November 11th, 2001


Presentation Beta for 11/16/01 Workshop

How to Make a Classroom Movie

Make a movie? ME? You've got to be kidding. How daunting! How intimidating!

NOT! Like the journey of 1000 miles that begins with just one step, breaking the task into do-able steps is the key.

Most of you and your students have been bombarded with "movies" your entire lives, everything from tightly scripted 30 second commercial spots to feature length presentations. [Anyone here older than I am? I lived in Chicago when that brand new invention, television, first came to life, and was blessed/cursed with easy access to one of the first tv stations. "Captain Kangaroo", "The Howdy Doody Show", "The Mickey Mouse Club", "The Lone Ranger" (and the all-important Silver), "Roy Rogers" (and Trigger), "Gene Autry" (and Champion), the litany is highly evocative of that bygone era whose tendrils permeate our present day society.]

Even if you (and they) have never entertained the faintest notion of creating a movie yourself, you (and they) already possess a wealth of experience to tap into and fuel creativity.

Video makes it possible to use that creative energy as the culmination of the learning process. Lots of HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) happen along the way. Outcomes-based learning stresses the creation of a project, something tangible to show that the learning has taken place, and video fills that niche admirably.

English teachers (substitute "language" teachers here) used to talk about four skill areas, reading/writing, speaking/listening, but the fifth, viewing, has become increasingly more important, and has been part of the formalized area recognized by the Department of Education as something teachers need to address for as long as I can remember. Yet the idea persists that film is "fun", not "real".

Students with movie making skills have yet one more weapon in their arsenal, one more job acquiring talent to tap. The range of job possibilities/lifetime learning skills covered by movie making grows constantly, and at the very least, can assist with the creation of watchable family events instead of groaners of wedding videos, baby's first step shorts, and junior receiving that all-important diploma. "Grew Rich in the Movies" legends have peppered the lifestyles of the rich and famous my entire life.

"'Mankind is only one generation away from barbarism', meaning we must educate our young, or we will find ourselves in the soup..." Bill McLaughlin, Saint Paul Sunday

So, on with the show. Let's take those first steps and go there.


1. Warm-up activities-discussion
2. Divide into groups
3. Brainstorm
4. Evaluate
5. Select Topic
6. Generate Ideas to Include
7. Create a Storyboard
8. Create the Script
9. Shoot the script
11. Select the "keeper" scenes
12. Edit onto a master tape
13. View the product
14. Evaluate the result
15. Redo whatever there is time for (endless loop)

Warm Up -- View award winning videos from Eve

Group -- The minimum number for an all-student production for live action is two, it seems to me. An actor/actress (the talent) and a camera operator. A group of three to four is much less stressful and more likely to produce better results. Large classrooms full of students can simply be grouped into working units. If you KNOW ahead of time who are the creative ones, try to stick one high creative in each group. Since this tends to be an untried area, as students go through the discovery of their talents, creative surprises tend to pop up, so another school of thought says, divide randomly and let the creative juices flow. (In other words, no matter which route you take, you can justify it, and it WILL work out.) Divide yourselves now.

Brainstorm -- What topics pop into your minds to create your first video? Think of topics related to class activities. Think off the wall. This is yet another area where there are NO wrong answers.

Evaluate -- Are there extreme technical difficulties to certain projects? Some story lines are naturally easier to film. Stories with lots of special effects are possible, and sometimes solving the problems is a very positive experience, but I recommend against it for the first project. Save that fantastic story involving the perils of climbing Mt. Everest for when you have your feet wet so you don't become overwhelmed. (Chances are, even when you THINK you have a straightforward shoot, there will be enough problems that arise to keep you hopping. For instance, the school insurance dictated that students CAN'T DRIVE school vehicles. Now, film a video about a driver's ed class that you let them choose without knowing that one essential fact...)

What talent is required? (Do you have enough available, or are work-arounds possible?) What locations are needed? (Trips to Cancun over Christmas may be inticing, and do wonders for your enrollment, but are not really practical.) Do you have to build scenery? What props are needed? (How many days will it take for X to remember to bring the small fry pan?) What outfits? (Keep them right in the classroom until the filming is done if more than one day of shooting will be likely.)

Select -- When one idea pops out as more interesting and possible for your group, make the selection. I allow the students to choose, but I sure feel no qualms about pointing up problems they have not come up with, and what lengths they'll need to go to for creating solutions. I try not to flat out reject any of their ideas. Using the FL guidelines, topics stay within an acceptable range. If you are not starting out with a set of guidelines (not recommended) think how you will handle the inappropriate issue ahead of time. (Example: the seventh grade English group that selected "Date Rape" as their topic.) [Yes, with the principal's approval, we DID research and shoot it... I felt as if I were walking on eggs the entire time. One of the BOYS had the best scream under distress.]

