Canton Young Filmmakers Workshop connects students with hands-on film learning

The Canton Young Filmmakers Workshop has provided elementary, middle and high school students a gateway into the world of film and TV production for over 20 years.

“I don’t think I’d be where I am now with sports broadcasting without it,” said William Lindsey, a Canton native who served as an instructor for the latest workshop in July.

Lindsey is currently studying broadcasting at Mississippi State University and works part-time for ESPN. He was a CYF camper himself for six years beginning in 2013, before beginning to serve as an instructor in 2019.

“A lot of my experience with filmmaking comes from film camp itself,” Lindsey said.

The workshop is made possible through a partnership between the Canton Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Madison County Library and the Mississippi Film Office.

It was initially born in 2001 out of the interest generated by two major film productions that were shot in Canton: 1996’s “A Time to Kill” and 2000’s “My Dog Skip.”

“It was such a major event for the state of Mississippi to have films produced from the works of two of its own, John Grisham and Willie Morris,” said Jo Ann Gordon, director of the Canton CVB and founder of the workshop. “So, we had a church that was doing a summer camp call and ask if we could help them with a film component. That was the catalyst for the program that you still see today.”

The initial offering was a two-day program that was more of a “show and tell on how movies were made,” Gordon said.

Gordon then connected with the Mississippi Film Office to develop a curriculum to make the workshop an intensive, week-long hands-on filmmaking experience.

“The workshop lets campers experience every aspect of filmmaking, from script to screen,” said Thabi Moyo, MFO production and workforce manager, who has been involved with CYF since 2011, most recently serving as lead instructor. “By the end of the week, each group will have made their own short film. They start with writing a script and creating storyboards, continuing on to filming, sound recording and even acting, all the way to editing and finally, a premiere of the films.”

The workshop consists of two week-long sessions, with the first week for elementary school students ages 8-12, and the second for junior and high school students ages 13-17.

“The first week, it’s all about getting their feet wet,” Lindsey said. “The younger kids don’t usually have the same experience in terms of computer skills.”

The Madison County Library provides facilities and equipment for the camp.

“it’s been a great partnership,” said Tonja Johnson, director of the Madison County Library System. “We enjoy supporting the wonderfully talented young folks who come to the workshop each year. We feel like everybody has a story to tell. And whether they tell that story through a book or music or a film, we want them to be able to share their story.”

The library recently added Adobe Premiere software for editing and boom mics for high quality sound recording, in addition to the camera equipment and computers they provide for shooting and editing.

Chandler Griffin, the founder of Barefoot Workshops, an intensive media training nonprofit organization based in New York that began in the Mississippi Delta in 2004, joined the team this year as lead instructor for post-production. He served as the second week students’ guide to using Premiere, the powerful editing suite used by many media professionals.

“Technology has come a long, long way,” Gordon said. “We started out using VHS tapes. Then we went to DVD. This year we gave everyone flash drives. We always want to send a copy of their films home with them.”

“Technology has definitely helped streamline the program,” Moyo said. “It’s much easier to shoot and edit with today’s camera equipment and software. And many of the campers are tech-savvy and some come in having already made their own videos. It’s hard to believe, but most of this year’s campers were born after Youtube became a thing.”

A testament to the program’s impact with campers is the many who keep coming back—even if they had little to no interest in filmmaking the first day.

“Honestly, my mom kind of made me do it the first year, and now I’ve been back every year,” said Saralyn Teasley, a 15-year-old Madison Central High School student who just finished her sixth year with the program. “I love it. I like that we get to come up with our own ideas and I really enjoy editing, especially with the sound.”

Because the workshop is so hands-on, it lets campers get a feel for every aspect of production.

“It’s great to see how every camper finds their own niche over the course of the week,” Moyo said. “Some may have never used a camera before and find they have a knack for it. Some find they enjoy acting. Or, like Saralyn, some enjoy putting the puzzle pieces together in post-production.”

13-year-old Byram Middle School student Colin Waterman just finished his first year with the program and can’t wait to come back.

“I have an interest in film, so my mother surprised me with the workshop,” he said, adding that he loves to watch TV shows like his favorite, Netflix’s “Free Rein.”

“Seeing what happens on TV shows had me wondering what happens behind the scenes,” Waterman said. “I was surprised by how long the process is. You never realize how many different shots it takes to make a movie. My favorite part of the workshop was writing the script and then being director and seeing how what we wrote comes through in the characters.”

While teaching filmmaking skills is the primary goal of the Canton Young Filmmakers Workshop, like any summer camp, it’s also a great place to have some fun and make new friends.

“The kids come in on their first day and they’re all basically camera shy and trying to figure out how they’re going to collaborate with the other kids that they don’t know,” Gordon said. “And by the end of the week, they’ve created friendships that are going to last forever.”

For more information about the Canton Young Filmmakers Workshop and for future dates, click here.