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Andy Metcalfe, Media Studies Tutor at I CAN’s Dawn House School, talks to us about the Media Studies course

“My philosophy is that students should hold a camera from their very first lesson”

Andy Metcalfe, Media Studies Tutor at I CAN’s Dawn House School, talks to us about the Further Education (FE) Media Studies course and its popularity amongst the students.

Media Studies is a popular course as it is technology based and is a great way for the students to express themselves. The course consists of animation, photography and film-making, which are particularly beneficial to students who find it hard to socialise. The interactive and inclusive nature of the course makes it a great option for all students to enjoy. There are many different components involved in film production that contribute to the ‘film narrative’. This could be anything from acting and storyline to music and location that even the shyest of students, or those with significant communication difficulties, can enjoy and get involved with. I have a real hands-on approach to the course and I want the students to get involved in whichever way they can; they have the chance to work as a team and this helps to develop their communication, social and technological skills.

We use various types of cameras for both filming and photography and will soon be investing in a professional camera, like the ones used in television, which will be a great addition to our equipment. We have two Mac laptops for editing as well as other editing equipment and use Serif software for our editing. We started with nothing but through winning various competitions, investment from the school and the students’ own fundraising efforts, we now have access to various types of equipment.  We have recently been given more space in school so we have more room to make sets and that is a big appeal for those students who don’t necessarily want to be in front of the camera. We also have a green screen, so we can re-create different back-drops and scenes which help brings our stories to life.

Despite this variety of equipment, the course is not particularly technological straightaway. My philosophy is that students should hold a camera in their hands from the very first lesson. However, in some ways it is like working backwards, as they hold the camera and then learn how to use it. If we did it any other way, our students would get bored very quickly. The pre-production (and less technological bit) is about discussion. We watch trailers from different films and explore how filmmakers make things look exciting. A great way to engage the students is by recreating some famous scenes from films as a group. The training montage from Rocky and the ‘Here’s Johnny’ scene from The Shining, are two scenes we have recreated both of which were a lot of fun. By recreating these scenes the students are able to explore how different camera angles and positions work and why scenes are shot in certain ways.

Another main aspect of the course and one that helps with both communication and social skills is the filming that takes place off the school premises and on location. We explore the local community frequently and visit the peak district, as well embarking on two residential trips every year. This builds up students’ confidence and broadens their horizons as it is outward facing and for many of the students provides a real chance to get out and socialise in a different way.

We often make films around issues to do with teenagers and despite the serious subject matter we are able to make them both fun and interesting. The students’ communication skills are helped hugely as they are able to express their ideas, not just by speaking to each other in the pre-production part of the course but by creating films, animations and photographs. It is here they are able to communicate their ideas visually through a variety of powerful mediums. A recent project that we have been working on is a modern day version of Hamlet. The students recently performed the play on stage as part of Shakespeare Schools Festival, which you can read more about here. Despite our modern take on the play, we will be using some of the language that features in the original Shakespeare play, including the famous ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy. The great thing about filmmaking and what is crucial for our students is that they can practise their scenes and their lines as well as stop the camera, re-shoot, watch their performance back and then edit; this can really take the pressure off and help them build their confidence and language skills.

One student, Alex, really benefitted from the media course and became passionate about photography. Alex has a speech and language disorder, but also suffers from a skin condition that means his skin is paper thin, he was aware that people looked at him differently. He had particularly low self esteem but a real talent for photography. The course helped him to develop a skill that people admired and he had never had that before, he even bought himself a camera. One of his photographs was chosen by the picture editor of the Independent newspaper for a competition and was exhibited in the Mall Gallery on the Strand in London. He was also part of the group of Dawn House School students who won the NASUWT Arts and Minds 2014 school-based arts competition which was great as he got to work with others on the project. You can read more on our blog here.