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Filmmaking Curriculum: Studio Pack Review by Deborah Burt

Crystal Creek Media, LLC
P.O. Box 232
Whitmore Lake, MI 48189

The Studio Pack from Crystal Creek Media is a homeschooling curriculum that allows budding filmmakers to bring an extensive film camp into their own homes. The Studio Pack is a compilation of Crystal Creek’s 16 Film Camp DVDs which cover a wide variety of topics such as strategic planning, screenwriting, location scouting, lighting, editing, acting, costuming, directing, distribution, legality, and biblical worldview. A student needs only a DVD player to watch and learn from this informative course; however, the authors state that if a student wishes to make his or her own film, a video camera and a computer are also required. Recommendations for further optional equipment are made throughout the series, such as types of cameras, microphones, and lights. Each of the individual DVDs in this course is sold separately for $10, or available in the Studio Pack as a set for $160.

The Studio Pack was created to be used as a one-semester high school course but is appropriate for ages 10 to adult. The creators of the Studio Pack suggest that students watch 1 DVD per week for 16 weeks, using the remaining days of each week to put into practice what they have learned from the lectures. The only homework required in this course is for the student is to complete his or her own movie by the end of the series. The presentations on the DVDs are set up in lecture format, with 7 speakers each teaching in their area of expertise.

Here’s just a taste of what a student will learn each week through these 16 DVD lectures:

Week 1 -

Coliseum to Cinema: Christianity and Entertainment - Daniel Knudsen covers the general history of filmmaking in this DVD. My student was surprised by the extent to which Christians were involved in early growth of cinema! Students watching this DVD will feel inspired to enter the culture war for Christ through the art of filmmaking.

Week 2 -

YouTube to Oscars: Strategically Planning Your Project - In this video, Philip Bolzman explains the importance of planning out a project before a filmmaker begins creation. Mr. Bolzman helps students understand what needs to go into a schedule (finding a crew, storyboarding, etc.) and how to construct a realistic timeline.

Week 3 -

Writing a Winning Script - Kathleen Knudsen delivers the lecture in this video, teaching basic story structures and helping students consider how to create complex and realistic characters for their film. She addresses 3 requirements for Christian artwork: holiness, creativity, and excellence. Students will finish this DVD ready to create their own screenplay.

Week 4 -

How to Make a Film and Not Go to Jail: The Business of Media - In this video, Andrew Bolzman helps students learn how to avoid breaking copyright laws and how to avoid being sued for injuries to crew members (small budget productions are at risk of going completely out of business when faced with lawsuits). Mr. Bolzman explains how to form an LLC, a Limited Liability Company, to protect oneself from putting personal assets at risk.

Week 5 -

Equipment for a Budget Production - In this video lecture, Philip Bolzman gives tips for finding affordable equipment for the low-budget student filmmaker. He demonstrates to the students what each piece of equipment looks like and what it is used for. He gives creative ways to avoid having to buy expensive equipment (for example, hanging heavy blankets over windows to shut out light instead of purchasing special industry gels made for that purpose).

Week 6 -

Navigation on Your Feature Film Set - Philip and Andrew Bolzman take turns explaining all the various positions on the set and how they interact with each other. Your student might be surprised at how many people it takes to make a feature film! The speakers cover each team member’s responsibilities in detail and explain the different levels of authority among the workers.

Week 7 -

Production Design and Location Scouting - In this DVD, Joseph and Stacie Graber explain how important location scouting is, especially when films are set in specific time periods. They give details on how to research and find suitable locales. The Grabers also go into detail about how important production design is for a student’s film, including how to use color in the sets to give films a particular “feel.”

Week 8 -

Of Knights and Fair Maidens: Costuming for Your Film - Gabriel Everson gives a basic overview on costuming in this lecture. He talks about how important appropriate costumes are to getting across to an audience the true sense of each character. He gives hints on how to research which costumes would work best, how to look for costumes, and how to make your own. He suggests learning to sew as a way to save money on production costs.

Week 9 -

The Rules and Art of Cinematography - In this video, Philip Bolzman, Timothy Jones, and Stephen Higginbotham explain various aspects of cinematography. They explain how camera angles can give the audience distinct impressions of a film’s characters or highlight important portions of the film; they also explain how to know when to use various angles. This is an important week for students to learn how to give their movies a semblance of professionalism.

Week 10 -

Lighting Your Shots for the Perfect Effect - Philip Bolzman uses this lecture to cover how lighting can change the entire feeling of a scene. He explains ways to light scenes with a small budget, and shares tips on faking sunlight and making it look like it is nighttime in the middle of the day, for times when filming is rushed.

