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Arkansas Filmmaking Lab


Can you think back to your childhood, your earliest days of creativity, and remember a story you invented? Did it involve unicorns and fairies, superheroes or daring escapes? What about quiet adventures on a river or getting lost in a cave trying to find a waterfall?

We often find space for words, pictures, and even video recordings when allowed to be creative. While our phones can work as digital assets, notepads and keyboards also serve as creative tools, like paintbrushes and pastels.

This story applies repeatedly to participants in the Arkansas Filmmaking Lab for Teen Girls.

“I expected a few would be interested in film and maybe some who were just there because their parents made them. But I was blown away as I got to know our participants and found out many of them spend their free time away from school writing and creating screenplays or scripts and practicing their filming skills on their phones.” Ashtyn Marshell, Education Program Manager for the Arkansas Cinema Society, shared her first experience with students over spring break.

Image provided by participant Ashlyn Speer.

Learn from a participant

Ashlyn Speer recently participated in the spring break Filmmaking Lab (Intensive). Like the summer program, the students are paired with industry professional mentors and work together to create a short film in a condensed five-day program, with some of the mentors completing production work.

“I was so surprised by my experience. Everyone was so welcoming. I found a sense of belonging in a community that understood my interests in film, books and writing.” Speer has no experience in cinematography. She loves watching movies, and after trying to catch all the Oscar-nominated films, she did a little online research to find filmmaking experiences in Arkansas. She was surprised to learn about the Arkansas Cinema Society and the many opportunities it offers.

Speer found a beneficial mentorship with program director Ashtyn Marshell, a Fayetteville native and the daughter of educators. A directing experience in her undergrad theater program led her to film school in Los Angeles. Having produced and directed several films, Marshall returned to Arkansas and is using her professional experiences and personal passions to benefit an emerging generation of filmmakers.

While Speer is a sophomore in high school, she walked away from spring break with a direction for her future. “I feel like I know what I want to do as a career. The experience boosted my confidence, gave me a place to share my voice, and opened my eyes to all that goes into making a movie. It was such a convivial atmosphere that helped me grow personally.” She’s applied to participate in the program this summer and is researching local theater opportunities to expand her knowledge of staging and scripting.

Anytime you give an adolescent girl an opportunity to find her people, create a sense of belonging, offer direction and build her confidence, you’ve changed the trajectory of her life!”

About the Program

The Arkansas Filmmaking Lab for Teen Girls application process is open through the end of April. The program meets each summer for four weeks to complete a hands-on short filmmaking process.

The Lab focuses on women’s empowerment and incorporating STEAM career opportunities in the arts. Participants meet daily from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, in a “course” type setting, with industry mentors walking them through each step of the filmmaking process.

  • Industry Language: early days in the program include teaching a “lingo” or vocabulary used within the film industry.
  • Pitch Fest: Participants will learn about building a film concept and how to write an elevator pitch they might offer to a film executive or bring their first ideas to a production studio like Disney. Then, they will bring their ideas back to the group in a closed setting, where they “pitch” the other participants. Through this process, they select the topic and concept for the filming project.
  • Screenwriting: The students meet with a screenwriter, learn the fundamentals of script development, and write the script for the lab project.
  • Casting: They work with a local casting agent, and the teens meet the actors and choose who they want to star in their film.

  • Cinematography: An experienced cinematographer teaches the concept of building a film, adding pictures to the storyline, and conveying a message. The teens work to develop a shot list and understand how focus and composition can change the story.
  • Production: The participants rotate through different positions during the production days. This opportunity exposes them to multiple facets of filming a project and teaches them more about what areas best suit them.
  • Post-production: Experienced editors come in and walk through using the video footage to form a film. As students decide to add or remove something, they discuss the “why” and coach their production mindset.

This unique lab experience exposes participants to multiple aspects of the production process. Many come into the experience being set on only one area because it’s all they’ve known. But, like graduating medical students, as they try new areas of the field, they find their niche.

At the end of the four-week process, the lab participants will be days away from the final production of a new short film. Their participation in the program automatically qualifies them for an entry-level filming job. They leave the summer with a resume full of experience and a short film to back it up.

The summer film typically premiers at the Filmland Festival, an annual curated celebration of cinema.

ACS in a Bigger Way

The Arkansas Cinema Society is the educational backbone of filmmaking in Arkansas. As a curator of projects and connector of creators, ACS brings together a synergy of creativity and opportunity.

The Filmmaking Lab is just one project connecting filmmakers and industry professionals with future professionals in Arkansas teens and children.

  • Young Storytellers connects fifth graders and mentors at Jefferson Elementary in Little Rock on a scriptwriting project. Over nine weeks, they work together to write a fresh script and perform it at “The Big Show.”
  • Youth Coed Filmmaking Lab was a new experience added for spring break this year. It is an intensive coed experience that lasts over five days, with one full day committed to production. Many of the steps from the summer lab were condensed and pre-produced to introduce the film and help participants determine their future interests.
  • Filmland Workshops provide educational experiences during the annual film festival.
  • ACS Talks – on-demand video resource library of filmmaker interviews

Applications are still open for the Arkansas Filmmaking Lab for Teen Girls. Learn more and follow along this summer behind the scenes as a new story unfolds on film in Arkansas. Application | Website | YouTube | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Cover image provided by Ashlyn Speer from production day in Little Rock during spring break. Unless otherwise noted, Arkansas Cinema Society provided the other photos.

Meet the

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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