Directions in children's literature; 4
Directions in children's literature at Riverside radio WRVO in New York City presents the food in a second series of programs with Richard Lewis poet and teacher and leading authorities in the field of children's literature. At this times deduces guest is Roger Lawson director of the University Settlement House film club on the subject of teenagers speak through film. This is Richard Lewis today and we're going to be discussing with Roger Larson his very deep and dedicated involvement with teenagers and teenagers making their own films. I believe this is a very very new area in terms of the creative arts with young people and I'm very happy to have Roger here because I think Roger is one of the innovators certainly in this field. Roger I wonder first if we can just begin by asking you how you got involved in this type of
work in the first place. I rather fell into filmmaking with teenagers for the past 10 years or so. I had been an art teacher. Working with students of all ages from about seven years old to 84 years old in the traditional art forms and of this range I found that I got the greatest professional satisfaction from working with teenagers and I had never imagined that movies would be something that they would be interested in producing and creating. Although I had this interest as a kind of a hobby and I also practiced professionally introducing that which meant something to me to my students if I could get excited about it they could get excited about it. And so I attempted to introduce them to the motion picture putting the camera
in their hands and saying to them you make a film. This was possible about four years ago with the Montefiore community center in the Bronx where I was the art director. The results were so gratifying to me. The excitement that this generated was so much more than anything else I've ever seen with young people that at that point I said to myself that this is what I want to do. I feel like I'm something of a discoverer. And I just had to continue doing that. And I abandoned the traditional art teaching area. It will be free on anything you just said that you said found the teenagers themselves got very excited by this art form. I'm wondering what got them excited. What was it in films generally that somehow sparked something very special in them. I think that the medium itself is responsible. First of all. The
technology the motion picture equipment itself fascinates young people. Even before they have the remotest idea what they might make a film about they are intrigued with the machinery. They're very at home with it. It never seems to intimidate them boys or girls for that matter. I think it has to do with a new generation the youngsters who have grown up with the television with the post-war affluence. With all the machinery. That's the first thing that seems to catch them. And then there is something very special about them film language in which young people when they're offered the chance they connect to it. Yes. In terms of their subject matter what sort of subject matters do you find most of the teenagers somehow finding for themselves or is it something first of all that you impose upon them in any way or do you let them pretty much make up their own minds as to what subject
matters they're going to be filming. Let me make it clear to your listeners that when we say they make these films that means that they script them they photograph direct act edit. And do the soundtrack quite by themselves. And I see my relationship as. A teacher or producer to them as student directors. What disciplines are imposed are imposed by the medium itself. That is there are tremendous demands made on a filmmaker and young people respond to these demands very very affirmatively. The light had to take on the challenge of the discipline. As far as the content of the films this is very much their own. I never interfere with the content. You see some striking
differences in the kinds of films that come out of young people and it rather seems to be defined by their socio economic class. Because now since my first experiments four years ago I have worked with well over 100 kids between the ages of 13 and 19. In the motion picture experience you find that in upper middle class situations that teenagers tend to be interested in the abstraction in the experimental film. Heavily symbolic rarely is it literary at all. Middle class youngsters tend to make films which are quite narcissistic. I don't say that as a judgement that's just a fact. Where the central character of their film production is a reflection of themselves very pointedly. Lower class youngsters tend to make very
action packed films that have a strong literary content and by literary I I mean a plot of a story character and character relationships so that the kinds of films do vary from class to class. But the one theme the one thread that seems to run fairly much through all of them regardless of the style or the content. It is a search that the youngster is making the young artist in terms of finding out how he or she belongs. The sense of belonging. How do they fit in. How does their character in the film fit in to his environment. This seems to be the big question that almost all the young filmmakers ask you was do relate to the film very much to some sort of social environment some sort of environmental factors far as theyre concerned I would say environment is the key. The films reveal environment is such an extraordinary way. That is the
