Project Structure: Specialist Jigsaws

This year in MAX we have shifted our organizational strategy for video projects to incorporate a specialist jigsaw, and it’s having amazing results.

ALL Together

IMG_2798At the end of every year, we have a group meeting in which we ask students for feedback about the practices and protocols we put in place for MAX.  Last year, students suggested that we consider creating a “whole academy” project: a single  film made by the whole academy as a practice or training module.  They complained that, although they were trained how to do different tasks in the process of creating a video, they never had the opportunity to watch it being done, to see a model of the behaviors they needed.  They felt they needed more support throughout the process of the project in how to navigate the managerial tasks associated with each job in production.

Modeling Team Management Skills

IMG_2832Although we usually start with “mini-projects” that act as training modules, the students are right about the degree to which we expect them to perform without much interference or guidance in the field.  We teach them skills, and we make them get organized,  but we have largely left them on their own to apply those skills to a project as a group.

 Refocusing Project Structures


Our solution is The Scarlet Letter Mini Project.  During the first two two weeks of school, students read and analyzed the opening chapters of the novel in English, while studying the history, culture, and writing of early pre-Colonial and Colonial North Americans in US History.  These activities gave students a strong grounding not only in the world of the text, but the real world it represents.  Our basic project idea was that we would provide students with a screenplay covering the first 5 chapters of Scarlet Letter, break students into production teams, and assign each team a scene to film.  Although this is typical of the kind of work we have historically done with students, this time, we structured the process very differently.  This time we looked at the project as a behavioral jigsaw focused on the jobs or tasks students accomplish, rather than on the final product itself.  The greatest impact this seems to be having is on the level of maturity and artistic responsibility each student seems to be bringing to his or her individual participation in the work.

Teacher as Model and Specialist

IMG_2824As instructors, we identified ourselves as “Production Specialists”.  All video production groups are made up of task specific roles: director, director of photography (DP), casting director, art director, location manager.  Previously, MAX instructors have always attempted to identify themselves as “advisors” to several groups.  We each take responsibility for 2-3 groups and act as a kind of production supervisor, checking that students are meeting their deadlines, and helping with problem solving. This has value, but it also has limitations.

IMG_2835 In this mini-project, rather than working with whole teams, we worked with specialty groups, and sent them back to their teams ready to go.  One of us worked with Directors and DP’s on reading the screenplay and creating an AV script; one of us took the Casting and Art Directors and worked on the process of evaluating a screenplay for cast, costume, and prop needs and meeting those design challenges; and one of us worked with the Location Managers on evaluating the location needs of a screenplay, scouting and evaluating locations, shooting location photos, and presenting location options to the team.  As with all good jigsaws, these specialists now have a team of colleagues with whom they can problem solve.


In the end, this process has allowed us to demonstrate and model the skills we want to see in our students.  By the  first day of filming the feeling in the lab, and on locations was amazing.  The excitement has been  palpable, and the student focus is extraordinary.

We’re going into the final phases of editing this project and will post it soon.


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