News Column

All hands in: Students collaborate on film project

May 23, 2013


May 23--Thursday's movie night at Summit School was 2 1/2 months in the making.

"Looped Legends," based on the short story "The Five Marvelous Pretzels" by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl Sandburg, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Loma Hopkins Theater at Summit School. The screening is open to the public.

The 40-minute movie was produced by Summit fourth-graders and their teacher, David Stoeri, using puppets and animation.

"I've always liked his writing," Stoeri said of Sandburg's work. "It's fun to play around with."

This is the fourth straight year that students in Stoeri's fourth-grade writing classes have made a movie as a class project. Before becoming a teacher, Stoeri was a full-time musician and storyteller and said that he draws on those experiences with his writing classes. Josh Perry, who teaches digital media at the school, completed a final edit on the video the kids shot.

"We use movie making as a way to make kids learn," Perry said. That includes writing, art, problem-solving and even math, since the kids had to calculate such things as the number of frames a second their animation needed to move.

More than 60 students from three classes were involved in the production, including some from Triad Academy.

The students collaborated on the screenplay, fleshing out Sandburg's story about five pretzels in a window of a bakery that decide they would rather be circus stars than snacks. The students split the story up into chunks and worked in groups, writing the script and deciding on the artwork and backgrounds for each scene. They built the puppets and the backgrounds, designed movie posters and recorded the footage on iPad Minis.

The students even gave the unnamed pretzels in Sandburg's story distinct identities, turning them into Rhythma, Tulip, Nannybelle, Nails and Spitfire, and adding a sixth pretzel to the story in the form of Big Twist, a ringmaster at the circus. The fourth-graders made three versions of each character using modeling clay, dowels, paint, baubles and fishing line. Eighth-graders helped build scaffolding that was used for the filming.

Stoeri wrote two original songs for the film, which he recorded with the children.

"I play guitar," Stoeri said. "I sing it to them first and then get groups of 10 into the recording studio at a time. ... They all got to wear the headphones and hear the soundtrack and do voiceovers when needed."

"It was just fun to help him come up with the songs and record them with him," said Spencer Peddycord, one of the fourth-graders.

Another student, Millie Murphy, said her favorite part was learning how to use iMovie, the program used by the students to produce the movie.

And Elizabeth Smith said she enjoyed helping write the screenplay.

"That was the most challenging part for me, because we started from nothing and just made this whole big script to read," she said.

Stoeri said that the project helps students hone a wide variety of skills, including teamwork.

"Since they're all involved, they're all motivated, and they decided as teams what needed to be done," he said. "There's a lot of collaboration and, by necessity, a lot of cooperation."

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