I love teaching my students how to use a camera, set up a tri-pod and hold the boom over the talent as they film a scene they’ve written and are acting out. When I hear them utter the words, “action” or “cut,” I hope they feel like real life filmmakers. But before the cameras roll, the real work begins. As a writer/producer longer than most of the other PAA artists have been alive (gasp!), my experience consistently proves that the pre-production phase is the most important part of every production. And the concept, especially when creating a :30 or :60 PSA is critical. I think it’s the most fun and creative, but definitely the most demanding for the students.
My sixth graders at Hannah Gibbons STEM School were assigned with creating a PSA to educate peers on the causes, symptoms, cures, etc. on “conditions” that affect our health (i.e. asthma, allergies, HIV, Ebola). What I’ve learned in the past five years is that elementary and middle school students’ first “go to” response is to have a dialogue, similar to a play on a stage. Of course this is no surprise. They want to explain everything. This is how they have been taught. To copy the definition. To recite the facts they read. And my challenge is to get them to think on a higher conceptual level. They have the ability, all of them. They have been consuming media messages since they were toddlers. They enthusiastically respond to PSAs I show them from YouTube, finding them compelling and creative and most important, unexpected. I find if I work with each group independently and ask them a series of questions, the ideas start to flow. They are excited when they see their ideas played out despite some skepticism at first.
In the group that was creating a PSA about Ebola, one very outspoken student really wanted to create a PSA about a boy at their school who comes from Africa and talks about his cousin who has Ebola. “What are the chances that would happen?” I asked him. He agreed, not great. “What are the chances you and your friends in Cleveland will get Ebola? What are the odds?” Now I piqued his interest. His group’s research revealed 1 in 13 million. The odds of getting killed by a shark, or by lightning, or in a car crash were far greater. He and his classmates understood that was a far different message and one that needed to be told to peers. I remind them, “show, don’t tell.” It’s not always an easy task, but I am confident with the right cues, they come up with great ideas. I am constantly pleased and amazed by what my students create, using professional gear and editing equipment. Today, during our last class together, I overheard one my students while editing say, “now we need to let it render.” Music to my ears. See the Ebola PSA by clicking below: