Quiet on the Set! Action! Learn!

USF College of Education partners with Tampa Theatre to provide unique summer program for aspiring filmmakers and educators.


By Mary Beth Erskine

USF.edu News Writer


TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 6, 2010) – For the elementary through high school-age filmmakers scattered throughout every corner of the Tampa Theatre, the historic landmark is the ultimate movie set.


An abundance of dark passages and alcoves provides perfect locations for shooting scenes. The theatre’s Mediterranean courtyard ambiance with old-world statuary, looming gargoyles and twinkling stars offers romance and inspiration. And the red velvet seats are ideal for ‘taking ten’ to watch a film clip or discuss, through mouthfuls of popcorn, how to integrate a particular technique into works in-progress – projects such as The Ultimate Vacation, a film about a trip to Mars, Peach and Daisy Save Mario and Lugi, a spinoff from the popular video game, and Solanum, a horror flick about zombies.


For the seventh consecutive summer, the University of South Florida has partnered with the Tampa Theatre to teach filmmaking to aspiring artists. However, the students are not the only ones who benefit from the program, which has become so popular word of mouth alone sells out the sessions in live action and stop-motion animation months in advance. The Tampa Theatre Film Camp has a three-fold educational mission.


First, each five-day session teaches students in grades three through 12 the fundamentals of filmmaking, culminating in a finished production ready to premiere before family and friends by week’s end.


At the same time, the program gives area educators who serve as camp counselors extensive experience with the myriad technical aspects of filmmaking – what James Welsh, program director, calls a “powerful teaching tool.”


And third, the camp provides Welsh and other researchers from USF’s College of Education with the opportunity to study, analyze, enhance and refine how that tool can be used most effectively in classrooms in the future.


A USF alum, as well as doctoral student in the Childhood Education and Literacy Studies program, Welsh is the assistant director for the Florida Center for Instructional Technology (FCIT). Located in the College of Education, the FCIT is a leader in working with educators to integrate technology into the curriculum. The center assists over 1,200 pre-service teachers who graduate from USF each year, as well as thousands of in-service teachers throughout Florida.


It’s also where Tampa Theatre’s marketing director Tara Schroeder turned, and to its director Roy Winkelman, in 2003 when she wanted to start a summer camp at the theatre.


“I was familiar with the FCIT and called Roy because I knew that for the program to be successful the counselors would be key. We needed professional educators to guide the process,” said Schroeder.


A USF pre-service teacher or an in-service teacher who graduated from USF works with each small group of budding filmmakers. Students learn lessons in collaboration and compromise early in the week as they brainstorm ideas for their films. Planning and organization skills are honed as they consider the subject, audience and purpose of their films. Literacy skills take center stage as they create a storyboard and write their scripts, and problem-solving skills are employed at every turn.


Of course, there is a crash course in production: how to use a video camera to get the best shots, set up basic lighting, and use tripods and steadicams. Once filming is completed, students learn about iMovie, a video editing software application to produce their films.


It’s mountains of information to digest and work to do in five short days, but the program is successful because of the teachers. “Our counselors are educators,” says Welsh, “many of whom return to work at the camp year after year. They’re trained in teaching reading and writing and they approach filmmaking the same way.”


According to Welsh, filmmaking is a “framework on which you can hang a lot of other learning,” and the summer program is like a boot camp in the technology for teachers.


Allison Papke, a 2007 USF special education graduate currently pursuing a master’s degree in reading at USF, is a four-year veteran in the program. She regularly integrates filmmaking and other technologies into her seventh grade classroom at Learning Gate School in Tampa.


“Middle school students are very interested in technology because that is their world,” she said. “So bringing technology into the classroom is like bringing their life into the classroom. It gives them something to be excited about and motivates them.”


Since the program’s inception, Welsh has used the camp as a test bed for new approaches and techniques for integrating filmmaking technology into the classroom.


“It’s like our sandbox. We can try things out here during the summer that you couldn’t in a classroom.” Those findings and innovations then become the basis for book chapters, papers and conference presentations shared with fellow educators to encourage the use of cinematic arts as a teaching tool.


For the budding filmmakers, however, the reasons for flocking to the camp each year are simple.


Take Trevor Morrill, for example, a fifth grader at Collins Elementary in Riverview who wants to become an actor. “Camp is really fun,” he said. “You get to meet a lot of new people, make new friends. But I think it’s just the joy of making movies that makes me want to come here every day.”


Mary Beth Erskine can be reached at 813-974-6993.