Children’s Media Students Bring Books to Life with Storyworks Project for Bibliovideo
Storyworks is a course offered by the Story Arts Centre that provides students with a chance to engage in experiential learning, which is so fundamental for future professionals. Having the ability to work on real projects for real clients under the guidance of industry professionals, Jennifer McIllroy, and other instructors, is an invaluable opportunity that adds to the entire experience you receive from your program at Centennial. For Children’s Media students, their Storyworks experience was no exception. Students had the opportunity to work on a project for an upcoming YouTube channel funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and led by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Bibliovideo. The channel includes content that is submitted by authors, illustrators, and publishers as a way to increase Canadian children’s book sales, as well as generate an online community. Students created a video that would be uploaded to the channel to encourage children to make a DIY audiobook of the book they included in the video, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino & Isabelle Malenfant, or of other Canadian books. The result is nothing short of amazing.
Liz Marshall taught this specific Storyworks course for students in the Children’s Media program and raves about the process. “It has been my case so far in my experience that the clients are very kind to the students and act as a coach and a mentor. In almost all of the cases I’ve seen, the projects have been implemented or used in some manner for the companies, which as a student doing that kind of work, is super fulfilling because it wasn’t for nothing. I always say that this is the kind of stuff you want to put in your portfolio because it is the closest to real work experience, even if it is school, that you’re going to be able to point to and talk about, such as how you developed it, all of the work you did leading up to it, and what the measures of success were. Ideally, if you stay in touch with your client, they’ve got some KPI’s to be able to say to you we did it, we implemented it, and this is how it did. So, I think that’s the fantastic thing about the program,” she says. While working on this project, as we know, COVID-19 happened, but Liz says, “the students pivoted really well in their projects, and in this case, they did a fantastic job. They couldn’t go out and film people in person, so they had to rely on others to submit footage and work with what they got. I think the end result is fantastic.”
Jennifer McIlroy, Storyworks Coordinator and Instructor, also had an abundant amount of positive things to say about the work that was produced, as well as about the Storyworks client, Janis Nostbakken. “What I look for in a Storyworks client is somebody who’s prepared to work with the students, but also provide a project to the students that will give them extra knowledge and legitimate experience. That means the projects have to be very industry-specific and relevant, and not necessarily easy or comfortable, but something that at the end of it the students will feel as though they’ve accomplished something in their industry… Why Janis was perfect was because she knew right away that providing an opportunity to students wasn’t about pretending that they were doing some legitimate work. It was really about providing them with an opportunity to be different and bigger at the end of the project. To say that she was prepared to mentor them is an underestimate because she saw it as an equal partnership and an equal relationship. She really felt that she needed to give in order to receive… What made Janis so special is not only how preeminent she is in her field, but how she is still so willing to be inspired and to have trust as a mainstay of her professional mien. That’s what was so incredible about her.
The thing about this particular project is I saw it and it was spectacular. It was one of those hard to describe experiences when you watch these students who you know from having worked with so closely for a term, surprise you with their intelligence and ability to synthesize and create something sophisticated and industry-ready. I don’t say that because I was surprised at the team, I say that because it takes on extra meaning to be so impressed by people you know so well. Everything from the sensitivity with which they brought out the best in those kids, which takes a certain amount of skill and care, to the writing of it and the absolute precision with which they applied… It was a very complex assignment and I was so proud that they captured every single nuance.
I also want to give a shout out to Liz Marshall because she has a great agency and client background and she’s exceptionally well organized. She has the ability to instill confidence in students and how they view themselves as business people and project managers. It doesn’t even occur to her that the students can’t perform at that level and she creates an exceptional combination of classroom guidance, while at the same time allowing the students to evolve and discover their leadership skills in their own way.”
Janis Nostbakken, the Project Director of Bibliovideo, was extremely happy with the work that was produced. She says, “Students got to learn about the kids’ book arena in Canada and the process of going through and producing from scratch. This included research and client interaction, scripting, storyboarding, planning things out, and every step of production so that they would end up with a three to five minute video that not only was a demo but would actually be used. What they presented to me as a client was very professional. They were organized, they had the right questions, and they had creative ideas that they pitched to me, which we kind of fine-tuned together and ended up with something unique. I haven’t seen other videos directed at kids in particular on how to add sound effects to your story, and because they featured a Canadian kids’ book, and mentioned others in it, it really met the criteria that we have for Bibliovideo. It was good quality, it was interesting and creative, and it highlighted Canadian kid books. I was very pleased with the process and the product, and I enjoyed meeting with them… It was a terrific, valuable, and profitable experience. It gave us what we wanted, and I learned a lot and I hope they did too.”Thoughts from some of the students involved:
Kevin Anderson, Editor: This entire project changed drastically because of COVID-19, and as such, so did my role in post-production. However, long before that, when this was almost an entirely different project to start off with, I also played a big role in its development. The development stage began at the beginning of the winter semester and was really a team brainstorming and research effort to come up with proposals and a video outline that the Canadian Children’s Book Centre would approve. It also involved researching great Canadian books that had those audiobook sound qualities and reaching out to publishers for permissions.
