The hardest part about the unknown is that, while it’s scary, you never quite know what to fear. You can’t know and that itself is the scary part. It’s very different from facing a known obstacle such as, say, pain or humiliation. These things instill fear to be sure, but at least they’re out in the open to be seen and reckoned with and hopefully, overcome.
From the very first morning of the Smooth Feather Film School I knew it was going to be a veritable stew of uncertainty and we, both instructors and students, would be the veggies and meat bubbling in the center of it.
The students would need to act, shoot, edit and present a film in six, eight-hour days. To make things spicier, none of the instructors had more than a rough outline for the plot or filming schedule.
On that first morning, students sat in a circle for a kind of debriefing. Silas wasted no time describing the uncertainty that awaited them—we hadn’t scripted any lines, so the students would need to improvise their own. No storyboard was in place so the students would give input on structuring the shots. And for good measure, he mentioned that the film would use animals—some very, very large animals—in several key scenes, but that there were no guarantees on how they would behave.
In the 20 minutes it took to get through that first morning meeting, the film school went from being a clearly defined and known quantity (a school about making films, duh) to a giant yarn ball of mysteries.
You could see some of the kids’ expressions begin to contort. Some were excited but nervous, others sublimely confident and still others were absolutely terrified. One student looked like a man facing his own mortality, such was the sheer discomfort radiating from every twitching fiber of his limbs, lips and eyes.
No time to think, only to try
To compound matters the very first day of the school would also be the first day of shooting and acting. After receiving a brief summary of the plot, a brief lesson on film and running threw a couple acting exercises, the kids shipped out that afternoon in a bright blue Winnebago to make movie magic.
For the first half of the first day, several of the students tried to cope with uncertainty by convincing themselves they couldn’t act, or they weren’t good with computers, or that they were shy around groups—all very legitimate problems. The film school was making them ask a lot of questions about themselves and what they could do, and as is the case for all of us, the tempting answer is to seek certainty in self-doubt and say, “well, I’m sure I can’t do any of it.”
But questions turned into preparations and preparations into the actual shoot. By the time the group had been at the site of its first scene for a few minutes a strange thing had happened—there was no longer any room to fear uncertainty. There was only room for work.
Students who before thought they couldn’t act were suddenly in costume. One of the stars of the film, Jenoah, had to learn to roller skate on location, minutes before he would be filmed…while improvising his lines. There wasn’t any time for him to wonder if he could skate or not, only enough time to try.
And in all of this commotion, it occurred to me that once the time, space and language of uncertainty were removed and the students could no longer speculate on what they could and couldn’t do, they proved amazingly competent.
I watched Jenoah, Kane and Kaitlyn come up with their own lines and practice different deliveries while Clarence, Rachelle and Tristan all learned to operate boom microphones and cameras. In what seemed a matter of minutes they’d transformed from a sleepy batch of teenagers into something that really looked and sounded like a film crew.
Learning to move forward
And that transformation lasted for the entirety of the school. The students learned to use film-editing software, overcame their shyness to canvas the area with posters and prepared their own speeches for the film’s premiere. By the end of the week it no longer occurred to them to say “I can’t.” Instead they asked, “what’s next?”
A lot of us assume that if only we had enough time, or enough money we could do something we’ve never done before. But as I stood there watching a bunch of kids with neither, I was struck by how much we can do just by leaning into uncertainty and taking the steps from “I can’t,” to “I don’t know if I can,” to “I’m going to try anyway.”
It inspired me and by the end I felt I’d done a lot less instructing and a lot more learning about how to handle uncertainty in my own life.
-Mike Schoch, Smooth Feather Film School Instructor
Check on this recent video we made for the Ossipee Valley Music festival. Come see the Kickoff Concert of the festival for free this Wednesday night at 7pm at the Kezar Falls Theater!
Thanks again to the Roxbury Youth Orchestra for their amazing performance and for the awesome hometown crowd that showed up for it! Here are a few pictures from the performance below.
Thanks to all the seniors who helped out last week!
Last week I traveled down to Washington DC with the Maine Inside Out group to capture the journey of their performance for the U.S. Senate. It was an amazing journey and these young leaders continue to inspire me. Check out a few of the highlights from the trip here!
Lights! Camera! Action! Red Carpet Finale!!!
Your most difficult setbacks in life may one day become your greatest advantage. A standing room only crowd at the Kezar Falls theater was gifted with this wisdom through an unforgettable world premier at the first ever Smooth Feather Film School on August 20th, 2016. During the hour long event we found out the answer to our week long question:
“What would happen if we gave cameras to a group of kids from Kezar Falls, Maine.”
What happened surprised us all; they became servant leaders. The cameras opened a window into these young teenager’s darkest pain which they were able to harness to serve each other and the public.
The Red Carpet promenade as we once knew it was turned on its head and transformed into a highway of gratitude and service. The teary eyed young people walked down the red carpet to cheering onlookers and then immediately formed a receiving line welcoming every single guest who came to see their films.
After welcoming their guests they showed two films. "The List" is a romantic comedy about a first date gone terribly wrong. Laughter filled the theater as the stars Devyn and Savannah brilliantly turned awkward moments into a comedic sketch.
The second work was introduced by Savannah who was able to subtly sober our emotions for this very different film. The documentary “Free” showcased participants Tika and Alec who held nothing back as they allowed us to experience their feelings of loss and isolation.
This courageous group of seven were caretakers of the joy of their supporters, showing it is indeed true that “weeping may endure for a night…but JOY comes in the morning.”
The documentary ended on an uplifting note where both leads were able to experience a dream come true. Many lives were touched last night including a group of millennials vacationing in Porter from Massachusetts. They were invited by the kids who bravely went over to the island they were renting and invited them to come. And they came. After the film they sent me this note:
“The fact that everyone opened up and showed their true colors were great. A lot of us have similar upbringings and we were truly touched. Just wanted to show our appreciation and have your kids see how influenced we were by the night.”
If you simply tell a kid you believe in them you run the risk of instilling false confidence; giving them tools to succeed within a supportive infrastructure provides the kind of foundation they need to thrive. Last night we laughed together and we cried together and perhaps maybe a few in attendance were set free to believe that in some small way they too could make a difference in our world.
-David France, Smooth Feather Film School Staff Member
After three film premieres in New York, Oakland and Baltimore, we just released "Playing for Change" online today in celebration of Soccer Without Borders' 10-year anniversary. The work that SWB does everyday is so inspiring and we were extremely honored to make a film about the many inspiring youth that they work with everyday. Furthermore, it was such a joy to collaborate with Producer Ryan Hawke and Narrator Ethan Hawke for the production of the film. Below are some photos from the NYC premiere and a few behind the scene shots as well where you might recognize, composer Jay McKay and violinist David France who both did an incredible job with the film's original soundtrack. We invite you to help share the film as way to help shine a light on the amazing work of Soccer Without Borders!