Quiet on the Set: Authentic Learning in an Authentic Environment

This past weekend, I helped a group of young, motivated, and enthusiastic young adults (and this was on a Sunday morning!) move and transport over $50 000 worth of lighting, sound, and camera equipment for a day of shooting (film, not ducks) in the beautiful Slocan Valley of the West Kootenays.

Our school, L.V. Rogers Secondary in beautiful Nelson, BC, is in mid-production of filming the first ever of its kind: a feature length film involving the entire school (students and staff) and members of the local community. The movie has been in production (including pre-production) since September 2010, and filming is scheduled to wrap up in mid-July. A tentative release date has been set for April 2012. And to the unaware Project Turquoise Snowflake (PTS) has been far more of a success than anyone could have ever imagined, including its creator.

PTS writer and director, Robyn Sheppard, is a passionate educator and thespian who has been working on the idea for Project Turquoise Snowflake for over four years. She has successfully melded her love of theatre, film, the environment, and social activism into a project that has even caught the eyes of Vancouver movie equipment company which donated over $220 000 of production equipment. Project Turquoise Snowflake has also received financial backing from generous local philanthropists to help cover the unavoidable costs of production. And, of course, the school and Nelson community are completely onboard.

Aside from the experiential learning process in which all the students are embedded, what is most astounding about the PTS production is the level of professionalism and focus with which the students undertake each component of the production. 

With over 75% of the cast and crew made up of LVR students you’d often expect well…issues of sorts (motivational issues to be more precise). But my preconceived notions were quickly smashed when I arrived on-location Sunday morning. There they were: sixteen young adults, each one of them springing into action setting up props, hauling lighting and sound gear around, getting wardrobe detail ready, and the make-up stations organized (even the student-actors were hauling lights of the truck–no prima donnas here). But the buzz of activity only happened after hugs and good mornings were shared around.

Nearly ten hours later, I returned to the rural farm location to pick-up the gear for trucking back to LVR only to see the crew wrapping up their final shoot of the day. And once again (and I’m sure Lucas, Spielberg, and Lynch would concur) I was a little stunned with what become a characteristic level of professionalism (there’s that word again) displayed by the young crew members.

While waiting for the final scene to be finish, I took a casual walk around the beautiful farm locale expecting to see tired and weary faces. But despite the long hours of working in the sun (and…gasp, without cell phone coverage), and Monday morning classes not more than eight hours away the scene remained…professional. Not one word of negativity. Not one complaint. Not one regret.

Just more darn hugging.

As the sun began to set at 9:00 p.m., here’s some of what I overheard from our students:

“I’ll grab the lamps upstairs.”

“That’s gonna be some good stuff.”

“Can I help you with that?”

“That was a long day, but we got a lot of good footage.”

“Let’s grab the stands and get them by the truck.”

“Hey, Mr. Yaz, how was your day…?”

It should also be noted the last one was asked of me by four different students. Odd as this may sound but the students seemed excited that I was there to witness their efforts. My brief help and simple presence seemed to indicate to them that I acknowledge and support their passion for the project. That I care.

So, I’d like to encourage all of my colleagues on staff to take a half hour out of their busy weekend at some point before filming wraps up next month, and drive out to a shoot location, and…just be. Thirty minutes. That’s all it takes. It truly means a great deal to those young adults.

And you’ll be glad you did.

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