Movie Stardom: My Son and the Youth Film Festival


Last summer, my then-7-year-old son  (he’s now 8) rounded up a bunch of friends and relatives and produced an 8 minute movie called Robbers on the Loose. The project was inspired by similar movie-making ventures by older kids in the neighborhood, including my older sons. As a production assistant (!) to my young son, I helped with some of the holding-of-the-camera and some of the video editing. But the story, the direction, the props (including our dog) were all of his ideas, and the end result was a goofy sort of cops/robbers story complete with a chase and battle scene. In our city, there is an annual Youth Film Festival that celebrates young filmmakers, and we sent his movie in on a whim.

We learned this week that his film has been accepted (the festival is today) and in the local newspaper yesterday, his name and his movie were featured in the promotional material. Boy, was he excited!

Robbers Loose news item

If you happen to be in Northampton today, from noon to 3, come check out the Northampton Youth Film Festival at the Academy of Music. We’ll be there, popcorn in hand, and maybe a camera of our own to try to capture the sense of his movie on the big screen.

Here is the trailer we had done for it way back in the summer:

Peace (in the moviemaking),


My Son Turns the Camera on the Neighborhood

My eight-year-old son’s summer project was a documentary video about our neighborhood. My wife and I helped a little bit (holding the camera when he did the interviews and I helped with the editing). But all the ideas of what to shoot and where to shoot, and what to ask, were all generated from his curiosity about the place where he lives. His project has me wondering how to get my students to do more of this.

Peace (in the ‘hood),


Digital Writing Month: A Hyperlinked Video Poem

As part of Digital Writing Month, I am refashioning an old multimedia poem piece using the YouTube annotation feature. With that tool, you can embed links in a video to other videos — in this case, all of the poems as videos are connected together in one larger project.  I’m not sure if this just gets too confusing to experience.

Peace (in the video poem),

Video Talent: My Son and Friends Take First Prize

My older son has really become a whiz with shooting and editing video. He does it for school projects; he works on short movies with his friends; and he does it to enter contests to gain recognition and cash. While I can take some credit for getting him behind the camera at an early age with our stopmotion movie adventures, he is at the age where I barely know what he is up to. (so far, so good, though).

Last night, he and three friends won first prize in a local contest to celebrate our city’s bike/rail trail. They shot and edited and submitted two videos — one with interviews of folks riding the trail on a summer day and the other is a tongue-in-cheek video about “what you can do on the rail trail.” That one ends with a friend playing dead. Turns out, that is the one that won first place (so at least the rail trail folks have a good sense of humor).

The boys will get a nice cash prize, which I assumed they would split up, but they have already decided to re-invest the money into the “full length” feature they are working on. The script has been in the works for about a month, and they are using Google Docs to write collaboratively. The cash will be used for props for the movie (not sure of the plot, but there was some talk of how they could stage a scene in a nightclub … hmmm). Look out, Hollywood!

Peace (in the vid),


Summer of Video: The Bike Trail Project

The other day, I shared out what my youngest son has been up to with a flip video camera, but really, he has been mostly inspired by his 14 year old brother, who has developed a real gift and feel for video. This stretches way back to when I taught him about stopmotion. (see his old website where he posted a bunch of his movies)
This summer, I saw a contest through a local group that promotes our rail trail/bike path, and I suggested that he create a video and enter (and maybe win some prize money). He got together with a bunch of friends, and they created two videos. The first one is slightly funny (or hilarious, depending on your age) and the second one is more serious, with interviews of folks on the trail.
My son did all the editing in iMovie, which I never taught him. I like how he is seeing the editing process as composition (notice the slow-down effects, the moving between interviewees, and angles.) Both videos came out great, particularly when you consider that no adult had anything to do with the planning, shooting and editing.
The Fun One:

And The Serious One:

Peace (on the rail),


A Summer of Video, part one

This summer, my wife and I decided to buy a couple of cheap video cameras for our boys, and let them get creative with the devices. My older son has a real talent for video and our younger son is getting there, although mostly he likes to perform in front of a camera on a tripod. I’ll share out some videos of my older son tomorrow, but look at this one from my youngest. What I like about it is that he actually took an idea from his brother (using video to create “magic”) and vamped on it himself.

Right now, I am helping my youngest son to complete a documentary movie (of sorts) about our neighborhood. He has been interviewing neighbors and family about life here in our neck of the woods. I am helping him with the editing, since using iMovie is still a bit tricky for him.
Peace (in the vid),

Remembering the Collaborative ABC Movie Project

These videos were in my Google Video archives as part of our Collaborative ABC Movie Project from a few years ago, as my friend Bonnie and I sought to explore digital storytelling with a bunch of other connected friends. The other videos are scattered about in other people’s collections or hard drives, no doubt (we had used the now-extinct site, JumpCut, to pull them all together and even edit them together on Jumpcut, which was a pretty neat experience). I still got a kick out of seeing what we were doing with that project, and thinking about how much I learned about digital storytelling, collaboration and coordinating a huge project.

