BRANSON, Mo. – Young filmmakers from across the United States learned to create professional-looking films on a teenager’s budget during the recent FilmFest 4-H in Branson.
This is the third year for the festival. Attendance has doubled since the first FilmFest 4-H in 2011, says Bradd Anderson, youth specialist for the University of Missouri Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development, which organized the festival with the Missouri Film Office.
“There’s a lot of life skills you can learn through raising a cow, building a robot or making a film,” Anderson said. “This includes critical thinking, problem solving, communication abilities. So, we just thought the FilmFest 4-H is an exciting, new venue for youth development that hadn’t been tapped yet.”
Among the big-name presenters at the three-day festival was Mike “Tater” Haviland, who has produced shows for ESPN, The History Channel and The Outdoor Channel. He advised young filmmakers to be resourceful and frugal.
“Use what’s available to you,” Haviland said. He often shoots documentaries in remote locations where he can’t bring all of his equipment, he said. Sometimes equipment breaks and there’s no time to repair or replace it, so he has to improvise.
He told 4-H’ers they can still get the big shot even if they don’t have big bucks. For example, it’s possible to build a dolly and track to control camera movement using a skateboard and items from discount stores.
“Always take what’s at hand and modify it,” he said. Garage sales, flea markets and discount stores are a young filmmaker’s friend, he added.
Veteran art department guru Wyatt Weed, whose miniature work is on display in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and a host of other effects-filled shows, echoed Haviland’s message.
He showed 4-H members how to create the illusion of full-size sets by filming three-dimensional paper miniatures at interesting angles. “If you can’t find a house that’s cool enough for your film, maybe you can build it,” he said.
He reminded 4-H’ers that there are three ways to do things: fast, cheap and good. “You can do two of the three, but not all three,” he said. “Miniatures are like that. If you have time and patience, you can do anything.”
Weed showed a spaceship he had made from PVC pipe and other common items from the lumberyard. Using creative shooting angles, the miniature craft looked convincingly massive on film.
Thriftiness also is valuable to young makeup artists, said Jeff Lewis, who received six Emmy nominations for his work on three TV series in the “Star Trek” franchise.
During a workshop on special effects makeup, students clamored around Lewis as he demonstrated how to apply makeup, liquid latex and common items such as cotton balls to create realistic wounds and character effects.
Emmy Award winner Russ Weston, a veteran military photojournalist, showed breathtaking documentaries filmed in remote areas.
Weston advised young filmmakers to learn something about everything and not try to know everything about one thing. He also suggested that they get a traditional education before pursuing a filmmaking career so they would have something to fall back on.
You don’t have to invest a lot of money buying numerous lenses, Weston said. He said he shoots video with the same lenses most of the time, using matched-action sequencing, which combines medium, distant and close-up shots that create the illusion of continuous action.
Weston also talked about the need to be your own salesman and the importance of booking an agent.
Filmmaking is an exciting career with unusual opportunities, he said. He has met every U.S. president since Richard Nixon. “You get to hobnob with the rich and famous, even though you are poor.”
For more information about FilmFest 4-H, go to 4h.missouri.edu/filmfest.
Studies from Tufts University have shown consistently that 4-H members are nearly twice as likely as non-members to pursue college careers in science, engineering or computer technology.