collaboration + creativity through the arts = accelerated learning


kate's leg


It has been a phenomenal year of facilitating the arts at the awesome Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry.  I have learned so much – especially about making films.  We humbly began here, and within one iteration, we have taken off (see films below).

Of course, there is still so much learning to do.  Overall though, these students worked incredibly hard to put together high production value art on almost no budget.  Indeed, the goal is to make it to the pros and generate revenue.  This will take various forms next year and the skills that we have acquired making these productions has us on the right trajectory.  I can only imagine where we’ll be in a few years time.

Working on a giant production with so many moving parts is a tremendous vehicle for learning important cognitive processes and competencies as well as a great deal of professionalism.  The key to a successful future is being able to accelerate learning and build a team of incredible talent who are super nimble that can stay ahead of the giant changes that are happening in the world.

Please watch these films below.  They are proof of how far students can push and accelerate their learning if given the opportunity.  I am honored to have been embroiled in the creative and collaborative process of making art with these talented young artists.

The Bag:

Hey Blondie:


  1. Dearest Jake, the film has been a long and exiting process in which I have learned much- mostly though working with other people. When I am actually passionate about something such as this, I find myself quite opinionated while everyone else has different opinions on the matter, and that is how I have learned to bend and see reason in other people’s opinions.

    My favorite part of the production was definitely the choreography. We found that there is a large difference between realistic and cinematic aesthetic which at times was an odd thing to deal with but in the end I think that it turned out quite nicely.

    The most difficult process of the movie were my few lines. Acting is a skill that definitely needs a lot of practice. After trying to act, I have a lot of envy for actors. It is an amazing talent.

    Thanks to everyone who helped in this process.

  2. Throughout the course of this year, I have played a minor/major role in two short films. Each written, filmed and directed by my fellow students. One called “The Bag” is centered around two opposing agencies who have sent their best men and women, trained assassins, etc, to recover a Bag that has something in it of paramount importance to them both. The other film, called “Hey Blondie” is set in a coffee shop. The plot is centered around two lesbian women, one a regular customer, the other a regular employee, who slowly fall in love. Both films were made completely from scratch and both brought their own unique obstacles and goals.

    With The Bag, the main component I found interesting was the Fight Choreography aspect. There were a number of fight scenes with the film that I was a part of. Many involving guns, swords, knives and fists. All of which were fascinating to film. When fighting, the cuts get faster. Different and creative angles are mixed with lots of shots to make it more appealing and exciting to the watcher. Problem is, when you’re trying to stay awake enough to meet the energy level required of a fight scene, yet have to stop every thirty seconds to wait for the cameras to transition in to the next shot, it becomes an insanely more tedious job than it should be to stay in character. Trick I found that works? Stay mad. Which worked well for my character. After filming for hours you tend a bit snappy. Use that, and channel it into your acting.

    On top of being an actor, I was also one of the main script writers for this film, which was a stimulating experience. Considering my previous history with writing, (usually alone and based on stories existing purely within my own mind), writing someone else’s story in a format I wasn’t used to was almost uncomfortably new. I think that despite this, I managed to find the balance of trying to do my own thing, while simultaneously pleasing those who I was collaborating with. It was hard to collaborate with them when they would say my work didn’t fit or whatnot. However I found a way to get over that, and build off of their harsh feedback.

    Now Hey Blondie was on the opposite end of the spectrum, partly because instead of having to write the script from scratch like The Bag, we had a student named Jordan come to us with a finalish draft of the script and a shot list. My job was basically to show up on set with memorized lines and be a sort of “Yes sir, No sir” kind of actor. Which was, in some scenarios, extremely relieving to relinquish the power I am so often used to having. Also, for this film, I had this insanely untamed blonde wig that heated up my head and shed all over my clothes. Now that filming is over I have an overwhelming desire to burn it. However, for those few hours during filming when it was on, it didn’t matter how much my head itched. I was one with the wig. (Apologies for the cheesiness) but it’s true!

    Something that I found interesting to observe on set, were three different directors attempting to work together. Jordan- Artistic Director. Avery- Director of Photography. Teagan- Director. Often Avery would flat out tell Teagan he was doing it wrong, or Jordan would get irritated at a shot she wanted to do but couldn’t do. However, in the end, they found a way to collaborate well enough to get the film finished.
    In the past I have done a fair bit of acting, most of which taking place on stage. Film has been an entirely unexpected change to my previous history. Theatre includes countless practices all leading up to two days of nonstop performance. Lights. Camera. Makeup. Costume. Mics. Hair. Etc… Whereas acting in a film is far more anti-climactic, and so far, rewarding in no other way than it feels so good when you stop. When filming, there is less freedom to improvise than on stage. Mostly because the shots are set up in a certain way, and any variation could screw up things behind the camera. In film someone has the power to yell cut if you make a mistake. In theatre the show must go on. Again, you must surrender your power, which as previously mentioned I don’t mind doing at all! This can become a problem when I do something wrong due to a lack of communication between the director and myself. When this happens more shots are added which lengthens our time. Frustration builds.

