With funding from BBC Children In Need, Signals has embarked on a three year project to deliver a series of practical film and animation workshops for those with special educational needs, specifically young people with Autism Spectrum Condition.

Having completed the first series of workshops, Education Coordinator Jack King reflects on the experience’s of the young people involved, and also his own of facilitating the project.

Working with children who may find communication and group work difficult, this project will be using filmmaking as the tool to support the development of skills and increase confidence in participants.

Using the medium of filmmaking people were able to convey their message in a more universal way

In the past Signals has worked on a number of similar SEN projects, such as making films with students at Doucecroft school, a specialist independent school in Essex for children with autism. These experiences have taught us that young people love to see their ideas come to life, and they relish in the opportunity to do something different like practical filmmaking. Similarly, working with the Mushroom Theatre in Rayleigh we discovered that using the medium of filmmaking people were able to convey their message in a more universal way.

Through these workshops it was hoped that students would gain the skills to be able to create their own films at home, and continue to use filmmaking as a way of expressing themselves.

Stop motion animation in action

We began the project with the whole Signals team receiving training from Andrea Walter at SAFE (Supporting Aspergers Families in Essex). This remind us to be aware of things that we may take for granted with our usual young persons filmmaking projects. For example, we considered different everyday experiences from the perspective of someone with autism, which highlighted how some participants may be sensitive to lighting and sound – an obvious factor to consider when using headphones to record sound and the bright lights used on a film set.

Accessible Filmmaking Workshop Delivery

The project was kicked off with an animation taster day in our fully accessible studio space. This provided a relaxed environment for participants to gauge their interest in pursuing a larger short-film project. It was from this group we formed our final film crew, who would work together with our Education Coordinator Jack King and freelance film director Jamie Weston.

Like all our workshops, we took a structured approach to its delivery but this time communicated it in advance with the participants so they were fully aware of the plan for each session. We were careful and conscious of lighting and sound setups as some students were sensitive to these environments. Additionally, using our Children in Need funding we purchased a more user friendly rig for the camera, which allowed for a firmer grip on the setup and a big LED screen which would allow us to see what was in our frame in more detail, as opposed to everybody crowding around the small flip out screen on the body of the camera.

There was clearly some talented actors in the group, always remembering their lines and taking direction perfectly. The students relished the opportunity to produce a film as they had never done something like this before. The medium of filmmaking is one where you can have a lot of fun at the same time learning a range of technical skills, sometimes without evening realising it. They were efficient when it came to filming, picking up the process of ‘Quiet on set, sound recording, camera rolling, ACTION’

Working as a team has been a challenge for the group , however it was a challenge they rose to in the planning stages of the film, learning to be inclusive of everyones ideas. They learnt how to compromise in certain situations benefits the group as a whole. In learning the filmmaking process they have more patient, after realising how long it can take to make a scene. The project has allowed them to generally learn skills that they can apply to the real world and ultimately make more professional films at home.