The students who travelled to STN were all more than ready for the competition. Our anchor team failed miserably their first practice back in January, taking nearly double the allotted time to complete something that wouldn’t have even been considered close to competitive. Through rigorous practice, they were able to submit their last practice entry nearly 30 minutes before the deadline. However, when it came to the actual competition, the team just barely made the time limit with 2 minutes to spare. It is hard to prepare students for the immense pressure that STN bears down on students. Only after experiencing the jetlag, travel time, presence of 3,000 other skilled students, and the demanding schedule do students realize what they’re in for. Despite this, from the beginning, Camden and Cherish looked to have their competition in the bag, scoring a solid location nearly 40 minutes before the other teams started to appear in the garden courtyard. Camden wrote a compelling script in less than half an hour based off of the news wire he was provided by STN. Cherish had set up a beautiful shot with a crisp blurred background and had properly setup the complex microphone equipment in the time it took Camden to finish programming his script into our makeshift teleprompter. They looked solid, and this is what they had practiced for. With nearly 2 hours left in the competition I had left them to avoid becoming involved in their work (this is against the rules of the competition and students tend to rely on my input whenever I’m around). As I had stepped away, my impression of their progress was overwhelmingly positive. An hour later and Ms. Kamalani reports that they’re having difficulties locking down a solid read through of their script. Under pressure, their teamwork began to buckle, which lead to a series of simple mistakes and some inefficient use of their time. With less than 30 minutes left until their submission was due to the assignment desk, they scrambled to edit together their audio and visual tracks. Forgetting they had moved their original camera shot and not cropped the image to make up for this change in framing, this small mistake could have easily been fixed in less than 20 seconds but was overlooked in their panic. They had also forgotten their 60-second time limit and instead produced a 75-second report. They turned in their submission with 2 minutes to spare, but these two mistakes would cost them gravely. The team that would win this category did not look or sound much better than our anchor team, but they had the proper frame, a great read through of their phenomenal script, and were timed perfectly at 60 seconds. The positive take away from this group is that they completed their entry on time. While it may not seem like much, two 7th grade students with no previous STN experience and less than a full year of video production training were able to complete their entry on time and to a respectable competitive quality.
Unlike the anchor team, our movie trailer team had always produced decent to good practice entries beginning in January. Their challenge would be much different in the sense that they all had the skills and training to produce a movie trailer from the beginning, but had struggled to excel beyond the creative plateau they were facing since their very first practice entry. As I had reported to you in a previous letter this group’s first entry lacked an audio track, which was beneath their skill level. Although they created a visually adept video, they chose to avoid a difficult task (audio track) in favor of completing their entry. In their second practice video, they added an audio track but lacked a solid story, instead filling much of their 1-minute time limit with filler shots. In their last practice entry they finished nearly 90 minutes before their deadline. While they may have taken it as a good sign, it really was a questionable decision as their video lacked polish, which could have been fleshed out had they used a majority of the 90 minutes they had left. It was unfortunate that despite talking about this in class, the group would make the same mistake at STN by turning in their video nearly 60 minutes before it was due. The video very clearly lacked polish, which could have been solved had they used the time they were given. Their audio wasn’t cleaned up, their video had a bunch of filler shots of their talent running through a garden, their story lacked any conflict, and they had gone with the most common idea of using flowers to fit the prompt of “in bloom,” despite being warned about the dangers in going with their first idea (this is a tenant of the creative process we discuss in class quite often).
What the Movie Trailer group had accomplished were solid graphics, believable acting, well-composed visuals (that only lacked depth in storytelling but showed great thought and technical aptitude), and good special effects. However, it was disappointing to see the group with so much talent be able to throw it away by taking the easy route. Instead of questioning each other, the group fell in line of one person, allowing them to control the creative flow of the group. Instead of following the normal procedure of creating a shot list, they stopped after making a general storyline. Instead of adding in conflict to deepen their story, they chose to add a variety of beautiful but shallow visual shots of their talent running through a garden. Instead of sharing their ideas and carrying the burden of production, they made one person the director, talent, and editor – roles that are normally kept separate as a sort of checks and balances in the creative process). Each of these shortcomings was addressed in some shape or form during our practices or throughout our normal productions as they’re amateur mistakes that often get corrected in our normal critiquing procedures.
While I hope this letter sheds light on the outcome of our trip and provides discussion points with your child concerning video production and the STN trip, I cannot say I am without blame as to their failure. As their teacher I must admit that despite putting in the time to get them prepared, I had not properly prepared them for the immense pressure of STN. It is very different to be told how stressful STN can be, and then actually experiencing it first hand. Our practices attempted to simulate the experience, but for many of the students the scale is just not the same. Additionally, from what I have seen, I have failed them in preparing them to think on their own. In class I normally will tell students what they need to fix (or have other students tell them during our critiques), but the practice of fixing things after a video is submitted doesn’t help them in analyzing what is wrong with their video while they are in the midst of producing it. This nuance in thinking about their video became obvious to me on this trip, as they were only able to see their mistakes once they had submitted their videos and reflected on it. Another practice I need to instill within my students is the ability to effectively question each other and to communicate with one another. The students follow a hierarchy of roles within their production groups, which has resulted in them relying so much on their roles, and so little on the communication that is needed to be an effective team.
While I believe that the greatest teacher is failure, I sincerely hope that the students on this trip will take their consolation prize of the lessons that can be learned from this experience and apply it to their future endeavors both within video production and outside of it. It is a humbling experience to lose to schools we have beaten in the past and to return to our school empty handed. While winning isn’t everything, it is what we ultimately came to STN to do. And while the results of our trip is not the outcome I had envisioned with the talented group I had brought up, it is now our reality and something I hope you will help your child work through. I plan to retool my teaching techniques for next school year, begin planning and practicing earlier for STN, and will be looking to lead the effort in learning from my shortcomings.