Student Feature Film Project Part 2 – Epic Failure!

We talk a lot about failure and the value of having students experience more failure and learning from failure. There is even a new acronym for FAIL – First Attempt In Learning.

Well, I just experienced a failure and it sucked. 

Earlier in the year, I wrote about a giant project where my students and I were going to create our own feature film based on the novel Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Here is a link to the article outlining the project and how it was organized.   

After organizing all the students into their task groups, the first step in this massive endeavor was the writing of the script. This is where failure occurred.

Eight students volunteered to work on the script. They were great kids – strong writers, proactive and very responsible. They had great ideas and were anxious to produce something amazing.

The problem was the number. Eight was the proverbial too many chefs. It was tough organizing time for all eight of us to get together. So many of these writers were such good kids that they were also committed to other organizations and activities (NJHS, student council, Peer Helpers, GIN, etc.),. In addition, they were also committed to working hard and doing their best on all the assignments and expectations for their other 8th grade teachers. I created a Google Doc so that we could work together, regardless of our different schedules. But, the team had so many Alphas that the outline and initial pages could not progress further. We got stalled on all the rewriting and changes.

Without a script we couldn’t progress in other areas. What props could we make if we didn’t know what the script specified? What locations could we scout if we didn’t know where we were focused? What actors could we cast if we didn’t know which characters were in or which characters were out?

In the end, we got to a point in time where we really couldn’t reasonably continue. By late March, I knew that If a script could not be finalized, we didn’t have the time to get any of the other subsequent pieces finished by June.

One huge frustration for me was the constant questioning by students. As we passed Christmas break without any progress, I would have students ask me questions like “Mr. D, what happened to our movie?” The questions were frustrating for two reasons: 1. It was never the great students who asked, it was always the students who really put out little effort this year. It was as if they saw the questioning as a way of getting back at me for the constant questions about their late work. 2. The questions were annoying. It was always something like “What happened?” It was never something positive or proactive, like “What can we do to help?” This was particularly galling because students always followed up their “What happened?” style of question with “That’s too bad, because I was really looking forward to doing this.” Well, if you were really looking forward to this, I would fume in my head, they why not step up and help out? That latter rant sounds whiny and I apologize for coming across as a sore loser. The fact is, I was in charge and I couldn’t get step one finished on time.

Lessons learned?

  • Start with a finished script. And, if students don’t step up willingly, then metaphorically drag them in to help out.  
  • Organize regular whole-group progress meetings. Keeping everyone informed of what was going on would have had two benefits: 1. lighting a fire under people spinning their wheels, and 2. encourage other students to step forward and volunteer/generate solutions for any deadlocks. And, meetings like this sure would have reduced all the questions I received!

Otherwise, I think my plan was pretty well organized – although who knows what hurdles/challenges were hidden out there that I never had the chance to run into!

Next steps?

This experience really helped me understand the difficulty in putting a large project together. Hollywood directors and producers really deserve some respect. Juggling so much is not easy!

Not sure if this project will ever happen in subsequent years. If I do try to resurrect it, I will certainly have the script ready in advance. Well, at least mostly ready. I think there is still value in having students experiencing the role of a professional writer.

So, I failed. I didn’t like it. But, in the end, I learned.

Hi 5!

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