An Ode to the Gluteus Maximus (Or, When to Let Kids Be Kids)

I never thought that "butts up!" would be the call to action for my eighth grade filmmaking class -- but what else are you supposed to do when you're puppeteering a spray-painted foam derrière?

(I told them that I needed to take this photograph "for posterity." Then paused and added: "Or should I say . . . for posterior?" The joke went right over their heads, but I thought it was solid.)

This particular shot was envisioned by our Monday/Tuesday Lead Storyboarder. The protagonist of the film (a twelve-year-old boy) says with a chuckle: "The dog looks like it came from Uranus." His little sister asks: "Why are you laughing?" And the boy, like any typical middle schooler, snorts out: "I said 'Uranus.'" The directing team decided early on that they wanted to incorporate surrealistic imagery into their film, especially when we talked about what the "look" and "feel" of the screenplay was in our first weekly meeting. So our Lead Storyboarder decided to have the dog in question pop up from behind an actual set of buttocks. (We decided to gel the shot with dark blues to make it look more like outer space, playing around with the Uranus pun. We're also adding an illustration of the solar system in the background, which we'll probably create in Photoshop once our MacBooks arrive. For now, there's a vector illustration lifted from the Internet being used as a temporary stand-in.)

I'm not going to lie. When the directing team first told me that they wanted to create a shot of a butt, my first instinct was to say NO. NO. NO WAY. NOPE. It's not that I'm morally conservative; I taught a sixth grade nonfiction unit on Sigmund Freud after all. It's that immature low-brow humor does absolutely nothing for me. All throughout my childhood, my family tuned into the BBC for a good laugh. Although I didn't understand any of the jokes at the time (with the exception of "two things must thee know of the Wisewoman"), I took away that humor was supposed to involve history or literature or other intellectual topics. That we need to aspire to something higher than cracking jokes about the bathroom.

But when I really listened to my students' ideas, I realized that they weren't arbitrarily choosing to insert a butt because it was funny. They crafted that shot because it fit with the tone of the screenplay. The movie plays out from the perspective of a twelve-year-old boy, and they designed their imagery accordingly. Like the shot where we watch his little sister's eyes transform into gigantic hearts with flowers blooming around the edges. Or the horrifying puppet monster that the boy dreams up in order to terrify that same little sister into hiding under her bed. I'm always lecturing students on how their shots and designs need to fit into the world of the script. Well, the directing team dreamed up an inspired and fantastical text-based world -- and spray-painted foam hindquarters just happen to fit into that world.

Sometimes, you just have to let kids be kids. You might be surprised at how inventive they can be when you grant them the use of their own immaturity. So, as we say on set, butts up and . . . ACTION!

(We have better footage than this take -- but this is definitely my favorite. We had two eighth grade puppeteers, Aileen and Jessica, who had to work together to operate both the mouth and the arms. They'd finally gotten the hang of it by this point. Even though you can see Jessica's hands in this shot [and my classroom is the actual worst in terms of lighting a green screen, thus all the wrinkles], I think that it's kind of redeeming. In fact, I prefer the imperfect shots with their bloopers to the more polished ones. We'll have to see what the directors say though. It's their decision.)

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