The 2010 video production class weblog--day two--the derangement kicks in
1) That didn't take long. Already, on day two of this interim class, I'm already strung out from 7 1/2 hours of beginning video production (with breaks). The classroom is already a technological mess sprawling with extension cords, filmmaking books, batteries, memory cards, cameras, monitors, computers, carrying cases, and DVDs. For some bizarre reason, plantar fasciitis has kicked in my left heel, so I've been limping around the local Hobby Lobby and Lowes for last second supplies, but anyway...
2) This morning I tried to get my assistant to put together an inventory of all of the equipment, but that never got anywhere because we spent much of the time watching more sample student videos from previous years (this is my fourth). I especially like the one called The Happening in which the entire school body suddenly passes out for no reason, and only one nerdy female student wanders around the Twilight Zone scene in a daze, with Mozart's Requiem emphasizing the massive Jonestown suicide-feel of the scene, until everyone just as inexplicably wakes up and suddenly starts treating her like the most popular girl in school. She accepts the new boyfriend, friends, everything, because the point of the movie is that students will do anything, even not question the massive derangement of the entire school, just to be socially accepted. Once again, I freeze-framed shots that had problems with exposure, automatic focus, awkward editing, etc., and discussed them. Two alumnae from last year's class showed up and gave guided tours through their videos, and talked of the importance of story-boarding, for instance, to help with knowing how to shoot videos out of sequence, the need to not place people in the shot so that it cuts across their joints (elbows, necks, knees) because that causes the audience to wince subconsciously. I talked about how you need to keep in mind the symbolic properties of where you place people in the shot. If their heads are way low, then they seem to be about to disappear into nothingness. If they appear on the edges of the shot, then they appear insignificant, and so on.
3) One student showed off this video entitled White Red Panic as a model short.
4) The class perked up when I handed out the cameras and told each group to go shoot a short practice scene around campus. One group made a "tough" duel between two guys over a pool game, set to a rap beat. The other gang of four students shot a brief vignette entitled "Cereal Boy" in the cafeteria. Beginning with a grim munching sound over the opening credits, Cereal Boy can only eat Cocoa Krispies in a stupor as various people try to snap him out of it--pushing books, an apple, a soccer ball, or themselves in his face--but he just keeps on eating more and more cereal. The movie is a kind of grim statement about addictive consumerism, I think. Then, both groups returned to the classroom to start editing their shots into a scene. The two alumnae and I tried to give everyone tips about editing, but they didn't seem to be listening much. They have Pinnacle 12 software to play with, after all.
5) Other highlights of the day include: rummaging through my storage closet to find three-year-old dried miso soup in plastic bowls, fake plastic ice (for drama class), bamboo decorations for fund-raising events, but not a battery-charging device that got lost a some point last year (hence the need for an inventory). Much of the lighting equipment lay in bits and pieces, scattered around, so I bought two new work lamps at Lowes, and another white board for lighting at my favorite place--Hobby Lobby!!--where one can look at posters of green floral bricks and such-like bric-a-brac. Two guys who were inexplicably wearing rubber-band earrings as they shopped for all of their arts and crafts needs. I always get creeped out by the whole idea of Hobby Lobby.
6) Tomorrow, the students will pitch story ideas for longer videos, and they will film the interiors of some new classroom buildings and a gym for the first time. They would like to incorporate a zombie, somehow, into a local news report format.
Thus, I have never taught a graded video production course - but I've gotten a lot of tips from you and I've used some of them to improve the film club this year. Last year, meetings sometimes dissolved into chat about ideas. This year, they are not allowed to be in my classroom during the meeting time unless they are producing something. Chiefly, the time factor holds us back. There's not enough time and these students are overbooked.
I like your students' clever stories that have specific messages - The Happening and Cereal Boy. I had a group like that for two years. They made some pointed, serious, well-crafted short films - one was a very well-done story about a school shooting. Alas - then they graduated.
Sometimes a student will pitch a story idea that is just okay - but immediately I can think of a slight tweak that would turn an okay idea into a great one. Do you suggest the alteration or do you shut up?
Recently, I've been trying hard to just shut up so that the students feel that the video is totally their own creation. Sometimes, I suggest the tweak - and students seem appreciative and excited, but I'm not sure it's the right thing to do.
What do you do?
As for your question about participating in student writing, I tend to go both ways too. I have made a film less effective by interfering in the writing of it. In other cases, I definitely goofed by not interfering. For one film called Baseball, the writer did not want to touch his original idea, but the ending did not work at all, and the finished work is one of the worst of any of the classes. I remind the students that they need a hook, some sort of progression to a climax, and there should be an attempt to get the viewer involved somehow.