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Friday, 22 November 2013 10:33

Finding the next great filmmaker

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Duane Brewer of JATV leads a recent workshop for student filmmakers as part of the Beloit International Film Festival Duane Brewer of JATV leads a recent workshop for student filmmakers as part of the Beloit International Film Festival Ian Gronau/Staff

STATELINE NEWS -- Is tomorrow’s Steven Spielberg today’s Stateline area middle school or high school student?

   Organizers of the Beloit International Film Festival are using their resources to find those aspiring filmmakers and give them the tools for success.

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On a recent Wednesday night, in the back room of the JATV studio in Janesville’s Hedberg Public Library, Duane Brewer, director of JATV media services, is giving engaging instruction to a handful of aspiring film and video makers.


The free workshop is geared at middle and high schoolers that have an interest in the craft. In partnership with the BIFF, Brewer will help the students learn film and video elements and even let them handle equipment while they create commercial footage for BIFF merchandise that will actually be aired during their festival.

"Before I bought a BIFF scarf, I never had any dates. But now that I own one, my phone just won’t stop ringing," said Brewer to his snickering class on Nov. 13, while they discussed a first-person advertising strategy. "Or you could use a scientific research method to reach your target audience, like: 90 percent of owners of the BIFF scarf drive Mercedes Benz," Brewer coached. "We might not be able to prove that, I’m not sure, but you understand."

The series of workshops began last month and runs until Nov. 30. They are produced in cooperation with the Beloit Public Library and led by Stephen and Cameron Pickering of Drywater Productions.

The Pickerings are a husband and wife team of professional filmmakers from Janesville, whose films have been showcased at BIFF.

"We want people to be excited about filmmaking because it’s such a creative outlet. You can spend time writing, you can tell a story with it, and if done well, you can get people interested," Stephen Pickering said. "We want kids to know that it’s not impossible to make a movie on your own and have it actually be good."

Brewer joined the project this year to add hands-on production phases to the workshops. JATV, cable channel 98 and digital channel 994, is the city of Janesville’s public access television station broadcasting on the Charter Communications cable system, and his involvement will give young students access to a varied array of filmmaking resources.

"What we are going to use as some exercise for the kids so they can become familiar with the equipment is to create promotional videos for BIFF merchandise," Brewer said. "We’ll also have them do some promotional stuff for the friends of JATV. It will be great practice in the film and video making process and teach kids how to put it all together."

The impetus behind the project was to help lend a bit of guidance to students who were preparing films that they planned to submit to the BIFF Student Filmmakers Showcase.

"Three years ago BIFF held a student showcase where young filmmakers could enter a film, but there wasn’t any kind of workshop leading up to it," Pickering said. "Last year we implemented these workshops in order to really get kids to see that there is a big difference between home movies and movies you can make on your own with a little bit of training. For instance: some lighting know-how or methods of telling a story, that kind of stuff."

The BIFF Student Filmmakers Showcase is a film challenge for young adults from sixth to 12th grade. Students wanting to submit their work for consideration at this year’s showcase must submit films by Jan. 24.

"The winner of the showcase will be announced and recognized at the Launch and Laurels Party, which is a really big event where they announce best film, best director and so on," Pickering said. "The students are involved right in the middle of that -- and it’s really cool for them to walk up onstage and accept an award for a movie in an international film festival."

Students who are interested in film and just want to attend the workshops don’t have to submit a film to the festival, but if they decide to, the hands-on experience and guidance given in the courses will prove to be valuable. In fact, one of Pickering’s students, Jacob Cullum, won the student showcase last year with a short film titled "Prince Charming" that he made with Josh Vincent.

"Jacob Cullum took private film class with us as well," Pickering said. "The short film he submitted was really great. It had special effects and even some 3D stuff with a free program he downloaded, and it won him last year’s student showcase."

It’s not too late to sit in on a few of the workshops. With two left, interested students can still peek in, either in preparation for next year’s workshops or to pick up some quick tips to apply to work they might already be doing. Both Pickering and Brewer are hoping to see an even bigger turnout next year.

"Check it out, especially since it’s free, and we’ve got pizza on Wednesday nights and doughnuts on Saturday," Pickering said. "It’s a great opportunity to hang out, eat some food and get kids involved in filmmaking. Next year we plan to start even earlier and get more people involved because it’s still something that a lot of people don’t know about."

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