    Another thing I noticed was that one day of filming is almost doubly as tiring as one theatre practice. Mostly due to the fact that the director has to get one shot from a seemingly endless number of angles, twice. Not including screw-up’s which are always a given. However, from what I’ve said so far you may get the impression I’m bashing the film industry and glorifying theatre, which is not the case. In hindsight, I realize that when I was more of a theatre actor I was in elementary/middle school. The challenges I have had to face could have less to do with switching industries, and more to do with me working underneath a higher expectation because of my higher grade.

    All in all, underneath the supervision of my acting mentor, Jake West, I have learned a lot about on-set demeanor and the Film industry vs Theatre this year. I have gotten the chance to collaborate with my peer group in a professional manner, and have had the honor to be a part of making a few finished products that are pretty damn good. It’s been fun. Looking forward to next year, Jake.

    • Brigid,

      Thanks so much for the reflection.

      For me too. It was very unexpected for me to be facilitating fight choreography and swinging swords around in parkades, throwing people off boats and more craziness. What an intense learning process it has been. It certainly is an awesome side of acting to develop as well as very important – physical acting and bodywork. We have no doubt done a large share of it this year.

      Collaborative script writing is so tough. I learned a lot this year too on how to facilitate that and it will be much, much different for next year.

      You did a fabulous job acting in both. I was also pleasantly surprised by how it all went into films this year. It seems like it was meant to be. I am almost always doing live shows, which I love, so it has been quite the journey into filmmaking this year. There is so much crossover, yet somethings are just so radically different as you explain in this post.

      All in all, combined with improv, this has been one heckuva an interesting and rewarding year for your acting experience.

      I too am really looking forward to next year.

  3. Making the movie “Hey Blondie” has been a new and exciting experience. It has helped me learn valuable skills in organization, planning, and teamwork, as well as the process of making a film and editing it after.

    When I first had the idea to make this film, I went to my teacher Jake West and explained my idea. He latched onto it instantly and said he would help us throughout the process. He also said that I, of course, would be director. I wasn’t sure if I was up to the task of being the director. I never saw myself as a good leader and now it was up to me to make up a team of actors and a crew, scout a location, make a shot list, a production schedule and oversee filming all while acting in the movie myself. It was a daunting job, but in the end one I’m very glad I took on. Throughout the process I learned a lot about myself as well, including that I have the ability to put together a team where we can work together to achieve an end goal.

    Pre-production was a crazy month and a half. Starting the movie as late in the year as we did added another challenge, and the question of whether or not we would have enough time to get everything done. We had a bit of a rocky start. With another movie being done at the same time, and several students working on both films, it was difficult at times to coordinate everyone’s schedules. Making the production schedule was also something new for me that turned out to be much more complicated than I anticipated. I was glad to have Jake for assistance and we managed to get it done in time.

    The film also contained four original songs, three written by myself (Paper Snowflakes, Spread Your Wings, and Who You Are (which was written specifically for the film)) and one by a friend of mine (the title song “Hey Blondie” which inspired the film). Before going into production we recorded an EP containing these four songs plus my friend’s original version of her own. One of these songs, “Who You Are,” was pre-recorded for use in the film. When the film is released we plan to release the EP on iTunes and Bandcamp to gain revenue.

    Once we got into production I was glad to have a team to work with. Acting in the movie inhibited my ability to direct, but the other students I was working with were able to interpret my shot list and instructions and we ended up filming everything in five afternoons. However, these five afternoons were not all smooth sailing. We had another student, Teagan, step in as Director, while Avery, our cameraman, was dubbed Director of Photography. Having all three of us working in variations of the same role was not always easy to coordinate. On the first day of filming I was surprised at how annoyed I would be at times when things were not working the way I had hoped. After I realized this I tried my best to keep myself more in check, while also remembering that I was a director and it was my job to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be. It’s a difficult balance to achieve when you also have to remember lines and play live music, but I think by the last day of filming I was closer than I was in the beginning. All in all, I don’t think we could have ended up with such a great film if I hadn’t had everyone I did working with me. It was an opportunity that I believe taught me how to work better in a group to get the job done.

