T.A.N.K.S was one of the films made by young people through the Oak Grove Film Project, a peer mentoring and integration project that brought mainstream young people and young people with special needs together to make short films. Workshops explored genre, technical filmmaking skills, script writing and development, casting, stage fighting, props making, acting techniques and direction.
In the first year of the project the young people made a science fiction film, an outcome decided by the project organisers. For the project’s second year I wanted the young people to have more ownership of what they made, so I wanted them to select the genre themselves. In order to present the group with their options I ran a series of workshops on genre looking in particular at genres that were easy to define stylistically and visually such as Horror, Western, Thriller, Action and Adventure. In each workshop I would show film clips as examples in order to prompt the group to pick out the defining elements or ingredients of each genre. We looked at the visual style, basic story structure and archetypal characters within each genre and explored the associations that the group had with each type of film. The group then voted for the genre that they would like to work in, choosing to make an Action movie.
With the genre selected, we then began to explore Action in more depth looking at films like Die Hard, Hot Fuzz and Kung Fu Hustle. The group explored a workshop on the action hero, looking at the typical personality traits of an action hero, their journey to becoming a hero through the course of the story and their relationship to other characters such as a sidekick, a love interest (who finds herself in danger) and an authority figure who challenges the hero’s methods.
With our understanding of the action hero complete, I then led a workshop that looked at the villain’s role within the genre and the ways in which the villain can be compared and contrasted with the hero. We also looked at his henchmen and cronies.
To begin generating ideas for our film, I ran a workshop in high concept movies – films with a simple premise that can be explained in one sentence. The group were asked to identify a number of films from their high concept descriptions and then began creating and pitching their own high concept premises for the film. The aim was to establish a threat for our hero to fight against as this would provide the basis of our plot. We played around with a lot of ideas, established which concepts were the most popular choices and then began to swap and combine elements until we had a story idea that everyone agreed on. The threat was an evil headmaster with a brainwashed army of school children – Totally Awesome Ninja Kids – giving us our title, TANKS.
With our characters identified and a premise on which to build our plot, I then led the group in exploring the hero’s journey more closely and used story structure, along with all of the genre ingredients we’d already listed, to map out a blueprint for a typical action film plot. This blueprint followed a recognizable three-act structure that the group were able to apply to a number of action movies that they were familiar with. This plan outlined roughly ten scenes in which our hero notices something suspicious, investigates, identifies the villain and meets a series of obstacles before finally defeating the enemy. We were then able to slot our story ideas and ingredients into the blueprint and soon had a full story outline for the writers to work with.
The group split into two working groups for the screenwriting process with a group of writers discussing ideas and drafting scenes while a group of actors improvised scenes and characters. Each week the two groups would feed each other ideas with the writers suggesting scenes or characters for the group to improvise and the actors performing them. I felt that this was a good way for those who didn’t want to write to still feed their ideas into the script and influence the story. Improvisation can be really useful to help writers come up with new ideas or fill in gaps in the story that they might be struggling with.
Castings were filmed and done in groups so that people could also try out for crew roles and get in some practise with the kit.
The film needed to be high energy. Obviously car chases weren’t possible and so our chases had to be on foot. We also had a stage fighting workshop in order to learn safe fighting techniques for the film and devise our onscreen clashes. This was a particularly fun day.
We shot the film over a few weekends at The Rosie and around Oak Grove College. The film was entered into the Oak Grove Community Film Festival and was nominated for ‘Best Drama.’