Lights, camera, action: Student work develops in Franco workshop

    James Franco edited scripts and offered feedback during the film workshop on Nov. 15. According to journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki, the class plans to create a feature-length film by May 2016. "The whole team is doing a great job," Wojcicki said. "All the participants show up regularly and are enthusiastic." Photo by Adrienne Kwok.

    Actor and Paly alum James Franco concludes the Nov. 15 workshop, which included the editing and finalization of the film’s script. “The whole team is doing a great job,” journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki said. “All the participants show up regularly and are enthusiastic.” Photo by Adrienne Kwok.

    High school students crowd into the Media Arts Center, arms full of scripts and tripods. With pens and laptops at the ready, the MAC is transformed into a film studio as participants shoot scenes and directors watch their vision come to life. This is the Sunday tradition for students involved in the James Franco film workshop.

    High schoolers are writing, filming, and editing a movie as a part of the film workshop led by actor James Franco and journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki. Since the workshop’s commencement, students have divided up the film’s plot and written a script, executed practice shoots of the film’s scenes and honed their filmmaking skills. Preliminary test shoots began on Nov. 21 but official filming will start in January with the help of local videographers Paul Keller and Diego Pettersson. According to Franco, the script is finalized and the students are now in the process of filming and editing.

    “The scripts are really coming along and all the students worked on them,” Franco said. “It feels like a unified script with different sections, but everything feels like it’s one piece.”

    The film is based on Betsy Franco’s novel “Metamorphosis: Junior Year,” which centers on the life of Ovid, a Palo Alto teen artist. While the book is fictional, it draws on the three Franco brothers’ childhood experiences. The class plans to modernize the plot of “Metamorphosis: Junior Year,” according to Tom Franco, James Franco’s brother.

    “We came across two strong themes in the story: ‘What it’s like to be a teenager today’ and ‘transformation’ — having the characters go through transformations of some sort,” Tom Franco said.

    According to Wojcicki, the class is aiming to create a film with professional quality by May 2016.

    “The idea is to show how effective media is as a platform to teach students to think and create,” Wojcicki said.

    According to participant Paly junior Leah Benque, the students split into eight groups of five students each, with each group responsible for recording a different portion of the film. Students were assigned a separate role within their groups, including director, screenwriter, cinematographer, producer and editor.

    Participating students have gained skills ranging from screenwriting to cinematography.

    “I have learned the format of a script and how important it is to stick to that specific format,” Paly senior and director Brandon Fu said. “As for cinematography, we have learned about things that make it easier for the film to look and feel similar throughout, even though there are eight or so groups involved.”

    Paly senior Will Dougall says he enjoys being the cinematographer of his group.

    “I really like cameras and I really enjoy piecing things together with my own perspective,” Dougall said. “I’ve really learned a lot about the filmmaking process [of] approving scripts, distinguishing roles and putting together a unified body of work.”

    According to Gunn junior Juan Santos, the workshop provides valuable experience that gives a hands on perspective of the film world.

    “My group is special because we all have experience in different areas of film so it’s all a really big collaborative experience,” Santos said. “I’ve definitely learned a lot about what it might be like working on an actual production later on in my life. … We all bounce ideas off each other and it’s just been a really great lesson in teamwork and what it takes to be a valuable part of that team.”

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