Head to the ABC Movie Playlist

Peace (in the stories),


Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

So, every blogger in the universe is probably reviewing (or has already reviewed) The Hunger Games movie. I’ll keep it short here.

I’ve only read the first book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, so my “bigger picture” of the narrative is fairly limited. I did enjoy the book (but found it a bit violent, just like her Gregor the Overlander books) and I enjoyed the movie, too. I took my 11 year old son with me to the packed theater on the Sunday afternoon matinee. He is an avid reader, but admitted that he could not get “into” the book, The Hunger Games.

“I am only one of four kids in our whole class who hasn’t read it,” he admitted.

The movie is pretty faithful to the book, as I recall it. It was not like The LIghtning Thief, where we walked out of the theater shaking our heads at the changes that had been made and wondering, why in the world would they do that? I think the casting in The Hunger Games was nicely done. I did feel an emotional connection with Katniss, and my son and I were both shattered to watch Rue die. We both jumped out of our seats when those genetic dogs jumped out of the dark, too, even though we knew it was coming. The two hours and 20 minutes did not seem like a lifetime in our seats. We were hooked right from the start.

The one thing I miss from the book was getting inside the head of Katniss, as she gets conflicted feelings about the two boys: the one she left behind and the one she needs to survive. I also missed her simmering anger at the Games itself, and how she refuses to be a pawn, even though — in the end — she is. For me, those elements of Katniss are what made the book special. Those inner dialogue and inner conflicts are hard to translate into the big screen, I know. But it gave a certain flatness to Katniss in the movie.

Overall, though, The Hunger Games movie is a hearty thumbs up — from one who has read the book (me) and one who hasn’t (my son). I wonder if seeing the movie might get him interested again …

Peace (in the games),


Using iMovie’s Movie Trailer Tool

This is the first time I have tried out the “movie trailer” option in iMovie. Here is a teaser from my son’s upcoming movie project — Robbers on the Loose. He wrote the story and directed the scenes, with friends and family in the movie itself. I was behind the camera (with our Flip HD) and we are working on the editing. (Volume of voices … very tricky)

Oh, my son is seven years old, as is everyone in the movie. They’re all seven and just about all of them are in first grade.

The movie trailer option is interesting because iMovie does much of the work for you, after you choose  style. My son chose the adventure theme, of course, and then we dropped video segments into the system. We added the text, too. It got a bit cumbersome at times to figure out which video segment would work where. The tool could be a little better designed … BUT, he loves what the trailer looks like. And his older brothers’ snarky comment: The trailer is better than the movie. Ouch.

But the work on this piece for my son got me thinking about the possibilities for my own students, creating short trailers for books or short stories.

Peace (in the little screen),


Movie Review: Hugo

Hugo movie review

I often go into movie adaptations of my favorite books with a feeling of dread: what have they done now? The Lightning Thief, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and too many others to list have all failed to live up to my expectations as the filmmakers have taken a bit too much license with the stories and characters and mangled them to the point of frustration. I don’t expect a movie to be perfectly in tune with a book, but I do expect it to be true to the heart of the book.

Hugo does that. Thankfully.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret remains one of my favorite young adult books of recent years. It was one of those discoveries that makes your eyes open wide and think, this is what a book can be! The illustrations were not just partners to the story; they were the story. The use of image and metaphor and history … it call came together with precision that also tugged at your heartstrings. Author/illustrator Brian Selznick hit a high note with The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and send me searching for old movies on YouTube from the beginning of movies, and the book had me wondering about the crafty ways Selznick put the gears of the story in motion, and brought it to a nice conclusion. (His newest book, Wonderstruck, is just as wonderful but in a different way).

Yesterday, I finally got to see the movie adaption by Martin Scorcese — simply titled Hugo — and I was so relieved that the movie really does capture so much of the spirit and essence of the book. Scorcese’s filmmaking abilities are on full display here (particularly the use of the railroad station as the setting and the giant clocks that form the theme of the story), and he is faithful to the story. In doing so, Scorcese gives us a wonderful lesson about the early age of film, and the pioneers who paved the way for movies to become a part of our lives.

So Scorcese got it right.

Now I wonder if The Lorax will be any good …. one of my all-time favorite picture books and if the previews are any indication, the storyline is quite different from the book. I’ll keep an open mind, but I’ll be ready for disappointment, too. Sigh.

Peace (in the movies),