Wednesday, June 25, 2008
In Which Amy Turns To Alcohol And Drugs To Escape The Frustration Of Being A Failed Teacher

So far, PYD has been one massive frustration. As soon as I saw our equipment on the first morning, I knew that much of the curriculum I'd written was good only for filling up the paper it was printed on. The cameras are so simple that the kids will be using them in automatic almost exclusively, reducing their work to little more than pointing it at the thing they want to shoot and then pushing the button. They can't even focus manually. There's no white balance, no iris, no shutter speed, nothing. The lights are cheap scoop lights with 60W bulbs. The microphones are 20-dollar shotguns with phasing issues. The tripods are flimsy, and the heads so craptacular that panning and tilting during a shot renders the shot unusably shaky. There's no way to monitor, much less control sound recording levels. Image resolution is poor, lighting contrast is blown all to hell, and the colors are hideous. Red especially. The reds throb and bleed, and I expect they'll give you cancer if you look at them for too long.

This isn't to complain (much) or to knock the equipment (much) -- there are reasons why kit of this level was chosen, and the reasons are sound, if unfortunate. It's a little frustrating to be working with the kids and say, "hey, let me show you a shot I really like", and then be unable to produce it because, say, the camera won't hold focus in the right spot. Then the kids look at you like you're a dumbass, and all you can do is shrug and say, "never mind." The only real problem is that I designed a curriculum that took a week to teach the equipment, with exercises and everything, and I can't actually use any of it. I could teach this equipment in a single session, and then what would we do afterwards?

The good news -- if you can call it that -- is that we've been grossly delayed by circumstance. On day one, we had four kids, one of whom had to leave early to go to his summer job. (Not such a big deal, since he'd completed the program last summer, and already knows how things work.) We were expecting at least ten more, though, recruited through some "youth enhancement" program, who wouldn't arrive until the next day. That meant the bulk of the class wouldn't even begin until day two. So we were left trying to figure out how to keep the existing three occupied for a day without letting them get so far ahead that we couldn't assimilate the two groups afterwards. At the end of the day, however, we were told that due to the death of an administrator, the entire youth program bringing us the rest of our class wouldn't be functioning at all on day two, so we wouldn't see them until day three.

So we bullshitted our way through two days. We (that is, I and the other instructor, David) taught them the camera, spent an absurdly long time with them "practicing" outside, and then let them go home early both days. At least, we told each other, starting today we could really get down to work.

And today, at last, the kids from the other program arrived at the appointed time. This was a hopeful development. David and I had a whole new plan worked out -- I would take our original three and work with them on lighting, while David got the new kids caught up. Then by the end of the day we would break them up into production units and start talking ideas. Progress at last! Except that it quickly became apparent that none of these kids had any idea why they were there, what we were doing, had no particular interest in video making, much less making a documentary, and would mostly rather be outside doing whatever fourteen-year-olds do than sit inside with us. There was some suggestion that they thought they were actually going to some sort of job, and believed that they would be paid for attending. This was weird, because I know how hard FAO worked this year in an effort to reach and recruit kids who might actually be interested in filmmaking, as opposed to last year when they had a significant number who didn't care and weren't interested. And yet here we were again -- a small number of engaged kids, and a bunch who were staring blankly at us, wondering when they could leave.

The leaving part they worked out for themselves. If my reconstruction of events is correct, the kids called their organization (and provider of rides) and told them that they'd be done at 3pm and to send the van at that time. (In fact, PYD runs from 12:30 to 5:30.) They then told us that they'd been told by the program to catch their ride at 3pm. See what they did there? We didn't catch on until after they'd left -- ALL of them. And all we had left was our original three, again. This will hopefully be straightened out for tomorrow, but the problem is that we have no recourse in this situation. We're not teachers, this isn't school, and we can't make them stay if they decide to leave; we can't make them care. And yet our objective is to make room for them if they choose to participate. If we leave too much room, though, the entire enterprise will collapse. Filmmaking isn't a casual pursuit.

My philosophy is that, for the short time that I'm here, I will come in every day and teach any kid who shows up and wants to be involved. We need at least a few dedicated kids to keep showing up, if only to provide some thin thread of focus that might get a film far enough along to be goaded over the finish line. I believe that we have them. But it does sort of make one despair for the entire program -- what's the point, if the kids don't give a shit? Across town, the middle-class kids are paying $800 a pop to take exactly the same course, and they'll all come every day, and they'll all make lovely little films. And I have no doubt that up in New Columbia, there are at least six or seven kids who would genuinely like to participate, but somehow we haven't managed to reach them. And it's too early to tell how things will turn out. Maybe there are surprises coming. But at the moment, it doesn't bode well.

Still, it's better than Fnorders for damn sure.

In other news, last night I drank my first ever entire beer. Which is to say, I've tried beer before, but I've never finished a whole one. I think I managed about two-thirds of a half pint once in London. But last night, at 32, I knocked back a whole pint of some microbrew something-or-other that was recommended for its fruitiness and mildness. And it was fucking disgusting. Why do you people drink that shit?

Anyway, it's all part of my plan to finally be corrupted in Portland. My friends Turner and Rick (both younger than me by at least half a decade) have agreed to see me through the process, and to be my initial procurers of pot and teachers of technique. They've taken an active interest, which I appreciate a great deal; I feel safe entrusting myself to their accomplished hands. And if they find entertainment value in my long-overdue first attempts, I think that's a fair trade.
11:22 PM ::
Amy :: permalink