High School Directors Learn the Basics of Filmmaking

By Jason Earle – 12th Grade, North Allegheny Senior High School

Susan Howard, the Youth Media Director at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, describes filmmaking as a “rich and complex process,” but she claims her campers’ work at the Director’s Workshop at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is “on par” with that of the college students she has taught.  Through her instruction at the workshop, high school students obtain the fundamental skills of filmmaking while gaining an idea of what the work of a director entails.

All of the students have an interest in filmmaking, and most are involved in TV or film clubs in their respective high schools.  However, the Director’s Workshop provides them with the opportunity to direct their own videos using modern, efficient video technology, something that is seldom available at the high school level.  The students also learn about each role in a crew, behind and in front of the cameras.

Students finish editing their initial projects.

Students finish editing their initial projects

On Monday, July 27th, the students were preparing their initial projects, titled the “Man in the Room” video.  For this assignment, they were given 40 minutes to complete their filming for a one-minute video of someone performing a particular action in a room.  Before going out and capturing footage, each student made an individual storyboard, sketching and organizing each shot necessary for their videos.  As each student had the ability to direct and produce their own short film, they used their peers as the “crew” to fill other necessary roles.

When I visited on Wednesday, July 29th, the students finished up this initial project and proceeded to scout new scene locations for their next assignment: a multiple person dialogue.  As the students searched for unique areas to shoot, Susan described how many movies and television shows deceive audiences by showing a shot of the outside of a home or building, and then displaying what the audience believes to be the inside of that building.  In reality, the interior scene is shot in a completely different location.  One example she referenced was the home in the popular film, Napoleon Dynamite, where two different locations are portrayed as one.  As the students’ solo projects served as an introduction to the basics of filmmaking, the dialogue allows for the use of complex, advanced effects.  Furthermore, the young directors had the opportunity to work with the actors from another camp at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, allowing all of the campers to share their talents with each other.


The young directors scout locations for their dialogue project.

Another effective way for young directors to learn how to produce a good video is by viewing movies and analyzing professional work.  Students often watch these movies without volume to notice visual aspects that they wouldn’t catch when distracted by noise.  They expressed that the symbolism in certain clips is far too difficult to identify while watching normally.  Noting the techniques utilized in famous productions has allowed the students to employ newly discovered tactics in their own work.

Students jot down and post their movie notes, keeping them in mind during the production of their own work.

Students jot down and post their movie notes, keeping them in mind during the production of their own work.

Although Susan is aware that one week is not nearly enough time to teach the students everything there is to know about directing, she is confident she has given them the fundamental skills to produce work of their own.  She hopes that this truncated version of a college level course can assist them in their filmmaking endeavors.  Similarly, the students are thrilled to gain such valuable experience in directing at such a young age and will carry their knowledge with them in the future.



Jason Earle 1

Jason Earle will be a 12th grade student at North Allegheny High School this fall. He lives in McCandless where he plays soccer and basketball while pursuing various musical endeavors. Jason also participates in North Allegheny’s cable television station, NATV.


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