When Stephen Lyons was born, the doctor turned to his mother and said of Stephen “one day he’ll be famous”, Stephen is presently very quick to announce that he is ‘well on his way’ to achieving this by studying Creative Digital Media in Tallaght Institute of Technology.
This was not always the positive educational pathway that Stephen was set to be on. But through his own self determination and a contagious passion he is now exploring higher ambitions in higher education.
Stephen’s mother says “when Stephen was younger we were told that he may be incapable of learning to read”. This lack of literacy was of concern to his mother and very limiting on the possibilities for his future. But even at such a young age Stephen had an appetite for films, watching several a day. Often watching his favourite ones repeatedly, such as CHiPs or Smokey & the Bandit. One day the subtitle button was both accidentally and fortuitously switched on, and Stephen spent an afternoon consuming films with words present along the bottom of the screen. Very quickly Stephen began to identify the words on screen with the dialogue being spoken, which he knew so well. This was the access point Stephen needed to strengthen his literacy and begin reading.
When Stephen first visited WALK as a school leaver in Inchicore, he keenly noticed a video camera in the corner of the room where his meeting was being held. This was all Stephen needed to see, and from that point he felt, “I could work with these guys” and began to engage with WALK and WALK’s Real Life Training programme.
As long as Stephen remembers he has collected sheriff badges, this is an allegory for the noble themes that would form the basis of his film works. The movies he likes best are those that explore themes of social justice, have a clear message of right and wrong, especially those that featured hard boiled detectives or car chases. Stephen is intently focused and passionate about films and along with other friends and peers in WALK Stephen began producing short films. Stephen even recreated his favourite television show CHiPs. While the short films were made without much equipment or preparation, the shorts demonstrated a vision and a strong visual vocabulary.
With the production experience acquired from shooting films, Stephen began to increase the complexity of his film works. He then began writing and story-boarding a near feature length piece, which would take almost two years to complete. This film was better scripted and had a clearer vision than the shorter pieces. In true auteur fashion, he was very persuasive in involving many recruits from WALK to participate in his film. This production required a major shift up in Stephen’s technical ability to achieve the narrative existing in his mind. WALK staff such as Sandy would demonstrate basic editing skills to Stephen. Each time Stephen was exposed to new software, he would leave after a few short sessions and return with tremendous competencies. He would often just run with his new skills and figure out the rest himself. Only seeking additional support when he’d exploited the limits of software and processes.
When Stephen finished the big production ‘L.A. Massacre’ he decided to have a premier screening in a local bar the Patriot's Inn. This was a fitting debut and was attended by an audience of almost eighty people. Stephen spoke at the event and it was a cathartic finish to a long journey, this helped his belief in what he was doing and his confidence.
Stephen has a very clear vision of how the world and how film should be, he is therefore a natural director, applying his lenses to the world. He understands the visual language of cinema and expresses his views articulately within the tropes of film. Stephen continued to make several films while at WALK.
In 2014 WALK approached Institute of Technology Tallaght to provide inclusive education for people with intellectual disabilities. A pilot was conceived to fit their ASPIRE values and to develop a strategic partnership between the institute and WALK, the objectives of this were to provide opportunities for students with an intellectual disability to fully engage with college life and to develop social connections with their peers. Identifying a Creative Digital Media course in ITT as a potential pathway. Stephen’s drive and passion was an obvious fit, and he became the pioneering pilot student.
Stephen chose to attend one module per semester. The first year only attending ITT’s Learning to Learn at third level. Stephen struggled at first with the melee of the campus and collage systems (such as room management, timetables, set up of I.T.) but quickly began to find his way in third level. He had classroom support from a social care placement who would sit with him in lectures. However, after a few short weeks the support was shrugged off and relegated to several seats behind him, Stephen intended to be exclusively with his friends. While Stephen didn’t wholly recognise why he wasn’t studying film directly the first year, it allowed him to become comfortable within the space and grow in confidence. Simply by being there the perception by others of Stephen was beginning to shift and this inspired the possibility of others following him into higher education, and more critically in creating positive feedback on how Stephen viewed himself.
In September 2015 Stephen began the more practical and vocational module of T.V. & Film Production. Stephen settled in well with the new peer group and was never afraid to speak up in class and ask questions. It was quickly apparent that Stephen’s technical abilities exceled alongside other Creative Digital Media students. Stephen demonstrated patience with other students and on several occasions was noted for his kindness toward his peers and tutors. Stephen was treated equally by his classmates and valued for his critical input. Stephen “felt very much part of this group”.
Again in this semester there was support in the classroom and in writing journal entries, Stephen wrote his own role description of what that support would look like. Given his great eagerness to be diligent, Stephen had an amount of stress around deadlines and lack of sample papers. This was overcome by breaking the work load down into more managed amounts and setting smaller goals, it should be noted that Stephen continues to submit his work far in advance of his peers. His support Lisette and Zainab were key in enabling this. The partnerships were so effective and efficient that Stephen refers to the support help as “Lighting Mc Quaid”.
TV & Film Production is very practical and involves a large amount of group based exercises. The course covered everything from technical lighting to set design and camera work. While the particularly technical aspects were hard work, Stephen enjoyed working within the teams and everything fell into place when they found their flow. Over this first semester his confidence grew dramatically simply by participating in team based tasks and trying different roles within the unit, they all learned and grew with each other inclusively.
There were moments of self-doubt and times where Stephen became over critical of himself. However, when he achieved above average marks in semester one, Stephen was reassured that he was on the right path. Stephen then began to see college as something that was informing his personal film making practices and equipping him with broader life skills.
Stephen has just received a merit in his results for the second semester, this has cemented both his confidence and capabilities to operate in higher education and add higher value to his personal productions as well as to that of the institute.
So what’s next for Stephen? Stephen is currently producing a new work for the ‘Sprout’ film festival during the summer break ( http://gosprout.org/film-festival/ ), this will have elements of advanced lighting and green screen techniques acquired from college. Stephen is also exploring the idea of setting up a classic film society when he returns next semester with PEER support. If he has time, Stephen will visit some TV & Film sets to see the professional application of Creative Digital Media skills in the field and help out in the Irish Film Institute. Referring to the I.F.I. as “home”.
Stephen now says that “the Institute of Technology Tallaght is my kingdom”. Defining a kingdom as “a place where you can be adored and the people are nice and approachable”. This is a shift in personal perception and development. Stephen is now empowered by his experience on an inclusive third level pathway and is moving in the direction of his aspirations.