“That is the cutest thing,” said Jael, one of the teenage participants in a nine-week video workshop. She sat near the front of the classroom, as usual, next to her friend Zoe. The two are students who, for the past four weeks, have been learning the basics of filmmaking at East Oakland’s youth center – Youth Uprising.
The class had just watched a fine cut of video footage they recorded one week ago. Vincent Cortez, their instructor, had challenged them to come up with an idea for a two-minute story to be filmed in two hours. The youth had to learn to use equipment – like a boom microphone, a flip camera – and improvise lines. The shoot ended up going overtime, and rain began to fall. Yet half of the students stayed to get their key shots.
Youth Uprising student working on a storyboard.
“It’s part of the game,” Cortez said as the
class recalls the inconveniences of working in the downpour. “If it’s not working out, you have to stay at it, and the people who stay start pulling double duty.”
The end result is a short video following a dreadlocked young man who, after detention, walks away from a teacher chewing him out and encounters a friend while he waits for the bus. The main character confesses that he’s stressing. His mother is broke, a friend has recently been killed, and he can’t stay out of trouble at school. It’s a classic dilemma. The protagonist is faced with two paths — apply for a job through the after-school program or get involved with something sketchy that two other young men promise will be lucrative. In the end, he chooses the “safe route,” and the scene ends with our hero and his friend filling out forms at the Youth Uprising café.
Due to the variety of close-up, medium and wide shots gathered by the students, Cortez’s expert cuts and a few choice audio effects he added (the teacher’s echoing voice returns to haunt the main character as he languishes at the bus stop), the video is high quality. The students seemed impressed.
It’s Zoe who asked what everyone else was likely wondering. “Are we all working on our own?”
“Yes,” Cortez answered.
“How are we going to finish?” she asked plaintively. For the next two weeks the students will storyboard and create outlines for their own 2 – 5 minute films. Then the class will split in half and take turns directing and working as crew.
“Getting the ideas out of your head is the first step,” Vincent said. He shared pages of a script for a project he was currently working on. “The next step is planning out the visual.” Vincent projected parts of his storyboard onto the wall, showing the contrast between his rough sketches and the polished scenes in his film. They were often remarkably similar.
“So for our project last week we could have drawn MacArthur, the Youth Uprising building, the school,” he said. “You make yourself a little road map.”
The students spent the rest of the day brainstorming, doodling, scrawling notes, joking and teasing each other.
“I’m just gonna make a 5-hour movie about me flexing my muscles all the time,” Ricky, a tall youth with long, curly hair said completely deadpan.
“What about you, man?” Cortez asked Cardell – who was pursuing a career in modeling.
“Probably looking at the reality of life, people riding the bus everyday, seeing what they have to go through,”
A Youth Uprising student's storyboard.
Cardell answered thoughtfully.
“I have a magic beanie, and when I put it on I become a ladies man,” announced Gerald, who wore a bright red shirt and had close-cropped hair. Everyone groaned. Soon he had sketched numerous stick figures and word balloons. One, smiling, wore a cap. The words “chick magnet” were scribbled nearby.
Cortez hovered above, nodding. “You got your dialogue, you have your characters… What’s your ending chapter? Is it about him or the hat?”
“The hat,” Cardell said confidently.