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Making Informal Movies: an Amazing Creative Playtime
For the past year, K and I have been making videos with our nephew Logan. As we were working on our latest one over the weekend, it struck me that this little ongoing project has been a really multifaceted kind of creative play. So I wanted to share some pictures and ideas here. If you have an imaginative kid, this might be fun for you to do together.
We got started down this road because K and I love having Logan over for play dates, but we were having some trouble playing well with him. Logan loves to build landscapes with LEGO and Heroscape tiles. And he loves character toys, like LEGO Minifigs and Skylanders figures. He loves to make up stories and act them out in these landscapes. But K and I, with our perhaps ossifying grown-up brains, would get tired quickly, or lose the fast-moving thread of Logan's story.
…So one day, we thought, "Why not try formalizing the story process a little by filming it with our phones?"
That proved to be the trick – Logan loved having an archive of his story in progress, and he proved to be a natural collaborator. So now, our play dates involve a little process: we talk about what section of our story we'll film that day. Then Logan builds the set. Then we figure out what will happen in our first "shot." We rehearse the dialog (which is made up on the spot), and then we film.
Uncle K later edits all the shots together and adds titles and effects and such. And then we post them on YouTube so the whole family can enjoy them. Here's Episode 1 of our most recent series:
We've been careful not to make this film-making into a chore. We take it very slowly and casually, and we don't get too hung up on technical details. Story discussion might be followed by snack time. Between rehearsal and filming, we might play video games. The whole process might pause for an hour of fart jokes and giggling. Logan drives, and all we do is bring a gentle question from time to time to see if he's ready to move on to the next phase.
What's been most exciting is how we've grown our collective skills over time. Nowadays, we're making backdrops and floors for our sets. Logan has natural musical aptitude, so we installed a keyboard app on K's iPad and now he plays music cues.
Here are some puppeteering LEGO stands I came up with, so we can move our minifigs around in shots. I just duct taped a stand to a bamboo skewer, and colored everything with a black magic marker.
There are so many wonderful things in play here: creative problem solving, making, collaboration and coordination, story-building, acting, and finally, editing magic. We were tickled to discover over the weekend that Logan's also a natural at the editing process. He directed Uncle K in the making of the "Previously On…" bit at the start of this video:
When this kid's up for his first Oscar, I hope he'll get enough tickets so we can all go.