There’s something wonderful about teaching, and it’s this: I get to go to my job and play.
Fundamentally, I know that if I’m not having fun, my students won’t be having fun. I have no illusions about the fact that, with the kind of students I have, I need to be equal parts educator and entertainer. It would be awfully easy to put the onus on them to pay attention. Some days, I do. It’s their responsibility to be engaged. But it’s my responsibility to do my part to grab their interest.
So when, in the Integrated Arts course I co-teach with the lovely Natalie Joy, I was facing the prospect of a fairly dense lesson on cinematography, camera angles, and camera moves, I saw the opportunity to play. The first real crunch day on the short film unit couldn’t be dry and dull. I taped Liam Neeson’s face to a marker, and the class quickly scripted a scene from the next Taken movie. It went something like this:
Liam Neeson paces anxiously across the floor in in his empty apartment. The phone rings.
LIAM NEESON (IRISHLY)
Top o’ the mornin’.
ANGRY PHONE VOICE
We’ve captured your great-great-aunt. If you want her to live you’re going to have to do exactly what we say.
Listen. I don’t have any money, but what I do have is a certain set of skills. If you don’t — wait, I have a great-great aunt?
ANGRY PHONE VOICE
Apparently. Wait — (speaking away from mouthpiece) You’re his aunt, right? Great? Great-great. (To LIAM NEESON) Yes.
Okay. If you don’t let her go, I will hunt you down. I will find you. And then, I will kill you.
Not exactly Shakespeare, but a fun little scene to figure out how to shoot. With marker Liam Neeson’s help, we ran through blocking for the scene, went over camera angles and how and when to use them, and then created a shot list for the scene.
And just like that, instead of the kind of dry lecture I’d planned, with handouts and drawing on the whiteboard, we engineered a scene.
I love that about work. I get inspired in the moment, throw out my lesson plan, experiment, and everybody wins.
Keep playing. And, as always, paddle your own canoe.