Idea Generation -- The lead-in to Storyboarding parallels the writing process, but with a visual slant. Encourage students to think how something will look on film. What scenes will they need to tell their story? What incidents will move the plot along? (Depending on the age of the students, I draw parallels to the classical plot outline as needed here. Establishing shot=? [exposition's setting] Not all movies hinge on plot, but creating an art film is not my intention. I at least want to see a beginning, middle, and an end.)

Trot out your process writing skills and adapt them to visual. Explain the process writing stages if it is not in general use (Most new texts now use it, fortunately for us. That way, we don't have to reinvent the wheel.) Improving writing skills is always a plus for an activity's byproduct. Sometimes I use cluster diagrams (webbing), sometimes brainstorming, depending on the group. Pre-writing is the skill that fits here.

Storyboarding -- Pass out a storyboarding sheet. (Skip this step, and you pay for it later!) I also use the Long shot, close-up worksheet here, so they have some clue to camera angles/views. There may be many false starts before they get the hang of going from inception to resolution in six pictures. What six shots would you choose from Un Desastre?

Scripting -- I use class time to get students started on their first draft, assigning the completion of it as homework. Since we have the technology available, I insist that it be computerized, as revising/editing is so much easier and more likely to happen. (We created three versions of one script quite by accident, as I had an unexpected sub, and the group meeting/assigning of dialog sections did not happen.) Now, I tell kids to write their own lines in Spanish so they are sure they can SAY them. I do allow them to write initially in English, which can lead to translation trouble later, but sometimes I think they learn more solving the problems than if everything goes smoothly.

The last half of class the next day after translation is devoted to a read-through. I generally don't have to tell them after hearing it aloud what needs to be redone. If they can't SAY the string of words even when reading it, reality generally sets in.

Shooting -- Shoot each little segment as a discrete block, from several angles. Repetition of the dialog lines generally results in greatly improved performances, and allows for greater editing possibilities later on. I use the camera diagram prior to shooting, and try to chose a student with good steadiness as the camera person. Framing the shots to match the story board drawings will not happen automatically, and not all groups will draw diagrams representing the views they really wanted. If you have more than one class doing projects at the same time, use a separate videotape for each project. Shoot the master tape on good quality tape unless you have the new digital cameras... which are noticeably better.

LOGGING -- The logging sheet has a place for the time on the tape that the scene occurs, (real time counters are a plus here, but just using the same VCR and keeping track of the numbers on the counter can work, as well.) a description of the video scene, and the lines the actors are saying. Announcing the scene/take before they begin also helps keep things organized.

Being able to find the filmed segments/lines of dialog later is a real headache if you have not marked your scenes as you film and logged your tape. Modern editing programs allow the substitution of sound tracks and a variety of audio mixing, titling, and transitions between scenes. To make use of them, an accurate log is essential. Even in short projects, finding the right sequence on demand speeds things up during editing.

Selecting -- As we view the "rushes" from the shooting for the day before, the students pick out the performances to include in the final product. Marking them with a highlighter on the tape log, then numbering them in sequence leaves the editor something to methodically follow. (I make a back-up copy of the log, and mark that instead of the original. Kids are notorious for changing their minds.)

Editing -- Apple offers an older version of its iMovie program for free on their web site. PC editing programs are also available. This is an area of rapid, explosive growth at present, and new things appear nearly daily. At home, I use the full fledged movie craeting software, Final Cut Pro, which played a big role in the last StarWars movie and other commercial productions. (NO, I am not at that level!)

Generally, one student is in charge of this, instead of teaching the skills to everyone. They usually volunteer for this in advance. (One student picked that job the previous spring... LOL) Expect time overruns here. Students with home editing equipment available are invaluable assets, but certainly not required to successful completion of the project.

Viewing -- Again the group views the finished product, which generally creates more refining. Tight editing jobs are NOT what happens the first time through. If you are not using digital equipment, do not rewrite the old material -- go on to a clean section of the tape. (I lost part of one video that had been heavily re-edited in the same place on the tape when the magnetic coating of the tape gave out, leaving a hole in the movie...)

Evaluating -- Even students not involved with the creation of the video seem to be able to contribute quality comments at this point. Praise/polish, not trash the creation, is the rule here.

I apologize in advance for my Mac bias in the programs that are platform dependent. I read VersionTracker daily, which results in lots of unexpected discoveries, undreamed of possibilities. (Besides, most people readily agree the Mac rules in the graphics department. I apologize for my Mac bias in the programs I can tell about from first hand experience. Since my father worked for IBM, several uncles, both of my sisters' husbands, and now some of the children, I am decidedly the maverick in my family.)
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