Teaching Video

Kids love stories – they love to tell them, they love to hear about them, they certainly love to watch them on TV or at the movies. Kids love gadgets – they love to play with them, they love to watch movies on them they love to show their friends things they can do with them.

Many kids are already making video on some level, through a mobile device or even with their own YouTube page. Teaching children how to make video better can also get them involved in the hobby or career you enjoy so much. It not only teaches them about the process, but about you and perhaps can lead to learning, enjoying and chronicling your family history.

Video production classes can be geared towards a week long summer camp, a weekend, or even an unplanned afternoon with the kids. This month we’ll look at some approaches to teaching video.

Analyze a Movie or TV Show

The great thing about wanting to make video is that the best work of the best people in the business is available to anyone just by turning on your TV. Take a movie or TV show and watch selected scenes from it breaking down every shot and discussing it. Things to talk about:

  • How many cuts were there?
  • Were there any transitions apart from cuts?
  • What specifically did the director and editor cut between?
  • Does the scene go from wide to close? From close to wide?
  • Was the scene set with an establishing shot?
  • Was there camera movement?
  • How was the audio cut with the video?
  • Can you always see the person who is speaking?
  • How long is the longest shot?
  • How short is the shortest?
  • How long do they average?
  • Does this change when the action is moving more quickly?

Practice Basic Camera Placement and Movement

Take video of someone talking using the on-camera microphone. Then move the camera back ten feet and try it again then move back ten more feet. Re-do the whole thing with a wireless or cabled microphone and compare the two during playback. Try different placements of the microphone. How far away from the subject can you get before you need to use a detached microphone? How directional is it? At what point can you hear distracting noise away from the camera? How loud can a sound be before it becomes garbled? Check out tips on camera movements.

Practice with Audio

Take video of someone talking using the on-camera microphone. Then move the camera back ten feet and try it again then move back ten more feet. Re-do the whole thing with a wireless or cabled microphone and compare the two during playback. Try different placements of the microphone. How far away from the subject can you get before you need to use a detached microphone? How directional is it? At what point can you hear distracting noise away from the camera? How loud can a sound be before it becomes garbled? Check out tips on audio.


Making your First Video

It can be great fun to plan an entire shoot from start to finish. It teaches essential elements of video production like teamwork, thinking ahead, and good camera skills. As a first exercise, you can try doing everything “in camera” – meaning with no editing afterwards – you shoot things in order – this makes things simpler in that you don’t need to spend time in the editing room later, but a little more challenging in that if you get something wrong you may have to just live with it.

So how do you create your (first) magnum opus?

Develop an idea

“What should I shoot?” is a question that often arrives after the video camera is already out of the bag. Some ideas:

  • Biography of someone you know – maybe it’s the story of the grandparents wedding with interviews of how they met and what happened on their wedding day.
  • Fictional story – who did let the dog out? Or a retelling of a fairy tale – Perhaps a modern version of Cinderella? Stone Soup? The Frog Prince?
  • “A Day in the Life” – have students discuss what their daily life is like, what foods they prefer, what television shows and music they enjoy.
  • Video letter – record a letter to a friend or family member who lives far away.

Storyboard

After you have your idea, you should plan out how you’re going to bring it to the (relatively) big screen. In Hollywood productions storyboarding is often a big deal – this is because it costs a producer comparatively little to have a director and an illustrator sit in a room and draw out camera angles several months in advance, and it costs an awful lot to have 30 people on a set standing around drinking coffee while the director tries to figure out where the camera ought to be.

When you’re shooting by yourself or with a small crew of volunteers this isn’t so much of a problem but pre-planning will still save you time and improve your final production. While it’s not really necessary to draw out all your camera angles, having a shot list can be very important. A shot list might be something like:

  • Exterior school building
  • Wide shot of kids jumping rope
  • Wide shot of cars passing
  • Wide shot of Jimmy arriving at school
  • Closeup of Jimmy looking up at school
  • Wide shot of Sally sitting on school steps, Jimmy walks into frame

This assures that when you get to your location, you don’t forget something you need.

Rehearse

If you’re only going to get one chance to do something right, hold off on actually shooting it until you know you’ll be able to. Shane Carruth’s 2004 Sundance, award winning film, Primer is unique in being shot almost 1:1 – meaning that every minute of film he shot was used in the final print. He did this because film was expensive and his budget was only a scant $7,000 – which isn’t enough money to get most Hollywood actors to throw a drink in your face and tell you to get lost. Shane was able to do this by rehearsing each shot many times and being confident with it before actually putting film in the camera. Just because you can shoot take-after-take doesn’t mean that you want to – sometimes having thirty versions of a scene is more difficult than only having three as you’re digging through hours of footage trying to piece things together in the editing room.


Playback

When it’s time to playback your movie and take a look – share that excitement! Treat your playback like a movie opening – invite friends, dim the lights and make popcorn. Have fun! And remember, whatever your first video looks like, you and the kids did it together. Be forgiving, be understanding, and be encouraging – it will only get better and you want to assure the kids that this is a fantastic hobby or career – and not make it too hard or too frustrating that they don’t want to participate in it again. You will all grow and learn form the experience and, after all, isn’t’ that what teaching kids is all about?

Sidebar: Teaching Editing

Editing video adds a whole new element to teaching. While professional and semi-pro editing systems such as Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere are feature-rich and can be daunting to new users, there are a number of very simple video editors suitable for young users which you most likely already own, such as iMovie, which comes bundled with Macintosh’s OS X, and Windows Movie Maker for Microsoft Windows. It’s not bundled with new versions of Windows but is available for free download from Microsoft. On other low-budget fronts – CyberLink and Nero both offer low-cost easy-to-use editing programs – do some research. Don’t make the kids start out on something too complex for them, they might want to quit instead of continue learning.

Teach them good media management habits. Now is the time to instill good habits by teaching good organizational skills, use key words in clip names, if you’re using tapes, make sure they’re labeled. It’s too easy to take the quick route in the beginning, but losing your assets half-way through your project because they’re mislabeled or labeled so poorly that you can’t remember where that killer shot was, well, we’ve all been there.

Keep editing simple – limit transitions to cuts or dissolves – and teach them why having 99 wipe effects doesn’t mean you have to use them.

Finally, don’t forget to give some simple credits and titles to polish off the finished project. Adding titles not only makes your video look more professional, but it gives your students a chance to see their names on the screen.

Contributing Editor Kyle Cassidy is a visual artist who exhibits regularly and has written books on technology and photographic art.

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