them free reign on how to do the hand-offs… two people walking towards each in a corridor, swapping the briefcase in an elevator etc. And then we all came up with different ideas for where the briefcase should end up and what should be inside.

We finally all agreed that the funniest idea was to the have the briefcase’s final destination as a school toilet and the contents of the briefcase should be a toilet roll –  delivered to a waiting student.

We shot the film really quickly during just one of our after-school club sessions. We used a Canon HV40 camera shooting in HDV with a Rode VideoMicPro for sound. Each student took turns filming each set-up, although I was constantly looking over their shoulders to make sure each shot was framed well.

The editing process was also incredibly quick. We used Adobe Premiere CS5.5 and I decided to give the students their first editing workshop. I manned the controls while they watched what I did. Every shot had been pre-planned so the editing process was simply a case of choosing the best takes - which we did democratically. Since this project even the youngest students have become very adept at using this software.
Still from 'The Switch'.
Still from 'The Switch'.
Still from 'The Switch'.
Still from 'The Switch'.

I have since recommended this film concept to other teachers and people working in schools as a great starting project for young film-makers. Using the strict concept of a series of hand-offs, the children’s imaginations can fill in the gaps and decide what is inside the briefcase, letting that dictate the ending. For example, a bomb is taken to the headteacher’s office… the film cuts to black and ends with a bang. It’s a really effective way of creating a simple and engaging short film.

The Switch went on to screen at a number of children and young people’s film festivals and there has been much talk among students about a possible a sequel.

The Test

Still from 'The Test'.
Still from 'The Test'.
Still from 'The Test'.
Still from 'The Test'.

Rather than making a film featuring another series of hand-offs, I encouraged the students to make something that showed them once again working together towards a shared goal, and this ultimately led to The Test.

Again I gave them a simple story concept with a beginning, middle and end. It was to be a heist film. A group of students would team together to cheat at a maths test. I then left it to the students to fill in the gaps… and that’s where it got complicated.

The problem was, everybody wanted a part in the film. So we had to adapt the idea and come up with a way creating parts for everybody whilst maintaining a simple structure.

Children’s imaginations can be frighteningly brilliant and if you can control their ideas within a tight structure, the results can be truly amazing. The script became much more ambitious, with fantastic new characters and a richer, more complex storyline. Now we just had to make it.

The Test was entirely filmed by two members of the club who didn’t want to act in the film. Everything was shot with two Canon HV40s. Camera One would shoot a wide shot and Camera Two would shoot a close-up of the same action. Everything was lit with two softbox lighting units.

Time was limited and as there were two students who wanted to operate the camera, the easiest approach was to shoot two cameras simultaneously. This also meant we didn’t have to do repeat takes with the actors who, once the glamour of the film-making process had worn off, soon became bored and distracted. The two cameras offered greater coverage of each scene and helped make the scenes more dynamic when we edited them.

The film was shot in small sections over a number of months. And editing was a collective process once again. We finished The Test just before the end of the academic year, but I decided to wait until the following September before premiering it. When the time came it was a great success and we put it on the school website for everybody to enjoy.

The Test went on to screen at the Cheap Thrills Festival in Sheffield, taking the top prize. Festival organiser Martin Currie described it as ‘the best school production he’d ever seen’.

Wales High School film and animation club has since completed a new film called Positive Learning in the Classroom. It’s a tongue-in-cheek information film which explains how fellow students should behave at school. The club plans to enter it into next year’s BIAFF.

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Page updated on 04 June 2013
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