    Post-production was something I was mostly on my own for, which I admit was a welcome change. This involved seven days of editing, which I had very little experience in up until my first day working on this film. Some of the others students I had worked with (Avery and Matt) taught me how to edit with the program Adobe Premiere Pro. This included syncing video and audio, cutting clips together, and choosing the best take. It wasn’t a particularly fun process, but the finished product was worth it.

    After everything, I’m glad I pitched the idea to Jake at the beginning of the year. Looking back, I would have liked more time in pre-production to get a more solid plan for going into production. It would have been better to have everyone working exclusively on one movie rather than going back and forth between two, and to be sure everyone could commit to specific filming and rehearsal times, including having their equipment available when needed. I also believe it would be much easier to have one person in one role, rather than multiple people being a director. However, these were all valuable learning experiences that will make the next film I work on go that much smoother. I can hardly wait for the chance to do another!

    • Awesome reply! Thanks so much for recounting your experience. I too am really looking forward to another year of filmmaking. Excellent work!

  4. This year at PSII, I have been involved in the production of three short films. I have learned an incredible amount from all of these experiences.

    The first short film we made was called “The Bag”. The idea to make a film stemmed from a few of my fellow school mates and my super awesome educator, Jake West, messing around with fake wooden swords and then eventually choreographing a fight scene. I was not involved in pre-production because, well, there was none. This is noticeable in the final product, mostly because there is no dialog, but it’s still a pretty great film. The work that I did do for that project was sound design. Even though I am incredibly proud of what I/we did, I will admit that it was fairly cheesy and unrealistic-but still awesome.

    The second film that we made was a version of the first one but with a story line, a plot and actual dialog. This film has been an amazing experience. We started in January and now we’re nearly done in June. The first step in making this film was planning out the story line. This entailed lots of long meetings/think tanks, weeding out the bad ideas and figuring out locations. (We shot one scene in a plane and one scene in a boat.)

    After that came writing the script. This was very complicated because we had to make sure that what we were writing made sense in light of the types of characters. We did end up having to scrap lines and entire scenes because we got carried away when we were writing, thus making the movie much too complicated. This is barely even the beginning of the process, after all this we had to go into production.

    I was very involved in shooting this time around for a few reasons. The first being since there was dialog this time, we had to make sure we had good audio. (If you’ve read my blog you’ll know that audio engineering is my passion.) For this we had to use a “boom mic”. I’ve never used one of these before, so that was a good learning experience for me. The second part of my involvement in shooting was acting. I’ve never acted before, so that was very enjoyable too. I also got thrown in the ocean, so that was fairly crazy.

    All of this involved a lot of intense scheduling, which got very frustrating very quickly due to weather restraints, other school work, hard-to-get-to locations and occasionally certain members of the cast and crew were somewhat unreliable. I will admit, I took a part in that, but now I know what kind of impact it has when someone shows up late, so I will do my very best to be on time in the future. Because of time constraints we had to start editing the moment we had footage.

    Editing has been fun but gets monotonous. It involves a lot of searching through takes to find the best one, syncing the sound and then getting rid of all the excess footage. It’s kind of insane the ratio of time spent shooting to amount of footage used in the final product. It usually equates to about one hour of shooting per one minute of usable footage. Finally after cutting all the video together, I got to do the sound design. For the last movie we used a piece of music that Jake found and let it run through the whole movie which worked because we had no dialog. For this movie that did not work because we had dialog and obviously if we had music going over that we wouldn’t be able to hear people. Another important feature of the movie are the foley sounds (I.E. Punches). For the last film, I just downloaded all that from, but those were incredibly unrealistic and cheesy. This time around I’m going to record all of this myself using either a punching bag or a willing human.

    To summarize, this project has been incredible (albeit occasionally quite frustrating and stressful). I believe that I have gained some amazing knowledge about the technical side of filmmaking, acting on camera and I think most importantly, collaboration. I am very excited to work on more films next year and I feel that our level of proficiency, and consequently quality, will improve a great amount in the future. I would like to thank immensely my fellow PSII students that worked on this project for making it one of the most enjoyable and educational experiences of my life, and of course I need to thank PSII educator Jake West for facilitating the whole thing.

    • Mattski,

      Thank you very much for the reflection. I sincerely appreciate you looking back over the year and how you progressed and what you will do better for next year. Your sound engineering skills are incredibly valued at the school. I am not sure what we are going to do without you when you graduate.

      I feel that we have all learned so much this year and I can’t wait to being this learning into our creative projects next year.

      Keep rocking it!

  5. Since the beginning of this year, some students and myself have been working on a short-film series we’ve been calling, “Fight Scene”. Through doing this, I’ve learned how to choreograph a fight, how to use manual focus and film, how to make fake blood, and how to use a zoom microphone.

