Like other merit badge counselors, Francis Lawrence brings passion, expertise and professional experience to this important volunteer role.
It just so happens that Lawrence’s experience is as an accomplished Hollywood director.
The Scouting dad and board member in the BSA’s Western Los Angeles County Council directed Will Smith in I Am Legend, Keanu Reeves in Constantine and Jennifer Lawrence in three of the four Hunger Games movies. (He’s also been hired to direct the film adaptation of the Hunger Games prequel.)
Lawrence is teaching — what else? — the Moviemaking merit badge to a group of Scouts in Troop 223 of Los Angeles. That’s the troop where his son, Andrew, is a Star Scout hoping to earn Eagle next year.
Last week, Lawrence met with seven Scouts and one adult from Troop 223 for the first of what will become six or seven weekly Zoom meetings.
With the permission of the Scouts and their parents, the meeting was recorded and shared with Bryan on Scouting so we could offer readers an inside look.
Speaking of Francis Lawrence, the director will be a part of this weekend’s BSA National Camp-In, streaming live on Facebook. Don’t miss it!
Introducing the filmmaker
Patrol leader Andrew Grinsfelder began the meeting by introducing Lawrence to his fellow Scouts. Andrew asked the director how he got into the business.
“Moviemaking is something that I always wanted to do,” Lawrence tells the Scouts. “I loved movies from when I was little when I used to make short films — back when you still had to shoot on film.”
Lawrence explained that a director is the film’s captain. All decisions go through the director as they work with the writer to visualize the way a movie is going to look.
Will the colors be vibrant or muted? Will there be mostly wide shots, close-ups or a combination of the two? Will effects be practical or computer-generated?
After those decisions are made, the director hires the people who can bring that vision to life: the cast, the cinematographer, the editor, the composer. That’s a lot of power — and a lot of pressure.
“If something doesn’t work,” Lawrence says, “it’s usually my fault.”
Time for questions
Next, Andrew asked his fellow Scouts if they had any questions.
One Scout had recently watched Lawrence’s 2007 horror movie I Am Legend, where Will Smith plays a plague survivor who walks through a deserted New York City avoiding the bloodthirsty mutants that lurk there.
“How did you make New York look so empty?” the Scout asks.
Lawrence explained that he worked with the NYPD to empty out certain streets during shooting. Digital artists then removed things like lights in buildings and planes in the sky to achieve the intended post-apocalyptic effect.
“It was a long time ago, and I don’t think a city would allow that to happen now,” Lawrence says.
But not all of the director’s work happens in concrete jungles like New York. He also shared that when filming the Apple TV Plus show See, starring Jason Momoa, he got to roam the wilderness of British Columbia, Canada.
“It’s part of the fun of moviemaking that you get thrown in all sorts of situations,” he says. “You get to travel a lot, and you get to tell really good, fun stories.”
Time to get to work
With the introductions and Q&A complete, it was time to begin work on the Moviemaking merit badge.
Lawrence challenged the Scouts to come up with their concept by the next meeting. That’s requirement 2a of Moviemaking: “In a three- or four-paragraph treatment, tell the story you plan to produce, making sure that the treatment conveys a visual picture.”
Lawrence had a few tips for the Scouts when working on their short films:
- Give the story a reason to exist. Don’t just come up with a plot or a situation. Make your movie have a point. “A premise might be ‘bullying is bad,’ and then we could write a story where the idea is that bullying is bad,” Lawrence says.
- Have a beginning, middle and end. Even two-minute movies should flow through these fundamental elements of storytelling.
- Keep the cast list small. A two-minute movie shouldn’t have a cast of thousands.
- Funny is good. “When I was in film school, and people did shorts, the funny ones were always big hits,” Lawrence says.
To that last one, patrol leader Andrew had a quick retort: “I think these guys — all of us — will be especially good at comedies.”
Thanks to Mike Lanning, Dean Grinsfelder and Matt Thornton for their help with this post.