A Bunch of Noodleheads
Written by Amy Souza | Posted by: Anonymous
Stu McGowan and Steve Fuchs are doing something very cool with video. Their company, The Noodlehead Network, located in the Old North End district of Burlington, Vermont, is the leading producer and distributor of educational videos for kids by kids. Kids act; kids create graphics; kids brainstorm ideas. Subject matter ranges from teaching kids how to save energy, to eradicating racism, to learning about the culture and current events in China. With the guidance of Stu and other professional producers, kids create videos that other kids like to watch.
McGowan originally wanted to be a vet. But one semester of pre-veterinary coursework at the University of Vermont changed his mind. He took a year off, spent six months traveling Europe, and then went to Alaska to mine gold. When he returned to Vermont, he took over a friends job as an intern on the locally produced TV program "Across the Fence." There, he fell in love with the camera. That was 15 years ago. He soon began working with children and producing videos with them for local 4H Clubs. Together, they created what McGowan calls "kid-centric, wacky" videos using the kids ideas.
Fuchs studied both film and broadcasting at the University of Vermont and Boston University. After college, he went on to work in the advertising world creating ad copy for banks.
At Noodlehead, Fuchs says, they both wear ten hats. Primarily, though, McGowan produces the videos and Fuchs handles the business and distribution. Or, as Fuchs puts it, "Im the guy on Stus shoulder whispering, make sure it can be used in schools."
Sometimes Noodlehead produces for a client and sometimes they do work on spec. The companys production budgets range from $5,000 to around $40,000. McGowan and Fuchs write grant proposals but usually work with clients on more expensive projects.
"The whole idea is to share the ownership of each one of our tapes with the kids and the clients," says Fuchs. "Our clients are very interested partners, and the best work comes out of a partnership," he adds. "Every party brings their own talent."
What Noodlehead brings to the table is their knowledge and experience working with kids. One unique aspect of Noodleheads productions is that they do not employ professional talent. Instead, the videos feature regular kids. The scripts are written so the kids dont have to act. In fact, part of the production process is feeding the kids their lines. Though it sounds contrived, " it actually leads to spontaneity," says Fuchs.
"Kids will say, Thats stupid. No kid would ever say that. Plus, it lets the kids act naturally."
"It lends a different feel," adds McGowan. "It doesnt look like a polished corporate video — which we wouldnt want anyway."
People react to this unusual approach in different ways, but McGowan says viewers either love it or hate it — adults are the ones who usually have a problem with the unpolished aspect.
"The kids dont care," McGowan says. "If its good and entertaining, they dont care about the quality." Fuchs sees Noodleheads productions as "subverting traditional educational materials."
"[Traditional materials] are usually very preachy, adult made videos," he says. "That stuff preaches more than it teaches."
Noodlehead opened its doors in 1992, primarily as a distribution outlet. McGowan had just produced a series of videos for the National Gardening Association and was frustrated by the lack of distribution options available for them. McGowan and Fuchs initial goal of marketing videos made for kids is very much intact.
"Noodlehead is evolving into an organization that makes it possible for other producers to see the work they do with kids get distributed on a wider basis," says Fuchs. McGowan says he has seen a definite increase in the number of groups making videos with children and teens. Thats why Noodlehead is now expanding its website (www.noodlehead.com) into a broader educational tool. The site will allow educators to pay for access to materials they can use to teach media skills to kids.
"Therell be a ton of information about production," says McGowan. "Stuff that couldnt possibly be free."
He adds, "We want people to buy into the idea that their productions have distribution possibility."
"After college, most of my friends took off for New York and Los Angeles and they burned out," says McGowan. "Ive created a niche here in Burlington. Theres a mystique about Vermont."
McGowan and Fuchs also play an integral role in their community. They have a homework center with a computer that kids can use for school and a room full of animals called the Jungle Room. They offer local internships; they work with the local Boys and Girls Clubs and they host an annual haunted house that has become a local legend.
"Its the real deal here," says McGowan. "Kids are here all the time. We try to do everything we can for kids who dont have a lot of opportunity."
Like give them a voice.