    While we’ve been filming our second one, we’ve run into a few issues. From the main actor having hickeys on his neck, to the production team forgetting their memory cards. Due to that happening, we’ve learned to be a bit more professional. Every night before filming, we charge our cameras and make sure our SD cards are in our equipment.

    The locations in which we have been filming Fight Scene have been awesome. We have a scene in a plane (yes, an actual flying plane), as well as in a boat. This leads me to say that this has been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in school. The problem with having such unique sets, was getting everyone there. We’ve been very lucky that our amazing teacher, Jake, was willing to drive us to and from places. He’s been supporting us through this whole thing, even when we got on his nerves. He has taught me how to choreograph a fight, how to work with a team, and how to make a film.

    I didn’t think I would be interested in film but being able to learn it as a school subject changed my mind. The happiness I felt when I got to see my work on screen, even if it was just on my laptop, was one of the best things ever. I felt a sense of pride knowing that all the effort and time I put into a project actually amounted to something.

    What makes a team work properly is communication. I cannot stress how important this was for the production team and the actors. When working with a large group of people, it can be hard to feel heard and understood. While I think we did fairly well at hearing each other out, we definitely could work on it for next year. Due to some communication issues, on occasion the actors showed up late and the crew forgot their equipment.

    Next year things will be a lot different. We will have contracts that everyone will have to sign in order to make sure things go smoothly. There will be no goofing around on set, there will be a schedule for who is doing what, and we will work on that schedule even if someone “doesn’t feel like doing it”. We will be getting new students that are interested in acting/film so we will also have new faces appearing in our next movie. We will be keeping the crew separate from the actors so it will be easier to keep track of what everyone needs to do on a certain day.

    At the end of the day, I couldn’t be more proud of everyone that has worked on this. It all started with some students playing around with wooden swords and turned into an actual movie. It’s been an amazing experience and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do it.

    • Thank you for the reflection Jasmine – I really appreciate it.

      I also really, really appreciate that you have learned in spades that a properly working team requires clear communication. To me, content is mostly forgotten, but what does remain are cognitive processes. Communication, negotiation, collaboration…these are the skills that you need to work successfully in any organization.

      Looking forward to waht we create next year!

  6. Over the past six months, I have been involved in what has possibly been the largest film project of my entire life. “The Bag”, also called “Fight Scene”, is a relatively long, short action film featuring boats, planes, and choreographed fights involving a variety of weapons.
    Preproduction was a long process that required a lot of creativity and collaboration. We worked together to create an outline for the film which then got turned into a script and eventually a shot list. Neither writing nor planning are my strong suit but I helped where I could. The preproduction process in general is something I personally need to get better at. Going to Gifts in less than a month will definitely help with that in a “boot camp” sort of way, because I’ll be going through the entire process by myself in a significantly shorter timeframe.
    Production was a slightly more busy, but far more interesting process. One big thing we could have done better is to not switch roles as much. Due to lack of actors, scheduling issues and other factors, each person was asked to take on a variety of roles based on what was needed. This led to us being very unorganized and is something we would like to change next year. This year we were mostly still getting comfortable and testing out certain roles. Next year we will have a much better idea of what to do. We will assign only one person to each role and be able to carry out shoots in a more effective, time-efficient manner.
    Postproduction started shortly after the production process began, thus overlapping for a large portion of the time. The task of editing fell to Teagan, Matt and I. During the process I greatly improved my skills in color correcting, sound, and expanded my knowledge about some of the more technical elements of Premiere Pro as well. The best part about the editing process for me is how hard I can work without it feeling like work. We edited for hours and hours at a time but it still felt like I was hanging out with friends despite how productive we were being. And when you get to see the final product, it makes it all worth it. If you worked that hard and didn’t make something awesome, the process itself wouldn’t be as fun.
    We argued a fair amount during all stages of the process. Arguing is never fun, but having creative differences is part of the territory when working on a project as artistic and collaborative as this one was. With that, there is always the danger that compromises can cause the final product to be watered down and not have as clear a vision as it would have had. The hard part is finding a way to get around that, and bring many creative minds together in a way that creates something greater than any could do on their own. We had our differences, but I think the film turned out fantastic despite that.

    • Thanks for the reflection Avery.

      It certainly was one huge learning experience. I learned just as much as you guys and I have thought of many ways to streamline processes for next year too. Really looking forward to next year and the films we produce! Soak up as much as you can at GIFTS so you can share all of that knowledge with the rest of the team. Thanks again for all of your hard work, especially in the editing process.

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