TRUCKEE, Calif. — Last fall, the sixth grade students of Sierra Expeditionary Learning School produced their own film, which is now receiving praise both locally and internationally.
The documentary, “Geology of California, 4,500,000,000 years in the making,” looks at the history of California's geology, as well as demonstrating how certain forces, such as tectonic plates, work to shape the state. Students spent months researching information, interviewing experts, and completing field work, along with filming and editing, to produce the short film.
The 24 students in Reenie McMains' class were challenged to produce a professional film by her husband, Doug McMains, of DougMcmains.com.
“My husband and I talked about it before the school year started. We asked ‘Do you think at that age they can produce a professional production?' I've been teaching sixth grade for 11 years, and have kept up with the technology a lot, and I can see what the kids can do these days and it's phenomenal,” Reenie explained. “We had (Doug) come in and talk and ask (the students) if they thought they could do it.”
“Of course we said yes,” said Cole Bumen, a member of the class.
With little-to-no prior experience producing films, the students spent the whole fall of 2011 behind the lens. They set up interviews with experts and traveled to locations to perform field work, including a three-night camping trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The film, at 25 minutes long, includes interviews with geologists, experiments and digital artwork, all to explain how California has changed in the past 4.5 billion years.
“Geology of California” begins with footage from the 4.8 magnitude earthquake that rolled out of south Plumas County shortly before midnight on Oct. 27, 2011, followed with members of the class recalling where they were and how it felt to experience an earthquake.
Continuing, the students meet and ask experts, such a Bill Hammond, a research professor from the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, to further explain topics such as earthquakes and plate tectonics.
Using graphics, the film explains natural phenomena such as the San Andreas Fault. Through various experiments, the students show how different facets of nature work. One example of this, is when students use a hard boiled egg to demonstrate how mountains are made, when plates sway and move together, as well as when the plates move apart, creating deep canyons.
Every member of the class had a role in producing the film, whether they were involved in script writing or camera work. Bumen explained that at the beginning of the project, the class outlined everything that would go into the three production stages: pre-production, production and post production.
They then put all the steps on a white board in the classroom, and referenced that throughout the project. Students had the opportunity to sign up for whatever aspect of the film interested them the most, and then were able to participate in those areas.
“Everyone got to do what aspect of the film they wanted to,” Reenie McMains added.
The students used professional cameras and editing software to make the film. When asked what their favorite part of production was, the three students interviewed all responded that editing was the best part. The students worked over their winter break to edit the film.
“I was cool with it,” Blair Hammond said of getting his break cut into for additional school work.
“The editing took a very long time,” said Taylor Pruski, another member of the class.
“It definitely wasn't your average middle school day,” Bumen added about their time spent in the editing studio.
The film premiered this past June in Squaw Valley to an overflow crowd. Since, the film has been accepted into two film festivals: the Sacramento Music and Film Festival, 2012 Summerfest; and the Worldkids International Film Festival in Mumbai, India.
“I'll remember everything (about making the film), but the premiere stands out a lot,” Taylor said. “So many people (were there) and you feel so proud to actually accomplish something so big and have so many people see it and be wowed.”
McMains added that while the students produced the film themselves, it could not have been done with out support from their families and the community.
“We're fortunate that we had so many people in the community that were willing to give their time and expertise,” she said. “It was just phenomenal, and every piece of that was done by the kids.”
To learn more about the film and the class, contact Reenie McMains at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School at firstname.lastname@example.org.