Mini Documentary on the Columbia Disaster

“Name a space shuttle.” Silence. I did not really think it was that hard of a question, but when questioning elementary-aged children at a city summer camp on space trivia (we had just been visited by a representative from Space-X which tests their rockets here locally), I finally realized these children have grown up post-Columbia. The have been few shuttles going up and the excitement has been waning for many years. So, these kids know very little. So, when thinking up the week’s project, I decided to do a mini documentary film on the Columbia disaster to help create some shuttle-related memories for them.

I did direct the film, meaning, with very little time to accomplish such a feat, there were a lot of technicalities I had to think through for them, though ideally, I would love to have had them produce the script, story, and everything. The kids did all the sets, all the models, staffed the film crews, and were the interviewees.

The film you see was not my original idea. My original idea was basically the same video, but without the interviews. Honestly, I was so caught up in making sure we had the video, I had lost sight of what the film really needed to say. And that would have very unlike a documentary, don’t you think? On Friday of the week of filming, as the children were getting picked up, I pulled aside a few of them and did quickie video interviews with a compact camera. The thought was to put the video of the interviews in too; if I would have had my wits about me (or planned it out a bit more) I would have just recorded the voices or recorded both video and voice. That decision forced me to use subtitles, because I am probably the only person who knows everything of what those kids are saying, only because I was there.

It really came together quite quickly, given a couple almost-all-nighters. I had almost everything done, except the subtitles, which kept me from final completion for several more weeks while life kept me from working on it. Once I had a few spare minutes this past Friday after work, adding those only took thirty minutes or so (for such a short film).

As you can see, we used stop-motion photography to make the film. I chose stop-motion because I wanted to use a fun technique which would grad the children’s interest. I know, it is not the smoothest filming, but the only way to improve the film quality would have been to totally take control from the children and do everything my way…but where is the fun in that?

We shot several thousand photos and then I used QuickTime Player 7 to piece them all together into individual video clips. Once I had those individual clips, I used iMovie to do everything else: video editing, music recording, subtitles, and such. Thankfully, most of the sequences could be shot at my camera’s max shooting speed while slowly moving the set behind the shuttle. I dreaded the lift off sequence, because that required little adjustments in between each shot, meaning the same amount of shooting time will give you a significantly shorter clip in the end.

It was a fun experience, and I am very proud of the children. I hope the finished product, because so many kids took part in some part of the making or another and have a vested interest in watching, will educate them a little and plant a small bit of desire to learn more. We focused on the loss of life, and we do not want to forget why those seven astronauts did what they did. So, we dedicate this film to the crew of STS-107, the last flight of the space shuttle Columbia:

Rick Husband
Willie McCool
David Brown
Kalpana Chawla
Michael Anderson
Laurel Clark
Ilan Ramon

Cooper Strange Written by:


  1. Gamble Monney

    Thanks for the time and effort you put into the camp. My two daughters, Sage and Hope, are listed in the credits. Due to your efforts, and those of the other counselors, they genuinely looked forward to camp every day. When we pulled them out of camp to spend a week with their grandmother, they were upset that they would miss some of your scheduled activities. Thanks!

  2. 2010-10-10

    I am so glad to hear that. I will have to say that some of the projects were probably more fun for me than for the children, especially this video. I hope we sparked a few little self-motivated educational fires in the kids in the process.

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