environment which they take for granted. They think as they make their film will this is how it is in a kind of self centered way. The thing they take for granted becomes extraordinarily fascinating for people from other environments. That is films now being produced under my direction on the Lower East Side at the Union University Settlement are filmed within a four block radius of our film workshop which is right there on this store for a storefront on the street. And these youngsters wouldn't think of making a movie that is beyond this four block radius. And this is their world very much now. For outsiders this world is unknown. This ghetto and for outsiders this world can be exotic. It can be fascinating. Whereas when I've worked with middle class youngsters say
at the 90 second Street why their location so often were places like the Brooklyn Bridge or Central Park where the Staten Island ferry more mobile more related to where they live which is of course a broader base. Let me just interrupt you here because one point that you seem to be making which I think is very fascinating. Who spoke of when you work to lower the sun and get that for people outside of the Lower East Side This is a rather exotic different neighborhood in terms of the films that say the youngsters are making on the Lower East Side. When you say the middle class youngster from the 90 second Street why sees these films. What is the effect. Do they enjoy them do they understand do they also sense the the exploration that's being done say by the Lower East Side youngster or is this foreign territory as far as appreciation
goes. Well there's a great deal of recognition and regard that we have. And what I call a cross-cultural. Collection of films that I've been making with young people. We had a very interesting chance to study this phenomena of cross-cultural views on the movies on a summer project that the New York State Council on the arts made possible with a grant of the children's cultural foundation. We took a Volkswagen bus and we call it the movie bus. And with youngsters being employed through the Neighborhood Youth Corps we took these film productions all around the city and we got a firsthand glimpse of how these films are perceived. And we discovered that the films are a
riot will you. With everyone seeming to like the films by the lower class youngsters and middle class youngsters liking the films of their own class perhaps best. But we found that on the contrary that lower class audiences disliked films by middle class youngsters pretty actively. Now when you speak of audiences are you speaking primarily of young people are or are you also speaking of adults. You know I'm speaking of young people young audiences the movie bus was pitched toward teenagers who congregate on the streets in the summer and in the parks. So we weren't particularly sensitive to adult response and I want that many adults around. I was you know I was curious about the adult aspect of this. One of course always hears today of the the the generation gap so to speak. And I was wondering whether any of these films or certainly during the summer
project that you speak of if any of these films somehow were a means of explanation to the adult world of what the teenager sees in his particular world there are many adults who are quite intrigued to see the films. It's been said that in looking at a teenage film the adult is in effect lifting the lid on the mind of a young person and looking inside. A psychologist has said that he was seeing the young person's world through the young person's eyes when he watched the film. In this instance by a emotionally disturbed boy. So that there is this this certainly this generational gap. And adults tend to feel it seems to me inadequate parents teachers or professionals who work with people do feel that they don't understand and they do go away from a
screening of these films I think with new insights into the way young people feel and see. Very definitely news. Roger I wonder if you could while we're sort of at the simple discussion here in terms of the way. The contents of the films if you could describe what goes into the making say of a bit of just one particular film. I think a lot of us do have a rather stereotyped idea of the of the film industry of the making of a film and I sense certainly with your comment earlier about the discipline involved. What little experience I have of film I know that it is a highly disciplined art form much more than the general public ever ever realizes and certainly with teenagers I would think that it could be an extremely demanding form of creative activity so I wonder if you could just describe something of what really goes into the whole creation of a film. Yes I'll give you a case in point good which is rather typical.
