Reimagining Film Class

By Audrey McGee

This 2020-2021 school year began on a weird note. School has evolved so much through the weeks of distance learning. All students are familiar with the pins and needles we get in our legs after sitting down for hours in one spot. Some classes at Jenks were able to hold their structure well; however, some classes needed a little reinventing to hold their shape through this new time. 

Clifton Raphael started the film program at Jenks nearly 17 years ago. His film class has gone through some revamping over the years as he found his way around the classroom. Having started out in the television industry, Raphael wanted to open Jenks up to this developing field of work. 

This first major change in his film program was the addition of a C-SPAN documentary piece. C-SPAN: Student Cam, is a program hosted by C-SPAN where students throughout the U.S. create documentaries based on CSPAN’s yearly prompt. Raphael described to me how he came about this competition.

“I saw in the paper that another High School, I think it was Broken Arrow,” says Raphael. “They had won a top prize and I said to myself, ‘if they can win that, then we can do even better.’ And sure enough, the first year we entered we won a $1,500 2nd place, then the next year we won a $5,000 grand prize.”

C-SPAN is a competition that Raphael has had his students enter in ever since he first heard about the event.

“Doing well in those competitions can, in turn, lead to being able to get into some very good undergraduate film programs,” says Raphael.

Aside from the addition of a C-SPAN documentary, Rapheal has recently added a fictional film section. He decided to include this new style of film after troubles with applying his class virtually. There was a major concern with camera equipment.

“I was trying to come up with projects where we didn’t have to worry about the safety of the equipment check out,” says Raphael. “Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, people worried about picking things up through surfaces.”

Raphael decided to have his students film on their phones for their first project of the year. However, the normal documentaries Raphael assigned did not seem like a good idea in the context of the pandemic. This is where Raphael went off book and decided to try a new type of film development with his students.

“With nonfiction films, they have to find people to profile, usually a stranger to them. That might put that person in an uncomfortable situation of having to say no. I find that with the fictional films, they’re either using actors from their own household or friends that they have been hanging out with anyways,” says Raphael.

This made the first weeks of distance learning easier to manage. Raphael decided he would use this time to develop his students’ story plans.

“We spent months with both intro and advanced kids working out the story. Doing what’s called loglines (which are a brief description of the film), and then going through what is called the scene cards (the various scenes you are going to have, the shots you are going to have, and the little bit of dialogue you are going to have),” says Raphael.

Jolie Abdo, a Junior at Jenks high school, is currently in Raphael’s advanced filmmaking class and has been with the program for 3 years now. She has enjoyed the new film curriculum so far. Abdo told me how she initially got interested in the film program.

“Going into high school I didn’t think I was that creative of a person,” says Abdo. “I’m just not great at other art forms, so I thought I would go for something a little more out there. It felt like a more special thing to do.”

Abdo was one of the only students in Raphael’s class who was able to finish editing their fictional film before the C-SPAN season came. Although she has enjoyed the new film curriculum so far, Abdo was slow to accept this new process.

“At first I was a little reluctant to the fictional film idea,” says Abdo. “I was definitely a little worried to go out of my comfort zone with fictional films. I was like ‘man, I have been doing these documentaries for so long’. I have always liked writing and developing stories, so it was cool to use two things that I love doing and it makes sense.”

We asked her what she thought about the change and she told me she likes the direction the film program is heading down.

“I think this would enable kids to make more intentional projects,” says Abdo. “I just know from personal experience I will go into a documentary project. I won’t put my all into it because it’s so repetitive. After a while, it gets hard to be creative with a topic. You find a mediocre topic and you run with it. With fictional films, you aren’t limited to what is in Tulsa.”

Raphael still intends on starting out his introduction to film kids with documentaries. Primarily because it puts students out of their comfort zone with having to interview new people. He also wants to prepare new students for the C-SPAN: Student Cam competition which they will compete in once they reach advanced film. 

“One of the advantages of documentaries is that you are having to work and communicate with total strangers. I have had students tell me ‘I have never talked to a total stranger prior to this class,’” says Raphael. 

However, Raphael is still open to the idea of keeping the fictional films in his future curriculum. He goes on to say that there are advantages to documentaries, but there are also advantages to these new fictional films. 

“It’s still a matter of being in a situation where maybe for the first time in your life you are in charge of something and having to direct people to do things you want them to do,” says Raphael. “It gives them this extra responsibility and skill.”

The Jenks film program is filled with opportunities for any student to take advantage of. This new film curriculum only expands the skills that can be utilized in this class! Film Applications can be found outside Raphael’s room in Building 5.

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