Award winners (left to right) Julia Bicknell

‘Cool experience’ leads to award for local youth

Four White Rock Elementary fine arts program alumni have a renewed interest in filmmaking, thanks to an unexpected honour they received last month.

Taylor Snider, Ashley Elliot-Orsetti, Julia Bicknell, and Liam Johnson won the award for Outstanding Achievement in Early Teen Filmmaking at the 16th EyeLens Film, Video and Animation Festival, presented by the Gulf Islands Film and Television School May 14 at Vancouver’s Rio Theatre.

The four – now students at Earl Marriott Secondary – were recognized for the short comedy video, Rob Or Be Robbed, which they co-wrote, produced and directed a year ago during a special media-intensive program for Grade 7 students of former fine arts teacher Catherine Hanna held at the Galiano Island-based film school.

The video, one of 129 entered into this year’s festival, is viewable on YouTube, where it was recently uploaded with all 2,100 videos produced at the school over its 16-year history.

Clocking in at almost six minutes, it’s a slickly-paced dark comedy about a constantly-bickering couple with financial problems who resort to robbery of a local store to pay their bills.

One of the more absurd touches concocted by the students is the couple’s mode of communication during the robbery. Presumably unable to afford walkie-talkies, they fall back on the time-honoured – but scarcely unnoticeable – device of a string stretched between two tin cans to carry their voices.

While the students said they were surprised at Rob Or Be Robbed being chosen top video in its category – particularly after a Grade 8 year in which they haven’t had time to give it much thought – the win brought back memories of an intense six days of planning, shooting and editing on Galiano Island.

“It was a really cool experience,” Snider said.

All four were used to team work as students and as cast members of Hanna’s notable production of The King and I, they said.

“Because of that experience we related to filmmaking,” said Elliot-Orsetti.

But all four said they were more interested in working behind the camera than appearing in their video.

“We could choose who we wanted as actors from the different groups of students, but we chose our group leaders,” Snider said.

“They were all working at the school as interns,” Elliot-Orsetti added.

Various necessary elements, including one of the school’s teacher’s cars, the school principal’s home, the cafeteria and an island store were pressed into service for the shoot.

They credit Hanna with a piece of advice that helped everything go more smoothly – pre-scripting and storyboarding the video.

“We planned it all before we went there,” said Johnson, who noted that each of them got a chance to direct, operate the camera and do other production chores.

“We all got different jobs and switched them off,” he said.

Even so, the students learned they had affinities for specific parts of the process.

“I really liked filming and directing, putting our touch on what the actors were doing – and they were really easy to work with,” said Snider. Elliot-Orsetti said she liked using the camera best – “You see what you’re getting on screen.”

“My favourite was editing,” said Bicknell.

“I liked using all the technology on the computer for taking clips from different scenes. We had lots of takes for some scenes, and mixed them up a lot, but we had at least two takes of each scene to work with.”

Johnson said he liked something about every part of filmmaking – and would be keen to do more, if there were more opportunities at EMS (currently there is only a camera club at the school, he said). The four also said they would welcome the chance to collaborate on a video again.

“We all had different opinions at some point but we found ways to make it work,” Bicknell said.

“All the ideas came together – we didn’t have any problems.”

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