Summer Filmmaking Workshop Turns Students Into Directors

Students show movies at summer filmmaking workshop

Posted on May 19, 2017 by Matt Geske

Mason’s Summer Filmmaking Workshop prepares students for production in the basic areas of the filmmaking process, including knowing important camera settings, understanding concepts such as depth of field, camera angles, the 180-degree rule, how to white balance and how to secure a camera on a tripod.

Some of these may seem like simple ideas, but that’s the point. They’re so simple and important that they are universal. Learning these elements and more will provide students with the competence to step in a director or camera operator role with valuable knowledge.

“Being confident in your abilities is one of the toughest part of independent filmmaking,” explained Filmmaking Workshop instructor Gabrielle Mitchell. “An important result that I hope will come from attending the summer workshop is that students learn to not be afraid of operating a digital film camera.”

Ms. Mitchell is a screenwriter and director of both narrative and documentary films. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Atlanta where she graduated Magna Cum Laude for her outstanding academic achievements in film, and she is finishing up her final semester of the Master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies Film and Video Studies program at George Mason University.

“Usually when I’m working on a short film project, every step along the way will be fraught with unforeseen obstacles,” said Ms. Mitchell. “Production starts off okay, then I’ll get a little bit concerned— maybe a lit kit bulb blew, a shot looks under exposed, an actor skips a few lines and the 1st AD tells me that we’re running behind schedule. Then, as I’m sitting with the editor, going over dailies, I’ll think –  hmm, it’s not that bad. Except, a few hours later, I’ll realize it’s actually worse than I thought! From there, it’s an uphill battle as we chisel away at the edit, refining it to the point where it’s a good story that we (as a crew) can all be proud of; then we release the film and move on to the next one. A few months later, I’m looking back at the old project and see all the now glaring mistakes, and I think to myself – next time, my film will live up to my standards!”


Students film recording at summer camp


“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” ― Martin Scorsese

“Let’s talk about the toughest parts of filmmaking and the ways that young filmmakers can prepare themselves for production obstacles and look at those experiences as progress,” continued Ms. Mitchell. “When you’re just starting out in film, the best thing you can do is get behind a video camera – any camera, and learn how things are perceived through a lens. If you’re in elementary, middle, or high school, find out if your school has a media department and express your interest in being behind the camera. Once you become comfortable operating a camera, calling the action and making decisions about where you want your subjects (those in front of the camera) to be placed, you are miles ahead of those who are afraid to touch a camera.”

Ms. Mitchell explained that since technology is ever changing, a student who is interested in cinematography may prioritize and continue to learn other film cameras. However, a part of the filmmaking process that is constant is pre-production. Hiring crew, breaking down the script, location scouting and rehearsal with actors are skills that will be relevant on no budget, small budget, or big budget films. A huge difference between very small film projects and million-dollar film projects is the amount of effort, time/money and precision put into pre-production. The summer workshop will put students through a spirited pre-production process where they will work collaboratively and with detailed guidance.

“Filmmakers often say that the editing room is where the film is actually made. Meaning, all things come together in the editing process; it can also be where all things fall apart,” confided Ms. Mitchell. “An editor’s job is to organize the footage in a way that tells a compelling story, one that hopefully makes the director happy. To do this, surprisingly the most important skill is not necessarily to master the technology—although that is a strong competitor— but to master the art of storytelling. Yes, the editor, like the scriptwriter and director, is also a storyteller. But, the editor has more visual and graphic tools at their fingertips. Scriptwriters say that superman flies— visual effects editors actually make superman fly. Editors have the important job of convincing the audience and making them forget they’re watching a film. The production workshop will provide students with the technology and beginner’s level skill to edit within Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere software.”


Students editing films at summer workshop


The upside to all the production conflicts and battles that a filmmaker may face is that there’s always opportunity to move on to the next production and improve. As technology and filmmaker tools becomes less expensive and more powerful every year, the internet makes it possible to get your films in front of the people who want to see them.

“Gritting your teeth and getting through those low points is how a filmmaker thrives,” said Ms. Mitchell encouragingly. “Learning how to navigate the peaks and valleys and use them to your advantage is what transforms a beginner into a pro!”

Two workshops are offered in July, one for ages 11-14 and one for ages 15-18. Due to the popularity of this program, at the time of this post there were only a few spots still available for this summer. Don’t delay in registering, even if you are only able to join the Waitlist!