But let me make a few general remarks about the relationship of kids to the discipline. I think that it's rather apparent that adolescence is a time of tremendous chaos of tremendous uncertainty vacillation fluctuation contradiction. And the tremendous struggle with finding out who they are and establishing some sense of self is really critical during those years. The whole problem with authority. The rebellious ness. The regressions and petulance and all the other components which I find so challenging exciting as a teacher. Ah very disconcerting for the youngsters and their families and those institutions which serve them. Now they seize the discipline which they desperately want and need of the art form. They are
so comfortable to find rules and I'm talking here about the rules of Motion Picture making that for example if you are using plus X film you must have your light meter at 80 A S A that you must close the pressure plate behind the shutter in the camera. And millions of rules like this explicit rules. So this is something that they move into quite comfortably and they're delighted to follow the rules. And I think that this does bring with it a kind of order in their emotional lives while they're working as filmmakers. And I've even seen some very self-destructive behavior with youngsters altered during the course of filmmaking because it got in the way a person who say a 15 is very forgetful has learned from bitter experience that if he loses his original negative he is never going to have a print. So he makes a
point of remembering where he put it. So with that kind of general framework of the youngster's relationship to the discipline then let me talk about some of the chores and the process. It begins usually with an introduction to the machinery. A youngster will say I would like to make a movie and I've learned that if I say what do you want the movie to be about he wouldn't know. He couldn't tell you he doesn't come and say I'm haunted by a vision. I must get this out. He comes in saying how does this movie camera work. What makes it tick. And so that we get right to the mechanics of the camera the lenses the shutter speeds frames per second the splicers viewers and all the attendant machinery just for itself for its own sake. So a young person quickly latches on to how this stuff runs how it works. So then
he's got the tool in his hands and he can use it so that my job as a teacher is to say well what are you going to do with this tool. You have it. And this is where ideas begin to formulate and the limits are found the limits of what you can say with a film. And in the way we work of course we use 16 millimeter black and white and it's silent footage which they can laugh at some sort of soundtrack to later so we don't get into the synchronous sound talking picture. A story begins to emerge. I often say to them it when they're at that point tell us the story of your movie as if you had seen it as if it existed. As you often tell your friends about a movie you've seen will tell us about this one that has only been seen in your mind's eye and we can talk it out it isn't even necessary to write. And this is a source of very effective with a lot of the people who are
blocked in writing in one way or another. So they then proceed to acquire a vision and without this personal vision they'll never follow it to the end. Because there are probably 50 steps along the way and it's three to six months of involvement before that finished composite print is on the screen ready for projecting. So they then have to get their actors and they have to get to locations and there's a great problem here for many young people in organizing this and relating to other people and getting other people to do what you need to have them do. But they do get through this and the filming is where one thinks the motion picture is made that something about the camera turning an actors performing is what movie making is all about. And so many adolescents think this too. Well I let them think that as
I'm not quick to tell them that there's a lot more ahead after they've gotten the footage because then the real work of creating a motion picture begins. This is in the editing of the film. And I estimate now that a young person will spend about 50 hours maybe as much as 100 hours for every minute of screen time in the finished film. So this is asking an awful lot. So what happens is when the film is just the raw stuff when it's shot then the editing takes over and this becomes critical. If the answer is going to complete the found I've got to get related to the excitement and the meaning of editing a film and they usually do and they're willing to put up with the mistakes they make and the frustrations that they encounter and the boredom and so on that goes with the hours and hours of fussing.
Because by this time they realize that they have something to say and they want to say it very much and they want to get it up on a screen where people will see it three to six months pass with all the fussing and technical things that go on. And I have then completely found. But in other words one one thing that you didn't mention which I would be very curious to know something about. It seems to me that with the tremendous demands that are put upon the teenager in terms of making this film in terms of the the length that it takes to finally complete his vision that involved involved in all of this is sort of a mutual cooperation amongst the teenagers themselves that without this that nothing could be completed and I wonder if you could just sort of comment on that that that human relationship that somehow makes this form this particular art form and the closest thing that I can think of at this point of course is drama but makes this particular art form in some ways tremendously dependent on cooperation on the simple one to
one basis which people can work on. While there are many collaboration to involved of course which again I think is one of the things that teenagers find attractive even though it can be frightening. And difficult at times it's something that they sense they need they need to be able to reach out and relate to other people and work with other people. And this is how I would see the constellation of personalities. You have the student director at center. It's his show. Which in itself can be a little awesome for an adolescent. But at the same time very attractive. It's his script. It's his idea. Now he will have to relate initially to me as a teacher and producer and I do fill many of the functions that a producer fulfills in commercial filmmaking. That is I have to provide
