Preschool is almost over and your little one will be heading off to kindergarten in the Fall. Now is the perfect time to start planning that kindergarten video to show off your pride and joy. And as the local video expert, you can provide a valuable service by providing tapes to the other parents in your child’s class. Of course, there is an opportunity to pick up a little extra cash in the process. Perhaps this is the first step on the road to a new career.
You’ll first need to get permission to videotape on school property. You will have to explain your project to the school’s administration and the better prepared you are the better it will go. Be certain to explain to the school that you are creating a video that will cover an entire year’s worth of activities. Let the staff know that you may be around a lot, since you want to cover all of the events and happenings that go on during the school year.
Your next step is to pay a visit to the locations at the school to meet some of the teachers who will be allowing you into the classrooms and facilities where you will be shooting. This is not only beneficial to you, but it also lets the teachers get to know you a little better.
You should be able to get a list of events that will cover the entire year. With this information, you will be able to tailor your schedule around the kindergarten schedule. You will know what to shoot, when it’s happening and where it will
Your child’s new kindergarten teacher may be able to supply you with a list of names of the other parents, which you may be able to use to find some potential customers for your kindergarten video. Don’t be sneaky about getting this list, but instead be perfectly clear about your intentions. Rather than supplying you with a class list, the teacher may choose to advertise your services in a class newsletter, allowing interested parents to contact you.
Other parents may plan to videotape with their own cameras, which is of course just fine. Although many people think that videography involves pushing a red button, you know better. With your knowledge and attention to the fundamentals of good video (and editing and DVD authoring), it should not be a problem to find customers. By gaining unrestricted access you will be able to get those shots that the other parents can’t. You may want to see if you can show a "work in progress" preview halfway through the semester to drum up sales.
Help yourself in the edit by carefully keeping track of your tapes before the edit. You will need to buy at least two 60-minute tapes for each event. Most of the events will only last an hour or so, but you will want to be on hand before and after each event.
A tape log is invaluable when you are looking for that great shot you know you have but you just can’t remember what tape it’s on. After every shoot, you should log the tape. It may seem like a waste of time at first, but you will thank yourself later. Adding notes to the tape log will help in the edit as well, even if it is just a comment such as "great shot" or "funny" or even just a star.
A typical tape log has your name and the name of the tape at the top of the page at the very least. Then, in sequential order, list the shots as they appear on the screen by noting the time code where they begin. You can also include any other information on the log if you keep good records.
Label your tapes and always put the date of the shoot on the tape with a tape number. If you can write small enough, include the location, videographer and length of the event. Most tapes will come with a label inside. Whatever you do, use a standard method to identify each tape.
In your edit bay, make separate bins that correspond to each tape. When you set up your shot bins in your editing software, make a new bin every time you digitize another tape. If you shoot two or three tapes on the same day at the same location, those might go into the same bin.
The most obvious subjects here are the kids. You want to make sure you get each of the kids in at least a few shots throughout the school year. Since the class is probably quite small and you’ll be spending a lot of time with the kids and their parents, it shouldn’t be too hard to get to know them all. As a part of your shot log or as a separate list, you might want to make a tally of how many shots you have of each child. You can use this list during the shooting, but you’ll also use it in the edit bay. You can go ahead and focus on your child while you shoot, as long as you have total coverage otherwise. During editing, you will have to lose all bias for the class yearbook, however.
Don’t forget to videotape some of the teachers and staff as well. Get some interviews and quotes about the kids. What project was the most successful? The most rewarding? What is the funniest thing that happened this year? There will be many fond memories of that great kindergarten teacher when looking back ten years later. Remember to include the rest of the school staff as well, such as the lunch ladies and the custodial staff.
Try to go to the places where you think you may have lighting or audio problems ahead of time. You may be able to find a way around a bad situation before you get into trouble.
For example, if you are in a classroom and there are windows that can’t be covered, you will want to turn off your automatic exposure feature. If you don’t, your camera will close down the iris every time a window is visible in the shot. Set your exposure for the classroom, lock it down and don’t worry about over-exposing the outside.
Watch the audio levels in noisy places. If you are doing an interview try to find a quiet place. If you have headphones use them. Even in a noisy environment, a subject with a loud voice will still come out on tape. Listen closely for people who speak softly.
Of course, a microphone is almost a requirement for interviews and testimonies, but the on-camera microphone should be fine for general classroom ambience, chaotic and loud, as it will certainly be.
Watch your perspective when shooting the children. You will need to crouch down or kneel most of the time. You don’t want your video to look like an aerial view the entire time. Interesting shots can be created with a little imagination. Put the camera inside one of the kids coat lockers just before they get to class and see what happens.
Do a few interviews of the parents from the child’s perspective. Lay down on the floor and zoom in on your subject while they are speaking. Remember these are little people, so you must change the camera perspective to reflect that fact.
Don’t make the video too long or you’ll put everyone to sleep. About an hour is probably a good length. Entertaining video will keep people interested, but there are limits, much depends on the audience.
You will have plenty of footage at the end of the year. The objective here is not to use all the footage but to pick out the best shots and make it great. There will be plenty of scheduled events to shoot during the year like the plays and field trips, but don’t forget the other events, such as the first day of school and the first report card.
This can be a very time consuming project over the course of a year, but with a little planning and patience you can create a lasting memory that will go on for years and years to come.
George F. Young is a broadcast journalist for the Massachusetts Army National Guard and an independent video director/editor.
[Sidebar: You’ll Be There Anyway]
A personalized video can bring additional income. You won’t become a millionaire but you can certainly make it worth your while. Since you will be videotaping the events your child may be involved in already, why not shoot a little extra and cover some of the other kids as well?
If you can get parents interested before you start shooting, you can identify certain kids in the class ahead of time. This way you can be sure to get more footage of them throughout the year. Then with the extra footage you can personalize another version of the video with more shots of the specific child.
You can market the more personalized version of the tape to the parents. Of course there may be a premium price to pay here. But you only go through kindergarten once right?
[Sidebar: Lights, camera, chaos]
A work light or on-camera light can make a difference in a dimly lit room, but remember that the light will consume your batteries very quickly. This is where your early walk through will pay off. One caution: if you think adults are easily distracted by video lights, imagine how fidgety five-year-olds will react. Interruptions to the classroom or special events should be avoided.