The link between a hollywood blockbuster and KS2 creative writing may not, at first, be obvious. But, Nick Handel, author of Calling the Shots!, is passionate about the role that TV and film can have in stimulating brilliant creative writing.
From the age of 10 I dreamed of working in film or TV. School holidays were spent making short movies with friends using my dad’s 8mm camera – and editing the shots together with evil-smelling glue. I quickly learned how to use a camera to amaze, amuse or terrify an audience; it was my first step towards becoming a professional storyteller. My passion for moving images proved invaluable in creative writing at school because thinking filmically helped me bring stories to life on the page. It also enhanced my enjoyment of reading, because I was able to picture myself at the heart of the action.
Film makers are storytellers – whether they’re producing fictional drama (Dr. Who), reconstructions of real-life events (Crimewatch) or documentaries (factual stories told in a visually compelling way). A director must be observant, imaginative and, most importantly, love using pictures and sound to inform and entertain an audience. A writer needs those qualities too, but paints pictures on the page instead of on the screen.
I recently wrote a children’s novel about a group of teenagers who start their own TV news station. While I was working on it, planning each scene as a movie in my head, it struck me that a knowledge of film techniques could help young writers at school. Children are growing up in a media age, but have relatively little understanding of the creative film making process and its tricks of the trade. I encourage them to think of stories as connected, well-crafted ‘sequences’ (rather than paragraphs). Each sequence is made up of ‘shots’ (the equivalent of sentences). Each type of shot has a part to play in telling the story and is designed to have a certain effect on the audience. Children quickly learn to ‘see’ shots in their imagination; this enables them to visualise situations more vividly and the process of describing them becomes more relevant to their world. Storytellers must be able to ‘see’ before they write.
I have been lucky enough to do many school visits in which I have encouraged children to use film techniques to stimulate ideas for storytelling and composition. Young people are intrigued by the world of TV. It is a major source of information and entertainment – and most of them see it as cool and glamorous; but all its techniques are transferable to the written word. By tapping into that connection, we can add zest to their approach to literacy work.