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OnCUE Archive - 2002, January

Directors in the Classroom

by Nikos Theodosakis

Digital-video production and filmmaking projects
turn the classroom into a studio and students into directors,
photographers and writers. Pull together the right tools, even
not-so-new ones, and students unleash their creativity, building
thinking, communication and analytical skills.

If you scan the weekend Hollywood box office
reports <variety.com> you will find the names and rankings of
the top grossing films in the United States. Monsters Inc., Shrek
and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer?s Stone are recent
multimillion-dollar success stories.

But here?s another list of important films
produced last year: My Family?s Story, Choices, My Dog Spot,
Interview with a Civil War Soldier, Where I was Born, Triangles and Friends .

Though these obscure cinematic experiments may
never break box office records, sell buckets of popcorn, or spin off
merchandising memorabilia, they are among the most important films
being made today. And the most influential thinkers of the future
? our children ? create them.

Welcome to the world of filmmaking in the
classroom. Classrooms are turning into studios, teachers into
producers and students into filmmakers.

Inexpensive and easy-to-use digital cameras and
editing software enable educators to explore the use of digital
video as a serious tool for teaching and learning.

Students of all ages are using DV (Digital Video)
cameras and computerized editing software to create video reports in
English, Mathematics, History, Science, Languages, Physical Ed and
other subject areas.

The Filmmaking Process in the Classroom

From initial idea to final presentation the
filmmaking process is loaded with opportunities and experiences that
make it a powerful and appropriate tool for 21st-century classrooms.

Filmmaking begins with an idea. Ideas are then
explored and developed. Research is conducted. Oral presentations
are pitched. Scripts are written. Storyboards (comic book-like
visualizations) are created. Shot Lists are detailed and planning,
planning, planning ensues. Cameras finally roll. Editing begins
(analysis-synthesis-presentation) and finally the finished videos
are presented in the classroom and beyond.

Filmmaking develops visual literacy. And at every
stage it fosters research, organization, planning, analysis, and
synthesis skills. It develops oral, visual and writing presentation
skills. It can build negotiating, communication and other
interpersonal skills, create awareness of community, family and self
and make connections between curriculum and the world outside the
classroom. It is a rich method to explore content and surround the
project with authentic experiences.


Digital Video (DV) Cameras

To begin exploring filmmaking in the classroom you
will require a video camera and editing software. Look for these
four features when looking for a DV camera:<o:p>

1) Flip out viewfinder<o:p>

2) Audio/video input<o:p>

3) External microphone input<o:p>

4) Pricing less than $1000<o:p>

Flip Out Side Screen

The great thing about the flip out side LCD (Liquid
Crystal Display) screen is that it allows students to keep one eye
on their image and one eye on their environment.

It allows them to move with the camera, to follow
the action, and to experiment on their feet where they think the
camera might or should be.

Audio/Video Input

This feature enables you to import analog video
(VHS, 3/4?, BETA, Hi8, 8mm) into the camera and create a digital
video copy. For schools that have AV rooms filled with these
?old? technologies, this creates two important opportunities.
First, students are able to incorporate existing analog videotape
into the editing design. Second, these vintage VHS and Hi-8 video
cameras need not be disposed of; they can be utilized as cameras and
then their analog footage can be transferred into the digital world.

External Microphone Input

One of the best ways to ensure clean, crisp sound
is to use an external microphone. Although all DV cameras come with
a camera-mounted microphone, it is difficult for the camera to
record the audio of a subject that is distant from the camera.

Once students begin conducting interviews they will
want to improve the quality of their soundtrack. External
microphones can be purchased for as little as $30 (e.g. Radio Shack)
or as much as $1,000 and up for wireless lapel-mounted models. For
most classroom applications, the inexpensive wired variety will be a
tremendous improvement.


Although DV cameras are available above the
thousand dollar range, the $600-$800 variety puts more cameras into
classrooms and allows more students the hands-on experience of
making movies. The effects that are found in more expensive cameras
can, in many cases, be duplicated within the editing software.


Once the footage is recorded the next step is to
begin editing. The easiest editing software I have used is iMovie by
Apple. Its intuitive interface and fast learning curve allow young
students to import their footage, assemble their preferred shots,
add narration, sound effects, music, titles and still images and
graphics. When completed, students can then export them onto
videotape or present them as a QuickTime movie on a Web site, a
CD-Rom, or DVD.

For advanced editing, Final Cut Pro is being used
increasingly in Hollywood and around the world by professional
editors of news, documentaries, TV series, and fiction films ??
now it is also being used by middle-school students.

On the Windows side, editing programs such as Adobe
Premiere, Videowave, Ulead, Movie works, and DV Studio are among
those preferred for classroom use.


There are many enhancements that can be gradually
added to the classroom studio. Here are three that can enhance the
quality of student productions:

- Microphones - External microphones allow
students to get the microphone closer to the action and thus produce
cleaner sound. Clean audio will greatly improve the overall
presentation of the video.

- Tripods - Amazing portability and freedom
come with these new small digital video cameras. They enable
students to handhold a camera and to move it quickly, responding to
cues in their peripheral. There are times, however when there is a
desire to create a static shot without the jiggling and wobbling
that hands (even experienced hands) give. Tripods range from under
$100 to several hundred dollars.

- Lighting - Projects filmed indoors might
adequately be illuminated with window light or existing interior
lights, but at some point, there may be a need to boost up the
lighting. Anything that gives off light can be used: flood lights,
work lights from home renovation centers, household lamps.

Handling lights can be dangerous owing to their fragile
nature and to the heat that builds up, so you may want to include
the use of lights only after allowing for instructions regarding
safe handling precautions.


Ultimately, though, it is not about clear sound,
great camerawork, fabulous lighting, or clever editing. What really
matters, as in any report, assignment or essay is:

  • What is this student saying
  • Do they understand the subject
  • Are they making connections
  • Are they asking good questions
  • Do they have a point of view
  • How clearly are they communicating their ideas?

These questions must remain at the heart of any
assessment of digital video projects, otherwise we risk being
beguiled by shiny boxes and smooth software that effortlessly
produce professional looking videos.

It's the student's story, ideas and points of
view that must be the focal point. And you don't need the latest
technology to have those.

Nikos Theodosakis is a filmmaker, educator and
author of the book The Director In The Classroom: How Filmmaking
Inspires Learning. There is more information on filmmaking in the
classroom with links to the resources mentioned here at the Web site
<thedirectorintheclassroom.com>. Contact: <nikos@thedirectorintheclassroom.com>.