A Wheelchair Dolly and a Bathroom Ladder: DIY Filmmaking at Meridian

It’s the middle of a Friday at Meridian, but instead of being in my normal classes I’m sitting on a toilet in the girls bathroom and staring up at a video camera. For this year’s Winterim – a two-day workshop where students learn a new skill of their choice – I decided to do a filmmaking course led by Nathan. The first thing he told us was that film was a very visual medium. Throughout the next two days, we learned how to use angles, shot lengths, close-ups, and long shots to tell a story visually. On the first day, we watched some short films and discussed them. We read a sample screenplay and learned about formatting dialogue. We learned how to storyboard a script by sketching images of the shots we wanted, and we learned how to use the camera. After learning these steps, we were split into two groups to begin creating our short films. The only requirement was that we had to incorporate a random object picked from a box…  

It is commonly known at Meridian that whenever there is food on the white table – a round table in the middle of the office where “up-for-grabs” snacks are deposited – everyone really wants it. After picking a takeout box as our random item, my group decided to do create a short film about it. We knew we would be able to use the Meridian space to tell the story, and it would be understood easily by our Meridian viewers.

After making our storyboard, we set off on our way through the halls of the school with our takeout box in hand. Our process consisted of finding our next shot in our storyboard, discussing it, adjusting the camera, doing a take, and repeating the cycle as necessary. We laughed a lot during our process as we crowded around the camera to watch our footage.

One of the hardest shots was when Sam and I walked down the hallway to fight each other. (Our rivalry was over the takeout box, of course.) Grace, our camera person for that shot, sat in a wheelchair with the camera focused on my fist. As Nathan rolled the wheelchair down the hallway, we created a low-budget dolly. This same method was used on Sam’s fist, and the two shots were spliced when we edited the footage together.

But no doubt, the most challenging shot was an overhead of me in the bathroom. We moved a ladder into the girls bathroom, situated the tripod on the ladder, and ended up having to do many takes and retakes. However, this was one of the most exciting parts of the process. Everyone was having a good time and working on every detail to make the shot just right.

Having completed this filmmaking Winterim, I have a newfound appreciation for what goes into a film. So many people need to work on a vast array of details to make each shot perfect. Beyond this appreciation for the work, I also understand filmmaking language with more clarity – for instance, I know how a high shot or a low shot can tell two different stories. Making our story clear to our viewers required a lot of extra time, but piecing it all together was incredibly satisfying. Everyone was engaged and working towards an artistic vision. At 3:15pm on Friday, when we huddled around the computer watching our full short film, we laughed as we admired our work. In the end, that bathroom shot looked great.

Check out my group’s film here and the other group’s film here.