Lou (not his real name) was shy and a little younger than his peers on set for Hawaii Student Television. But Robert Olague, HSTV’s founder and executive director, knows only one way to treat young people on a set, so he handed Lou a camera and showed him the basics. By day’s end, Lou was sitting comfortably with the older teens, eating pizza and celebrating a job well done.
The next day, Lou arrived early and rushed to work. His mother told Olague it was the boy’s birthday. “I told him he could stay at home, but he only wanted to come here,” she said.
Hawaii Student Television is one of many programs across the country aimed at offering young people the opportunity to learn about filmmaking in a professional yet youth-friendly setting. Since cameras are so ubiquitous these days, even in at-risk teens’ lives, these programs can show young people how to translate that familiarity into an employable skill. And for young people with difficult home lives or traumatic pasts, filmmaking can offer the chance for positive team experiences and personal expression.
Even if youth don’t go into film production, Olague says, “The disciplines from this business—show up on time, take instructions, pay attention—are relevant anywhere. It’s a great education.”
Personal Vision and Group Effort
In collaboration with local professionals, HSTV youth work on projects ranging from short educational films to television commercials and video spots for federal agencies. In addition to earning a paycheck, young people get hands-on film set experience and daily mentoring from career filmmakers.
JuWanda Thurmond, youth programs manager for the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, has seen similar results in the annual filmmaking workshop she facilitates for a dozen-odd youth from the museum’s teen volunteer roster. It’s a collaboration with the One Minutes Foundation, which sends UNICEF film crews all over the world for five-day workshops with young people, resulting in 1-minute videos that are entirely creatively driven by the youth themselves. Thurmond’s participants have used their 60 seconds to create everything from family histories to reflections on body image.
“They can take videos on their phones, so it might not seem like such a big deal,” Thurmond says, “but the editing process—cutting down hours of footage, deciding whether to add music—that’s where the surprise came in for them.”
While the videos are personal visions, the quick turnaround and collaborative nature of filmmaking necessitates teamwork. Though they often don’t know each other at the outset, Thurmond says by the end of the week many youth are hugging and exchanging contact information, pledging to keep in touch.
Finding a Film Crew Near You
Even if your community lacks an organization that helps youth take their first steps in the film production field, chances are, professional guidance and equipment is relatively nearby. Try reaching out to community organizations that have access to studios, cameras and professional expertise, such as:
- Film production companies
- Local and county news stations
- College, university or high school film programs
- Public access television stations
- Local filmmakers
- National programs like Beyond Media
Olague says the uninitiated should take advantage of the inherently collaborative nature of filmmaking and find some like-minded professionals who are willing to welcome young people into the field.
Robert Olague has seen the value of that collaboration firsthand. “We listen to these kids on set, take their ideas seriously,” he says. “And the knowledge that they’re heard, that there’s an adult out there who wants to work with them, that’s worth its weight in gold.”