We were on track to produce our video and had everything booked; the location, the adult actors and child participants, the equipment. That was all set for March 14. Then, on Friday the 13th, everything shut down because of COVID-19. With everything cancelled, we decided to wait a good week or two to assess the situation but quickly concluded that it would be best to come up with a contingency plan instead of trying to wait out the uncertain isolation period. Now, we would go ahead with the project with the participants filming themselves from home. This meant that we needed to come up with a new video outline, find new child participants who were willing to take part in this type of project, and even create a guide for them to use for filming from home. We basically had to revamp our preproduction stage in just a few days, and most of the production stage now relied on our talent. Logistically, it was a challenge to coordinate everything remotely: Our onscreen participants had little experience with production, and our team was technologically limited without access to the campus labs and resources. The new course of action also meant that there was less time for post-production, yet it became an integral stage for compiling various home videos into a final product that would be appealing and professional. As the video editor, this post-production stage fell largely on my shoulders. Since the project was now largely unscripted, and we had little control over how it was filmed, much of the storytelling and direction relied on tight, strategic editing with graphics, animation, and music to accentuate the tone.
In the end, I am so proud of what we accomplished with such limited time and resources during an emergency situation. I think everyone pushed themselves above and beyond to show what we are capable of, and to create something light and positive for children out of a dark situation. It is a project I will always be able to look back on during this trying time as a testament to our endurance and ingenuity.”
Molison Farmer, Project Director: We were set to film on Sunday, March 15th, and I woke up on Friday, March 13th when we were supposed to be going into the school to take out the equipment to film the segment. News of a COVID-19 related school closure had begun circulating that week, and I just had a feeling that we were not going to be able to sign out equipment. Furthermore, I wondered if we were okay with the idea of bringing a group of people together, particularly a group of children, at such an uncertain time and put people at risk. I called the school as soon as it opened to see if we could take out equipment, and my thoughts were confirmed- no equipment was going out, as the school was beginning to close things down.
I reached out to the project group to immediately start planning a Plan B - to collect footage from those involved remotely using their own phones and cameras. We targeted any problem spots, but mostly we started thinking about all the positive things that a remote video project could achieve - we were able to reach a broader audience and include children from across Canada, such as Violet who lives in Calgary. We put together a guidebook to send to participants to guide them through the activities that they would capture on film and included some questions that they would answer in their video. The kids in the video also got to add their personal flair to the video and take more ownership of their contribution to the project (which is why you get to meet Violet's dog at the end of the video). I think they had a lot of fun making their video and seeing how it was edited together with other submissions. While it was really disappointing that we wouldn't be able to carry out the shoot we had planned for so carefully with storyboards and shot lists and call sheets, I believe that innovation comes from reacting to any circumstance and I'm really happy with what we were able to make!”
Gilhiesa Smith, Project Manager: “I really enjoyed working with my team on the Bibliovideo Storyworks team. We called ourselves the FabFive comprising of Ally, Molison, Danielle, Kevin, and myself. We truly lived up to the name if I can say so myself. At the start of the project, we outlined the individual roles and responsibilities of the team. We held periodic meetings with the client representative Janis Nostbakken and developed a number of ideas for the final product. We made ourselves acquainted with the Bibliovideo branding style and with the client's guidance we determined that, of the proposed options, a DIY tutorial on how to make an Audiobook would be the best tool for our target audience.
Our plans and ideas were running smoothly. We made all the arrangements with talent, location, and equipment. We were scheduled to pick up the equipment from the school and take it to the location for crew set up on Friday, the 13th of March when we got the news that other Colleges and Universities were closing their campuses due to COVID-19. With my experience in epidemiology and clinical sciences, I knew that this news would have impacted our project because the core of the idea was based on including a diverse selection of children and part of our duty is to ensure that our talent and crew would remain safe at all costs. We had a contingency plan that we outlined at the start of the project however we didn't consider that the act of nature would have had such a long term effect. I suggested that we establish a 'COVID-19 Contingency Plan' and it was Molison who suggested that we maintain the base concept of the project but allow the kids to create the content at home. We brought this idea to the client and the new idea was greenlit. It's amazing to me that our team was able to reconfigure all the plans we made in two months for the first project to plan and execute the new idea in under three weeks. Kevin was the editor of the project and as you can see, he did a really amazing job in the editing of the footage we collected… I was so proud of the work that we did as a team, especially Kevin, and how we were able to support each other throughout the process when it became overwhelming after, and even before, the changes as a result of the SARS-CoV2 spread. Our client, Bibliovideo; our client representative, Janis; and our Storyworks lecturer Liz were amazing sources of guidance throughout the entire process and we were just privileged to have had this experience with them at the start of our career.”
Congratulations to everyone involved on all of the hard work that went into this project. To dive into more Bibliovideo content, be sure to check out their YouTube channel, here.
By: Alexandra Few