HIGHGATE – On Thursday afternoon, Lainie Oshlag’s fourth grade class entered the Highgate Elementary School (HES)’s gym on a red carpet.
Just that morning they had finished their year-long video project – an adaptation of Andrew Clements’s Frindle – and it was time for the premier.
According to the students, the premier came with “a mix of feelings”: they were excited people saw it and excited to be done with their project, but there was also some melancholy about finishing a project they had worked on for so long.
“I kind of felt sad that we were done, but at the same time I was glad because we had something off our backs at the end of the year,” said fourth grader Jenssy Almeida Perez, the project’s lead actress. “There was a mix of feelings.”
It was the culmination of a class project dating as far back as September, when Oshlag’s students, fresh off of reading Clements’s much-loved children’s novel, realized they couldn’t watch a Frindle movie because there was no Frindle movie.
“They asked ‘Can we watch the Frindle movie?’” Oshlag said. “I told them, ‘Well, there isn’t one.’”
Their response: make the Frindle movie.
Frindle is a children’s novel written by Clements in the late 1990s where a class clown dubs a golden pen “frindle,” leading to a confrontation with a no-nonsense teacher who tries to curtail the word’s use whenever she can.
While the book is has stayed popular in classrooms nationwide, an official Frindle film adaptation has never been developed.
For Oshlag’s class, that fact was almost a personal sleight, as it meant that students wouldn’t be able to have the dedicated movie day their James and the Giant Peach-reading counterparts did.
It also meant that, over the course of the next eight months, Oshlag’s class would go out of its way to fill that gap with their own Frindle movie, a project that would see students take on scriptwriting, storyboarding, green screening and everything in between.
“They really took it and ran,” explained Oshlag.
Every day, so long as their other classwork was done, students would be allotted a certain amount of time to tackle their film project. Outside help was brought in by way of the school’s tech integrationist, a first grade teacher with drama experience and a storyboard artist related to school staff, each providing some kind of support for the students.
While the students received some guidance during their Frindle project, Oshlag explained that, for the most part, this project was entirely student-led. Fourth grader Almeida Perez summarized it more bluntly, stating it was “our blood, sweat and tears” that went into developing Frindle.
Oshlag’s class of 13 students organized into specific groups taking on the roles generally assigned to whole departments: editing, direction, set design, etc.
The class elected its three directors: Destiny Scarpinato, Brody Sheets and Aiden Gagne.
“We all had different things we were good at,” Scarpinato, their lead director, said. “We don’t miss anything.”
As for why these three students were elected to helm Frindle, their answers were fairly consistent.
“I’m very creative and all,” Scarpinato thought aloud. “I’m like a bundle of smiles but I need to be serious.”
“She kind of took my answer,” Sheets sighed.
“I have a good eye,” Gagne, who passing students dubbed “Boss Aiden,” suggested. “It’s hard keeping a good eye on them and making sure they don’t miss a paragraph.”
Gagne would also work as one of the film’s leading editors. He would teach others how to green screen and bemoan the times as many as seven different students were editing one scene.
There were other challenges for the editing team as well.
Fourth grader Skyler Eberhardt said editing the film’s audio and syncing those clips together to create the final movie could be hard.
Student Ryan Laroche, meanwhile,said getting text onto the screen was sometimes a challenge for the fourth grade students, and student Reilly Miller, the student behind the film’s credit roll, shared a similar thought about editing together those text-heavy credits.
In one scene a newsroom had to be edited over a green screen background. The challenge, they said, was that it also kept getting edited over the actors as well.
They all agreed on their favorite parts of the project.
“Getting the movie done and seeing people mess up,” Laroche exclaimed, earning nods from other students.
Bloopers would be a lot of students’ favorite parts.
In the middle of their interview with the Messenger, students Brooke Gover, Melissa Lacey and Madelynn Pigeon would break out into fits of laughter over some of their errors. “Sometimes it was kind of funny when we messed up,” said Gover. “It’s okay to make mistakes.”
According to Oshlag, the movie allowed for some unexpected personal growth on the part of some students. There were some students, she said, who were shy at the beginning of the year, only to come out of their shell after “working with their 12 best friends on Frindle.”
One student, Kaitlynn Young, spoke to that exactly. The admittedly bashful student said Frindle helped her become more confident when it came to stepping in front of the camera.
“I would end up tripping, because I’m camera shy and stage shy,” Young said. “But I think I got better.”
Asked if they’d ever work on a film again, some students’ answers were immediate.
“Yes!” Laroche and Gagne exclaimed together.
“I am going to be a director, slash filmmaker, slash actress when I grow up,” said Almeida Perez.
“Maybe we’ll make another movie and the author will let us put it in theaters,” Young thought aloud.
There was also a lot of pride behind the student film, a years-long process that only ended hours before students would walk Highgate’s red carpet Thursday afternoon.
“It takes forever to make movies,” remarked Maddux Gagne, the film’s lead actor.
“This was our project,” asserted Young. “We filmed it. We wrote it. We edited it.”
“It felt really cool,” Sammy Towsley, the project’s writer, said, thinking back to that premier. “It was cool that everyone saw it.”
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