Academy Efforts Target Teens

Teacher’s Guides

Since 2000, the Academy, with curriculum specialists Young Minds Inspired, has produced a series of teacher’s guides that explore the art and science of motion pictures. Each guide focuses on a specific aspect of filmmaking, such as animation, art direction, cinematography, documentaries, film editing, screenwriting, sound and music, and visual effects. The guides are targeted toward students in English, language arts, visual arts, science, and communication classes.

High schools throughout the U.S. – from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, and from Missoula, Montana, to Mobile, Alabama – utilize the guides as teaching tools to help students discover and experience the moviemaking process.

In February 2008 the Academy made its latest guide available: “Costumes and Makeup: Character by Design.” Each of the participating high schools received a 20-page study guide, activity worksheets in English and Spanish, resource lists and take-home activities. It also included a DVD supplement (a component added to the kits starting three years ago with assistance from Acme Filmworks). It features movie clips, production footage and interviews with Academy Award nominees and winners talking about their crafts, their inspirations and their career paths.

This year’s DVD includes highlights from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Walk the Line,” “Dreamgirls” and “Marie Antoinette” for costume design, and “An American Werewolf in London,” “Dick Tracy,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” for makeup.

In Julian Weber’s journalism class at Kenmore West Senior High School in Buffalo, New York, the guides are used to teach film analysis and to examine the relationship between journalism and documentary filmmaking.

In Lanore Pearlman’s senior English class at Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights, California, students are asked to analyze a film from a year prior to when they were born. The assignment requires an examination of the movie-making process, not just plotline summaries. The guides are a primary resource.

For Melissa McMillian-Cunningham’s theater arts class at Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas, the filmmakers’ comments on the DVD help create a connection between student and filmmaker.

For example, Oscar-winning makeup artist Matthew Mungle (“Bram Stoker’s Dracula”) describes an inspiration he had early on. “Being raised in Atoka, Oklahoma, population 4,000, I remember going to the theater and seeing “7 Faces of Dr. Lao.” His first thought? “How did they create the makeup on Tony Randall?”

The video is personal and direct. “For students to hear ‘when I was a kid living in a small town’ brings the story home for someone growing up in a small town,” says McMillian-Cunningham. “Kids begin to realize, ‘I can really do this.’”

Also on the DVD: six-time Oscar-winning makeup artist Rick Baker (“The Nutty Professor,” “Men in Black”) talks about the first plaster mask he made for a junior high science fair; he came in fifth. And Oscar-nominated costume designer Judianna Makovsky (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”) describes her fear of disappointing every child in the world if she didn’t achieve the right look when designing for Dumbledore, Hagrid and McGonagall.

“The guides are such an eye-opener for students,” says McMillian-Cunningham.

Students discover how a film editor affects a cinematographer’s work; how a production designer helps create the “look” of a movie; and how dialogue in an animated feature might be recorded before any characters have been drawn.

“They begin to realize that movies are not just about directors and actors, but a process that involves hundreds of people working as a team,” adds Randy Haberkamp, the Academy’s director of educational programs.

“The kids discuss the sets, costumes, makeup, music and scripts used in the movie,” says Pearlman, “which leads to wonderful class discussions.” Those discussions include exploring why the cinematographer chose to shoot a scene on a dimly lit set; why a costume designer chose a particular textured fabric; and whether or not the visual tone of the movie is appropriate.

Haberkamp notes that the guides are not primarily designed to turn students into filmmakers, but rather to help students understand filmmaking. “They’re intended to encourage critical thinking, expand knowledge of filmmaking, and increase overall interest in film and its cultural influence.”

Of course, in the case of some students, career inspiration results, too.

To make this kind of media literacy experience available to high schools across the country, the Academy is developing the program into what will be its tenth teacher’s guide, available in early 2009.

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