Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Army Men

I have this project I do every time my class finishes a novel. I collect as much random material crap as possible, which right now since I just moved into a house is a pretty substantial amount, and throw it on a table. Then I put the kids in groups and give each group a section of the book. Then they get three days to create a three-dimensional representation of a scene from that section, a scene they think is important. Today we do All Quiet on Western Front.

This project does a lot of things. First, it allows me to sit on my ass all day while the kids play. Second, it forces them to be creative, share, work together as a group, discuss the novel, and make sure they understand what they read. Then they present their artwork to the class.

Things went well with first period. That's mostly girls, plus it's early in the morning so everybody's sleepy. One group brought in their own bag of tiny Army men to glue onto their project, then they gave me the bag of leftovers to give to third period for their use.

This was a big mistake.

I tossed the bag of Army men on the table with the construction paper and cardboard and wire and styrofoam and whatnot. As soon as I said go, they nearly killed each other going for the Army men.

One group got the bag, then every other group tried to steal or trade for the Army men. Instead of looking at the tools they had and finding a creative solution by using the plethora of tools I gave them, they ran around like lunatics, hitting each other and screaming about Army men. Usually the projects with the Army men look all flashy but don't have that creative spark I love to see, so if they'd just stop looking for the damn Army men and try to make something nifty with that they have, they'd probably get a better grade.

This is something that has bothered me considerably about the state of action films lately. It seems like everybody's so busy throwing money at films when they should be working on the story. The GI Joes and the Transformers and the Terminators - actually there's a great example. The original Terminator has a fraction of the new movie's budget but it was infinitely better because the story was stronger. Alien. The first movie had a fraction of the budget of that fourth horrific film because it was just a good old fashioned story about a bunch of people in a confined space with a monster. This wasn't a microbudget film by any means, but the spending was restricted to necessary levels.

Just because you have money doesn't mean it's better to use all of it. The storytellers who don't have the money often have to compensate by finding interesting ways to get around budget restrictions.

Aren't we always hearing that some of the best scenes in history arose out of difficulties? Indiana Jones shooting that crazy sword guy, for instance? I think filmmakers should start pretending they have no money even if they do, just like I wish these kids would forget about the damned Army men and try to find a more creative solution.

Oh sweet Jesus, now they're playing cards. I've never had such a hard time getting a group of kids to cut and paste. So much for sitting on my ass for three days.


  1. so true. Money can't and won't create a quality story (unless you offer $1 million to a really good screenwriter to write a good script!). Also did u hear that Paramount started a division to focus on microbudget films that'll be produced for less than $100,000? I'm so excited to see what comes out of it.

  2. The army men thing had me cracking up, you've got to put that into a script.

  3. Look, army men simply have that affect on some of us.

    As for some of today's action scripts: I honestly believe there may not have been one for the latest Terminator flick.

    I wish I was kidding. I'm not.

  4. I say this as a noted ass-kicker:


    If you give a kid a tool, he'll shut off his brain and use it.


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