It’s Not the Camera. It’s Collaboration.

“We love movies. We always have. Even prior to that we were a storytelling species…that taps into something in all of us – a story being told. For the last 100 years the primary vehicle for storytelling in our culture has been movies…that’s where we go to relive the narratives,” says Barry Thorson, Executive Director of the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF).

For over 20 years, the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF) has been giving Calgary youth a chance to go beyond the big screen and experience the process of filmmaking through their Summer Media Arts Camp (SMAC). SMAC is a two-week program that takes a film from concept development and script writing to filming and editing, and finally to a public screening, connecting the process to the end result.

We dropped in to chat with the students expecting to hear talk of cameras, lenses, lighting or software programs.  Instead we were surprised when the focus was on the creative process, collaboration and putting yourself out there.

“You can’t just point a camera and have friends do things. You need to plan it out,” said participant Alex, in his second year of the camp. “You have to learn the process and it IS a process to get to the end product.”

Nolan, another participant echoed Alex’s ideas and expanded, “… you need to have multiple people participate to make the film better. Other people notice mistakes and see things you may have missed. Filmmaking is a group activity.”  

These thoughts come as no surprise to instructor Yvonne Abusow, who has been running the program for the past 4 years. “This is one medium where you need other people.”

Award winning cinematographer and past SMAC participant, Aaron Bernakatich also agrees.  “To make a narrative film you need a team. Groups make films. [SMAC] really grounded this idea for me. I had been my own guy, doing my own thing and this really opened my eyes to the process.”  

The youth casually joked about the tension and controlled arguing during development, but were glad to have gone through it. They focused on what they had learned, creating a list of Do’s and Don’ts, which is great advice for future participants and all filmmakers in general.

  • Don’t be afraid to share your ideas and put yourself out there. Someone else will probably like it and you can build on it.
  • Do allow your ideas to be challenged. People will disagree but will also find mistakes or notice things you can’t see.
  • Do listen to what other people have to say and be open to creating something better.
  • Don’t expect to be the director. Everyone comes wanting to be the director, but you all can’t do it. Instead, be part of the team. All roles are valuable and important to the creative process. Filmmaking is a group.
  • Do schedule a lot of time for planning and for the creative process and not rush into filming. You’ll have a better film in the end.

 The SMAC program is finished for the summer; however CSIF is discussing plans to offer a fall program for youth as well as a version for adults. More information on the workshops and programs offered by CSIF can be found at

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