him with the camera with a place to work film. I have to be sure that he has a lab where his stuff can be processed. I try to put him in touch with other people youngsters like himself that he can use in his film. And so we have a relationship going. Then he has to relate to the actors and get them to perform the way he wants. And this goes with remarkable smoothness most of the time even for youngsters who are socially awkward who are in apt in some way in their social relations. Here there's a specific task at hand and they usually can work together pretty well. We find that the best actors are other young filmmakers in the group because they can identify with the directors problems and there's a much more sympathetic rapport that you know. But because the young filmmaker is the center and it's never taken away from him he is the director of this picture he may
act in someone else's picture he may do camera work on someone else's picture but this is his show. It has the unusual ingredients of being on the one hand a group effort but fundamentally it's the work of one man. And I don't believe that any significant motion picture can be otherwise. I don't we might even say any significant work of art I don't know but I would say certainly a motion picture that with all the specialists and all the people contributing their services unless they are being channeled through a very strong director a forceful personality who is the creative artist. The film is diffuse. It's weak in one way or another. Well the adolescents are very conscious of this model is power. And I as a producer do everything to support each youngster in his role as director. And this is what I think
makes the thing so attractive is that the one hand there is this tremendous ego centric quality and at the other hand on the other hand there still is the opportunity to be related to others. Yes Roger I'm just looking at the clock here and I see that we. Are getting very close to that moment and I wonder if you could and if in a few minutes simply summarize the future in terms of how you see this whole world of the making of films by teenager how you see it evolving in the future into what areas will it eventually go and what will finally as you envision it come of all of this work which you're just now of course getting off the ground. I sense that a lot is happened in the four years since I first fell into this. A lot of happened not only I with young people who more readily relate to
motion picture making now than they did then but a lot has happened to our institutions which are concerned with this generation gap that are concerned with finding new ways of helping and affecting young people. So there's a climate now that didn't exist four years ago. I may be so in modest to say that I may have helped this along by the fine library of films which we have now been able to bring together. And those films have been seen by thousands and thousands of people youngsters and adults. So at this point I sense a new climate of certain kind of special excitement around the success we've had in working with the disadvantaged. The high school dropout. The alienated youth of one kind or another. We have been able to get through to a lot of young people who are other where other means have failed.
And I think that schedule schools government social agencies and all those institutions concerned with young people in one way or another are now asking questions What is this all about. And I have a few of the answers. I am preparing a manual on my filmmaking experiences with young people for the parks department here in New York City which will be published sometime in. April sixty eight. I see myself as getting a little removed from the direct teaching. I would like very much to be able to work with other filmmakers and get them to get them excited about working with youngsters as part of their professional lives. I'm in the process of incorporating a foundation called the young filmmakers foundation which will give me a base to work from and I hope that we can
successfully demonstrate the impact of filmmaking on young people and I know that I've been approached so many times by organizations who said we'd like to have one of these in our community. And my foundation would help to define what it is that can happen as we see it. Where finals can be had where staff can be found and where the films can be seen. And I think that within the decade of filmmaking by young people. Will be considered a very natural or normal course of events for those young people who find it interesting. I mean nobody thinks is I think special about a youngster taking painting lessons or dancing lessons or acting lessons. So no one should think that it's so unusual for them to be making a movie. Well Roger I'm going to stop you there but I think that certainly what you have simply
said in the end that we hope someday to make the making of films by teenagers. A every day normal activity that will somehow bring to the teenager an avenue of finding his personal vision through the most significant certainly the most significant art form in the 20th century. Thank you Roger Larson. You've been listening to Richard Lewis and his guest Roger Lawson on teenagers speak through film. Mr. Lawson is the director of the University Settlement House film class the teacher and poet Richard Lewis is the author of focal lections of poetry for children. Most recently miracles a collection of poetry by children published by Simon and Schuster. And out of the earth I sing poetry of primitive peoples issued by W. W. Norton company. This is been directions in children's literature the fifth programme in a series of 12 with Richard Lewis and
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- Chicago: “Directions in children's literature; 4,” 1969-01-09, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 21, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-8911sp9d.
- MLA: “Directions in children's literature; 4.” 1969-01-09. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 21, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-8911sp9d>.
- APA: Directions in children's literature; 4. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-8911sp9d