I'm excited to get started on my first documentary that will give people a new perspective on the modern letter grade system in education, its limitations, and alternatives to it. I'm looking forward to offering a deeply thoughtful, provocative, and wonderfully human side to this story; and my hope is that schools and communities will use it as a discussion starter.
With that said, I'm completely new to documentary filmmaking. However, I want to be as hands on as possible as this is a means of storytelling that is an important part of many future projects for me (I already have tentative outlines for the next three). I'm a writer, author, and University professor whose work focuses upon the future of education, educational innovation, and critical issues in education. I've been humbled to give keynotes and invited presentations around the world, well over 150 in the last decade, which has also allowed me to build a solid network in the field. I published three books in 2016 and am on track to publish three a year for at least the next few years. I also have decent and ongoing following through my blog at Etale.org, which I hope gives me a bit of a head start when it comes to a future distribution strategy. In addition to that, many of the themes that I explore are well-suited for the screen, and I believe that the documentary is an excellent venue for telling these important stories in education. I'm also a designer and storyteller at heart (probably more than a traditional academic) and I love the challenge and opportunity to use the documentary as a way to delve into a new form of research, inquiry, and storytelling. To tell the truth, even if people told me that this is a terrible idea and tried to discourage me from it, I would still move ahead. I've an incredibly driven person when it comes to critical issues in education and I am absolutely convinced that the documentary is a near-essential means of expanding the conversation in important ways. This is just too important to me, the well-being of future learners, and the well-being of societies near and far.
I'm sure to have many challenges with this first project, but I started out by reading a half dozen books that seems to be common required reading in film schools. I've also watched and tried to learn from a growing list of about 70 educational documentaries over the years. Actually, I started by doing intensive research on the topic of letter grades for almost four years, running a successful MOOC on the subject, and writing a book on the topic that I hope to release in the next six months. I also enjoyed the Werner Herzog's MasterClass and several other online classes that address various aspects of filmmaking.
I'm deepening my knowledge and comfort with some of the technical elements of lighting, sound, and video; but I am definitely a novice on all fronts. I've acquired some basic equipment to experiment. I have a general outline / storyline for the documentary, although I am excited about how interviews will reshape some of that. I also have an impressive lineup (with more to come) of well-known and provocative interviews for the next five months.
I am taking a sabbatical from January through May of 2017 where I will serve as the Jonathan D. Harber Fellow in Education and Entrepreneurship at Wesleyan University. I will be teaching one class on education as social entrepreneurship, writing two new books, doing research for this documentary, and capturing footage for the documentary. I am not at Wesleyan until the end of the month, but I know that it has an incredible film program, and I hoped to possibly connect with some students who might be interested in helping with the audio and video for my interviews. I would love to a complete first documentary in hand by the end of August.
So, I'm not leading with a question, but I would love some initial thoughts and tips as I venture into this new and exciting project.