Week 11 -

Taking Center Stage: Acting for Film - In this presentation, Daniel Knudsen gives insight into how an actor can give an emotionally-honest performance in front of a camera. He also talks about how important face-acting is for close-up shots.

Week 12 -

The Celebrity’s Guide to the Galaxy - Daniel Knudsen talks about a Christian can survive Hollywood with his or her integrity in tact.

Week 13 -

Directing a Feature Film - In this lecture, Daniel Knudsen talks about the many aspects of directing, ranging from the different types of director jobs to general goals of directors. He explains 3 of the most important ideas for a director to embrace: “Know what you want; know how to get it; and know when you got it.”

Week 14 -

Editing a Blockbuster -  In this video, students learn how editing is so valuable that it has the power to make a bad movie better or a good movie bad! Philip Bolzman purposefully avoids addressing the technical aspects of editing since filmmakers use many different editing programs but instead gives a general overview of the process.

Week 15 -

Storyboard to the Future: The Brave New World of Distribution - Andrew Bolzman teaches students how to get their stories “out there.” He gives both low and high budget ideas on advertising one’s film, including creating a website for your movie. He explains how and why a student may want to sell themed merchandise for their film.

Week 16 -

Is Your Message Rated “R”? - In this video, Daniel Knudsen covers the touchy subject of how to include a non-Christian idea such as violence in a Christian film. He asks students to consider the purpose behind their film, asking themselves what question they want lingering in the minds of the audience as they leave the theater. This Film Camp DVD leaves the student inspired to reach the world for Christ through filmmaking.

The Studio Pack is a wonderful way for homeschoolers to earn a semester of fine arts credit while learning about filmmaking. A student using this series must be comfortable learning from lecture format, without the opportunity to ask questions. Self-motivated students who are able to finish tasks without outside accountability are those who will most benefit from this course. Students must take the initiative and time to apply what they glean from the lectures to their own film projects as the presenters do not leave the students with concrete assignments each week. Homeschooled students in particular will appreciate this video curriculum. It appears that most if not all of the presenters were homeschooled themselves. Students will be impressed and inspired by these homeschooling graduates who have created their own curriculum and have become successful filmmakers at such young ages.

My son Micah, age 16, thoroughly enjoyed this DVD series and learned detailed aspects of filmmaking he did not even know existed before taking this course. He took the course this summer in an accelerated manner, watching 3-4 videos video per week instead of just 1 per week. Micah happened to already be in the middle of creating a film when we received the DVD series for review; so he simply applied the newly-discovered ideas to his work-in-progress. The most helpful ideas for his practical implementation came from the The Rules and Art of Cinematography. Micah was able to directly apply the advice on using camera angles to tell his story better. He learned some of the rules of cinematography that helped make his movie look more professional. Production Design and Location Scouting gave Micah the tips he needed to find suitable and well-equipped locations for his film. Is Your Message Rated “R”?  reminded him of the importance of having a purpose in filmmaking, deliberately thinking about what he wants to leave an audience thinking. The information in Editing a Blockbuster was not necessarily new to Micah because of his previous experience, but he says it is an informative and useful video for budding filmmakers. Micah gleaned more information from the Studio Pack than he was able to put into practice at this time, mostly due to his personal budget constraints. He’s excited to use more of the tips and tricks in his future endeavors.

Although the Studio Pack is amazing, it is not without room for improvement. I was both amazed and a little perplexed by the amateur and young speakers in this series. To have created a comprehensive film camp curriculum in one’s late teens or early twenties is no small feat, but the speakers’ inexperience was at times noticeable in their presentation skills. A few of the audio tracks in the DVDs were uneven in volume, but not enough to make the series annoying to watch. Micah wished the DVD series came with a workbook to assist him in following along with the lectures and so that he would have a written record of the ideas he picked up while watching. At the very least, he thought the course should have come with copies of the PowerPoint slides used throughout the course, as they simply were not on the screen long enough for copying. Micah would also like to see future versions of the Studio Pack come with specific assignments to go with each lecture.

[Editor’s Note: There is a Student Workbook that was left out of the course when it was initially sent in for review. The PDF was sent to the reviewer after the course was completed, and the review already submitted. The reviewer suggests we note the existence of the workbook, and her encouragement that it be include with purchases.]

Overall, our family, especially Micah, enjoyed the Studio Pack. The series gives a broad overview of many different aspects of filmmaking that students might not have previously considered. Although the price tag of the Studio Pack seems hefty at $160, we like to think of the money we saved not sending Micah away to film camp! Learning filmography is simply not an inexpensive endeavor. Crystal Creek Media makes the process more approachable by putting their film camp onto DVDs. Students going through this Studio Pack will be given everything they need to effectively plan and create their own film, while being encouraged and inspired to do so for the glory of God.

-Product review by Deborah Burt, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September, 2016