Downers Grove Public Library just finished a large redesign project, and two of the major changes were a brand new Teen Central area and a Digital Media Lab. While the Digital Media Lab is open to all ages, we thought that our teen patrons would be especially excited about this area’s advanced video, music, and photography hardware and software!!
In preparation of the opening of the Digital Media Lab, we developed an 8-week course for high school students to learn how to create a documentary film from start to finish. One day a week, for two hours at a time, twelve high school students meet at the library to learn about film. Each class is set up to build on the previous week’s lessons. We have completed three classes so far, and students have learned the basics of how to change out the lenses, use the white balance, and work with the different f-stops and focuses on the cameras. The students have also learned the artistry behind framing shots and balancing natural light vs. artificial light (such as LED, umbrella, and three-point lighting).
Each week at the end of class, the students practice interviewing each other in short 1-3 minute videos. We then watch all of these videos together. While watching the videos, we discuss what worked in terms of film technique, but also in their personal interviewing approach. Students have found that asking open ended questions almost always makes for a much more interesting interview than asking simple yes or no questions. They have also found that using humor and conversation helps to open up the person being interviewed. Some of the great topics of these short interview films have been “Describe your daily hair care regimen” and “If you could create the perfect sandwich, what would be on it?” All of the students have been incredibly open, good natured, and kind with one another, and while sometimes provide constructive criticism, are always careful to balance this with compliments. It is an amazing group of teens!!
At the end of the eight weeks of classes, the students will have a full month to work on editing and fine tuning their own individual documentary films. Then, on February 7th, we will be screening all twelve films in a festival at Downers Grove’s beautiful, historical Tivoli Theater. At the program’s completion, each of the participating students will also spend at least four hours assisting other patrons in the library’s Digital Media Lab. Most of the teens are very excited about the opportunity to teach what they have learned to other members of our community!!
The most important component to making this program a success, besides having an amazing group of students, was to bring in a professional documentary film maker. Thanks to a grant from the Best Buy Foundation, we were fortunate enough to hire Laura Zinger of 20K Films, Inc. to teach each of the classes at the library. Miss Zinger has an incredible rapport with the students. Aside from teaching the technical and artistic facets of filmmaking, she is able to give practical advice for those aspiring to work in the field, such as how to seek out project funding and how to market a final product. It is really inspiring for students to learn from an instructor who has started her own film company, and released a full-length documentary film (Proceed and Be Bold). Miss Zinger is actually currently on a road trip to interview an artist for a documentary she is currently working on, and she will relay her experiences to the students in next week’s class!!
For those who are interested, the equipment we are using for this project is listed below. Also, please feel free to follow our weekly updates on the library’s website and under the Twitter hashtag #dgdocu.
Lynette Pitrak is the Teen Services Coordinator at Downers Grove Public Library in Downers Grove, Illinois.