Two week video production class weblog--Day 1

1) I mean for these notes to supply a running account of what it's like to teach a two week video production class for smart high school students.
2) Class begins this afternoon at 1:30. I have twelve students signed up, four of which have made movies with me before. I don't teach the class in the usual way because I was never formally trained in video production. The class is a workshop geared around producing two practice videos (one basic one to try out the equipment, the other an action video). And then students pitch ideas for a 8-10 minute short with a treatment, screenplay, and story boards needing approval before they can start shooting.
3) As usual, I don't have the greatest confidence in what I'm doing, in part because creative classes tend to have all kind of unforeseen problems arrive. Last year our Premier software for editing kept freezing up the computers until we switched off to Pinnacle, which worked better. Sometimes whole scenes had to be scrapped and reshot late at night in the cold. We don't have the best sound equipment because budget cuts prevented me from obtaining external microphones and booms. Also, the lighting equipment is mediocre at best--mostly work lamps bought at the local Lowe's. Otherwise, the cameras are decent, JVC digital media cameras with 3ccd lenses, and two students will bring better camcorders to the class.
4) I will spend today discussing the syllabus and acquainting the students with the the classic scene sequence and the principles behind mise en scene. We will also look at previous videos made in the class and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. For those who think the class will be easy, I discuss the ten different ways to mess up a shot.
5) We don't have a studio to work with. Instead, I talk about the benefits of the French New Wave techniques and exterior shots. The weather is currently cloudy and wet. I hope it dries up and gets sunny later this week.
6) Any suggestions?


Richard Bellamy said…
I would love to take your course. I direct drama and I lead a film club at a prep school on Cape Cod. The film club is all about the students making the videos - writing, directing, casting, editing on iMac. The assertive students get things done. Most of the films produced last year were written and directed by one student. I give them tips and provide the cameras and the Mac -but I want it all to come from them.

I provide examples by making films with my drama club. I write the screenplays - usual with some rewrites provided by students - and direct. They act. So far we have completed five 30-minute dramatic films and we are finishing up the 6th. I like to use a lot of exteriors too. We have used the woods in the back of the school as locations in most of the films. We also use the school itself - but that limits the story. Once we made a field trip to Starbucks and filmed there.

For two films we have created sound stages on our theater stage -and that works really well. Last year, for a silent comedy, we had 2simple painted mattes. This year we did a Western that takes place in a saloon and we built a wooden wall, hung pantings, set up a bar with lots of props - and filmed the whole 25-minute film in three afternoons. That works well for lighting, too, because we used the stage lights. Also, we used two cameras - one static and one hand-held.

Thanks for your input. We shot one scene in a local theater two years ago, and the lighting did work better for that reason. I had never thought of creating whole sets there. Don't you find 30 minute films to be kind of long? I'm happy if my students make something watchable for ten minutes, and they often have trouble writing dialogue especially. Today I mostly just showed them earlier films so as to establish the level of excellence to beat, if they can.
Richard Bellamy said…
FilmDr -

The students themselves usually make shorter films - 5 or 10 minutes. My self-indulgent auteur - who has graduated - made a couple that were over 30 minutes. His dialogue and voice-overs were impressive. Another student, who has gone on to film school and acting, made 20-minute films, and his writing was pretty good too. Of course, add in a music montage or some action and you don't need a lot of dialogue.

Since they edit in my classroom, I usually give them some guidance as to what needs to be cut. Actually, some of them are very good at editing. The one girl who produced most of last year's short films for Film Club has turned into a great editor and has really improved my edit of the Drama Club's thriller that we're just finishing up.

With Drama Club - I write the longer stories. What I'm trying to do here is give acting opportunities to students who may not land a big part in the play - so they get to act and I get the pleasure of writing. But it's a challenge keeping high school students focused on a project that involves learning lines and showing up faithfully (sometimes a scheduled shoot goes down the tube if someone doesn't show up).

Whatever they produced, these students are really lucky to enjoy the present state of video-making. I would have been in heaven if I had had that opportunity in high school.
I agree about the quality of the video that students can produce in terms of the technology. My early work was extremely crude (in terms of the detail of the image) in comparison. But still, they need to learn how to frame each image carefully and tell a good story, so they always have much to learn. They bring an enormous film knowledge to the class based on what they've seen, so that challenges them to make something that seems halfway decent. Also, they tend to just love filmmaking more than any other activity that I've taught. Every year, one or two students go on to major or minor in film in college.