The pupils and faculty of Devon Elementary School gathered for an assembly on May 9 to see rough cuts of four soon-to-be released short films.
One of the films, a zombie flick, gave some of the younger pupils chills, and they had to be reminded that the pale-faced undead creatures on the screen were not real, they were just actors.
Proving this to the youngsters was probably made a bit easier by the fact that the actors who played the zombies were Devon Elementary fourth graders, who had just completed an arts-immersion week with two independent filmmakers.
"It's meant to give them an experience in the week in the life of making a film," said Kristin Schappell, mother to two Devon pupils and cultural arts chairwoman for the school. "We really wanted them to have a sense for what possibilities would be there for them in this field someday."
Devon's Parent Teacher Organization has been funding Arts Express Week for more than 15 years, paying for professional artists in a number of fields to visit the school. This year, the group tabbed independent filmmakers Robert Christophe and Kim Waldauer, his wife, to introduce pupils at Devon to the motion-picture industry.
"I think it's a huge confidence booster. . . . I know that it's incredibly empowering for kids to see their own imagination and ideas come to life," said Waldauer, 35. Originally from Media in Delaware County, the Penncrest High School alumna studied at the University of the Arts before starting her theater-acting career in Philadelphia. That was where she met Christophe, a transplant from Muskegon, Mich., and two-time Barrymore Award winner for his work in local theater.
They moved to Los Angeles in 2000, and in addition to their independent filmmaking (they wrote and shot
, a comedy, and Waldauer has earned Internet fame as the star of
, a series of short videos that poke fun at office life), they teach.
They have also developed an intro-to-filmmaking program that they have used about 40 times over the last six years, winning several awards at the California Student Media Festival (for their work and for their students') in the process.
Christophe and Waldauer started at Devon on May 5, working in 75-minute blocks with the fourth graders on their movies while also meeting with those in the younger grades to talk about acting and give every child a chance to read a line into the camera, see himself or herself on the big screen, and take acting direction.
Meanwhile, the fourth graders worked on their movies. Christophe and Waldauer had molded brainstorming sessions into four scripts, each relaying the same central story through a different genre (horror, drama, comedy or reality). The story centered on a group of children who found a magical pink egg that granted wishes.
The filmmakers were thrilled with the results.
"They were amazing," Christophe, 47, said of the fourth graders, who he said were the best-prepared and "pound for pound the best actors for their age" that the two filmmakers had had in their program. He was especially happy with the parents who donated time and makeup to produce real live, or dead, zombies.
The duo finished editing the films last week, with each one clocking in at about five minutes long, except for the zombie flick, which ran a little longer.
"There were some zombie chase scenes that were just too good to cut out," Waldauer said.
The final versions of the movies were mailed to Devon last week, with a planned debut at the school's Spring Fair tomorrow and subsequent DVD-burning so every fourth grader (and the teachers who made cameos) gets a copy of his or her film debut.