Plotline Film and Media Education
In Plotline’s filmmaking classes, teens and tweens learn collaboration, communication and creative problem solving. We sat down with Executive Director Jim Bultas to talk about how his students create their movies and earn a big payoff—in the form of a red-carpet premiere.
Years ago, when Jim Bultas was teaching guitar and bass, his students would empty their pockets to minimize distractions during lessons. Bultas couldn’t help noticing how many of them carried their own phones—small HD cameras right in their pockets. He began wondering what would happen if “instead of just looping our friends doing something silly and then putting it out there, we learned to tell a compelling story that we care about.”
From this idea, Bultas developed his first class in filmmaking. He’d worked on his own film projects, so he sensed the potential educational value in creating movies. Still, he was blown away by his students’ outcomes. “They were making these connections and developing strong communication,” he says. “It was an experiment, and it was great.”
In time, this experiment led Bultas to found Plotline Film and Media Education, a nonprofit that teaches filmmaking skills to students aged 10 and up. Now entering its seventh season, Plotline offers weekly classes during the school year and intensive camps during the summer. Each May, Plotline students get a big payoff—a red-carpet, big-screen premiere of every film they created that year.
Bultas makes a point of taking his students seriously as filmmakers and collaborators. “I never talk down to them,” he says. “I’m the person in charge—I’m the teacher—but when we work on something as a main project idea, it’s always a student idea, and it’s student-led. We’re just guiding and helping them.”
Plotline students learn to stay on top of deadlines; not finishing a project just isn’t an option. “Going back to the first class, we knew we were having a screening,” Bultas says. “The attitude is: ‘Let’s do our best so that we can put it on screen and feel proud.’”
This not only teaches time management skills, it also helps combat pesky perfectionism. “I believe: ‘Done is better than perfect,’” Bultas says. “This idea of perfection—I think it’s a toxic word. Nothing human made is perfect. We’re changing every moment, evolving always, so the best we can do is the best we can do at that time and place.”
When it comes to choosing stories, Plotline students enjoy a wide range, with a few parameters. There’s no graphic violence and nothing that’s obviously derivative of an existing film. Plus, every story must be about solving a problem. “It can be an obvious problem, it can be really absurd, or it can be anywhere in between,” Bultas says. Over the years, this has led to some wild titles, such as The Case of the Carnivorous Culprit, Meeting of the Mimes and Harry Hardrive and The Horrors of the Haunted Hippodrome. Regardless of whether the story is wacky or serious, Plotline students have the gratification of creating it as a team. As Bultas says, “It’s a big blob of clay, and we’re all molding it together.”