School Spotlight: Take Two Film Academy

School Spotlight: Take Two Film Academy

We’re huge fans of teachers and all the places where they teach! As part of a new blog series, we’ll be shining a bright light on amazing schools around the country. This gives us the chance to celebrate great teaching and innovative educational approaches. We hope to take a closer look at what makes each school special and provide some inspiration along the way. Have a school you’d like to see featured? We’d love to hear: Email


The School: Take Two Film Academy in Manhattan

What It Is: A youth filmmaking and media literacy program. Instructors conduct short residencies—anywhere from two to four weeks—at New York City Schools. These short-term programs bring filmmaking into existing classroom curriculum for everyone from second graders to high schoolers. The academy also runs independent programs, which include after-school classes, summer camps and weekend programs.

The Goal: “To bring filmmaking into the classroom,” says Gio Gaynor, Director of Independent Programming. “We teach the third dimension of literacy. The first two dimensions are reading and writing. The third dimension adds audio and video to our writing to make our messages clearer.”

How It Works: It’s all about hands-on learning and filmmaking for kids. Take Two’s teaching artists spend a few hours each week—at most 12-14 working hours over an entire residency—with students. A typical residency might kick off with a crash course in what filmmaking’s all about and showing some sample films similar to what the students might make. Then the program shifts into small group work. If the goal is to make a narrative film, students work together to brainstorm a story arc and plan out scenes. They create a rough outline and tackle the script writing as a team. Sally might write scenes one and two, John three and four, Michael four and five and so on. Next the students do a table read and figure out who plays what character. Take Two teaching artists provide guidance every step of the way.

Finally, it’s time for a crash course in camera work followed by shooting! “As much as possible, the kids are the ones holding the camera and calling the shots,” Gaynor says. Final production on these student films might take a week. Kids learn how to arrange their footage with Final Cut Pro video editing software and tackle everything from titles and sounds to simple special effects—say a puff of smoke or lightning bolt. Students take turns every 10 or 15 minutes, so everyone gets a chance to be hands-on with the production.

Success Stories: The type and difficulty level of student projects vary widely based on age and curriculum. One group of second graders doing a unit on birds made short films about different birds—everything from hummingbirds to crows. Students did research, wrote a script then recorded it with their own voices. They also learned how to search for b-roll—stock images or footage to illustrate their points—and matched those images up with the audio.

Older students tackle more complex film projects. Fourth graders studying different periods of immigration created characters with rich back stories then shot news-style interviews to bring those stories alive. Phase two: Making the most of the footage. Where do we need to cut? Or extend a clip? Can we find some images of Ellis Island to help us make a point? They also learned how to use music as a tool to illustrate different time periods and countries.

What Students Think: “For the most part, they love it,” Gaynor says. “They get really excited at the prospect of making movies. Video is part of everyone’s daily life. They all have their favorite YouTubers and Instagram accounts. It’s also fun to see them realize it’s a lot more challenging than they expect.”  

Why it Matters: Students build media literacy that they begin applying to real life. They often start analyzing the video content around them: “I see how that’s cut.” “Oh, I see how they’re moving the camera.” Some students even re-visit filmmaking on their own for other school projects—even years later. As Gaynor says, “We believe students should learn not only how to get information from videos but how to communicate with a video.” 

Inspiration to action: Want to bring filmmaking into your classroom? A few resources to help you get started.

  • Take Two Film Academy: If you’re in New York City, reach out about setting up a residency.
  • Student Filmmaking 101: Check out this YouTube playlist to get you and your students up to speed on filmmaking basics.
  • Movie-Making in the Classroom: A comprehensive guide on how to get started for grades three to five from Scholastic.
  • Filmmaking for Teens: This book provides an overview of making short films for teens and may give you some key lessons and techniques to bring into the classroom.


Previous post Next post