Studying for finals? For some, that means video editing

Literature of Monstrosity teachers assign a monster movie instead of an exam

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Senior Tommy Dicke works the iPhone video as Ian Scott, Tabeer Naqvi, and Peter Michel ready for a scene (that Ned Laird-Raylor will rush into). “We’re doing one of the more traditional [horror films]: fear of death, fear of being trapped in the face of something that you can’t beat. [They’re] fairly stereotypical horror movie tropes but they’re pretty fun,” Scott said.

What do Frankenstein, Dracula, and World War Z all have in common? Monsters.

Upper School English teachers Emily Anderson and Randall Findlay teach a new English elective this fall called Literature of Monstrosity. Instead of administering a traditional exam at the end of the course, they assigned students to produce a short film that incorporates themes from texts they’ve read.

“All semester, the students have been doing quite a lot of reading and writing about what makes monsters work, why they’re scary, why they’re compelling, why we keep creating them over and over and over again regarding time, place, culture,” Anderson said.

The Making of a Monster

Anderson is interested to see how students approach the topic of monsters after reading texts such as Octavia Butler’s Fledgling and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I felt that [the film project] was a good way for them to synthesize and apply course questions and course themes in a creative way”

— US English teacher Emily Anderson

“I felt that [the film project] was a good way for them to synthesize and apply course questions and course themes in a creative way,” Anderson said.

Students are required to turn in a director’s notebook that includes the film’s concept, script, storyboard, and character diary.

“I want them to look at how monsters are often used to represent difference of all different sorts,” Anderson said.

Oftentimes, monsters are the antagonists of a story. They’re depicted as grotesque creatures that should be detested because they’re different. Authors use them as a metaphor to represent the worst part of themselves; to illustrate their insecurities and underlying fears.  

“So we’re afraid of things like death, we’re afraid of things like a loss of control, we’re afraid of [bad] things happening to our minds and bodies, but monsters are a way to think about those things without really having to thinking about those things,” Anderson said.

Student Produced Film

The student film-makers need to pay attention to camera angles, sound, and shot type to create an engaging and captivating short film featuring monsters they’ve fabricated.

 

Junior Adnan Askari and senior Ian Scott are working together in a group. Their film is about the last Nobi.

“We’re doing one of the more traditional [horror films]: fear of death, fear of being trapped in the face of something that you can’t beat. [They’re] fairly stereotypical horror movie tropes but they’re pretty fun,” Scott said.

Drawing from books like World War Z, Askari and Scott have developed their film’s plot.

“For context, the plot takes place long after Nobis have been removed from the middle school system. It’s the last remaining Nobi and it plays off of fear of failure of modern technology because [the Nobi] so durable and sturdy and strong which is something unconventional when compared to normal computers today. Society isn’t able to destroy [the Nobi], it’s able to avoid all of the weaknesses that plague normal computers. It’s a lot of fun, I’ve learned a lot,” Askari said.

For the past few weeks, the group has been writing the script while also looking into lighting, camera angles, and shadows, which are hard to replicate when the budget is zero dollars.

“We don’t have green screens or CGI, it’s very bare bones, and we’ve kind of been trying to work with what we have,” Askari said.

[They’re] fairly stereotypical horror movie tropes but they’re pretty fun,” Scott said.”

— senior Ian Scott

The Monster in the Everyday

Junior Marlo Graham is making a film about the inevitability of chain e-mails.

“So if you don’t forward [the email] on, then this is going to happen to you. It’s [about] a girl who comes after you if you don’t forward it on so it’s inevitability, if you don’t forward [the email], [something is] going to happen,” Graham explained.

The film project doesn’t allow students to use professional DSLR cameras or video recorders so they have to resort to their smartphone cameras.

“It’s a fun challenge actually, that we’re facing right now. We have to do a lot of research to make the audio better and different apps and lens attachments that we can use. So that’s actually been really fun and interesting for me to do because I’m really into videography,”

Graham said.

A long time fan of horror film, Anderson is looking forward to viewing the final products and how students’ interpretations of monstrosity themes translate onto the screen.

This is a second film project final for Findlay, who assigns a silent film in Seminar in Visual Narrative.