From Video Camp to Film School

Hello, my name is David and I'm a digital media intern here at MOPA. I've been asked to write this blog as I am in a unique position here, in that I am (to my knowledge) the only team member who was also a participant in MOPA's video camps when I was younger. In fact, when I was being interviewed in the education department office, I noticed a collage of photos from video camps past on the wall - photos of kids smiling and playing with video cameras - and I was in one of them. It was a picture from my third and final experience in the summer program, and I am dressed as an absurd cyborg creature from a music video I directed. It was both encouraging and profoundly embarrassing.

When I got back home I dug through my old files and found the DVDs of the films I had produced with the other kids at MOPA in 2002 and 2003 and watched them for the first time in years. They are charming, strange little films. In between moments of cringing at my awkward middle-school appearance I found myself laughing and reminiscing on the good times. Not only did I have a great time at these camps, I learned a lot about filmmaking from them. In some ways, these experiences directly lead to my pursuing film as an adult.

I had been playing and experimenting with the family camcorder for years and was mesmerized by filming things. In elementary school I made stop-motion shorts with toys and clay and edited them on the computer using basic video editing software. This was in the late 90's, and I had to export the films directly to VHS tapes, which I would show at school. I continued making little movies and slowly began to shift my interest from animation to live-action, writing movies and having my friends act them out.

I don't remember exactly how we found out about MOPA's filmmaking camp. My family spent a lot of time in Balboa Park so we probably saw a flyer or something. My parents asked me if I would want to do it and I said yes. When we arrived at MOPA on the first day of camp I was really shy and nervous, but quickly began to feel right at home. It was so encouraging to be around other kids my age who were just as excited about making movies as I was.

This first camp I took revolved around making a collaborative narrative short. We would each get to do our own segment that we wrote, but all of them would be interwoven with the same props and one overlapping character. The teacher put several props on the table (weird things, too - one was a large Burger King doll from the 80's, back when the mascot was an actual king with a vacant, spooky face) and we started to brainstorm. Before long, and with the guidance of the teacher and assistants, we had a rough story of a character who would place the various props around the park and watch what people did with them. (Writing this now I realize how strange that must sound, but it made sense at the time. Younger kids tend to make really interesting creative choices in filmmaking, going with weird instincts and not generally held back by logic or realism. There's a sort of naive honesty in the films of children and young teens - I've since gone on to teach some film classes and I am consistently struck with the originality and gung-ho devotion to following through with any idea they have. It's inspiring.)

We all had a lot of freedom to write whatever kinds of scenes we wanted, and the films overall story had only the loosest thread holding it together, but it didn't matter. The end result was a whirlwind of ideas and nonsense that not only showed how much fun was had during its production, but also a showcase of our different personal filmmaking voices. On the last day when we showed the final film in the MOPA theater and saw our work on a big screen to a laughing, sometimes confused audience, it felt great. I felt for the first time like I was really a filmmaker - my years of goofing around with my little movies validated and encouraged by seeing my work in a theater, and an applauding audience.

This is part 1 of 3 from guest blogger, David Nailor.