Tag Archives: video

Short Films: Day Two

Another great short film called Ascension. It is an experimental piece using what are basically After Effects Plug-Ins. But it is done so well and so seamlessly that I, at first glance, thought I was looking at something rendered in 3D on Maya or Blender.

Hope you enjoy it.


I Are A Genius. Using Filmmaking to Give Students Their Voice…

Every so often a project drops in my lap that I just can’t say “No” to. In the past I have written about the relationship my video production class has had with a group of local artists and filmmakers. The Association for Visual Arts has been kind enough to team up with us to create a pilot project that brings students together with documentarians to learn more about movie making in a professional setting. We made one movie two years ago, “Golden Grillz & Satan Like Puppies: A documentary on rock, rap the individual and the group.” It was not a bad movie and, as I have written before, it was entirely created, produced, shot and directed by the students. It was shown at several venues in the city and the Mayor’s Office has a copy on file.

This year’s movie is called “I Are A Genius” It is a documentary film about students taking a look at their own education. Honestly, I am not too sure they liked whaPromotional poster for "I Are A Genius."t they found. Most were surprised to find out that the education system is run like a business and that money matters as much, if not more, than the educational outcome. They were a bit taken aback to find that teachers and administrators and superintendents don’t all speak with a single voice. There is dissension in the ranks, sometimes vocal, sometimes not. They were also concerned about the number of educational professionals who were afraid to speak out against the system for fear of losing their jobs. We are in a down economy, the school system is making cuts and no one wants to make any waves…even if those waves help the students.

The students learned to set and keep appointments and how to talk to a professional without looking “like a kid.” They set up interviews with elected officials, teachers, administrators, students and even the Superintendent of Schools. They impressed me and they impressed themselves. They also impressed the people they interviewed. They shot and directed their own interviews, shadowed students for an entire day, invited their peers to a “round-table” discussion and even brainstormed some marketing ideas. Right now the group is working on a rough, off-line edit and I have noticed that the number of participants is diminishing. That doesn’t surprise me at all.

Editing video is an art and can be very exacting and very frustrating. It is also tedious and, to an outsider, incredibly boring. It also happens to be the part of film-making that I love the most. I can sit at the editor for hours and never even realize that time has gone by. But I can’t expect these novice directors to have my love of video editing. Nor can I expect them to sit for hours at a time doing anything at all. So the students will be a part of the rough edit helping to choose sound-bites and some B-Roll and to have some say in the direction and flow of the movie. Then one of our visiting artists will take the off-line edit and finish it to industry standard.

Anyway, this is just a little update and as soon as I can, I will post a trailer or excerpt from the movie. Until then, I have included a copy of  the poster for the movie.

Classroom Video Part Two: Getting Started

If you mention classroom video to the average parent you bring up visions of some old 16 mm movie clacking away on a rickety old projector or, moving forward a decade or two, a VHS (remember those?) running on a 19 inch TV mounted up on the wall. The topics ran from PBS specials to hygiene movies. I personally loved the school bus safety movies. Lots of action and blood. Today, we run our classroom videos from DVD and use a dedicated player or a computer. But classroom video can mean so much more.

Using video production in the classroom can be fun, entertaining and meaningful for students no matter what grade they are in. From K through 12, making a video can impact student achievement and raise student interest in just about any subject. All it takes is a little equipment.

In my class we make our own videos and we don’t have a huge budget so we make do with consumer grade equipment. The kind of stuff you can buy from Circuit City or Best Buy or, for that matter, Wal-Mart. It gets kind of scuffed and some of it doesn’t even make it through the entire school year but it works well enough for us.


I am not a technical kind of guy. I am what you might want to call an end-user. I like what technology can do but I have absolutely no interest in how it works. I started editing video in 1979 and have worked in TV stations around the south ever since. I can’t talk at length about frequencies and diodes and other techie topics but I am absolutely dedicated to the creative side of the business. But as far as I’m concerned, computers work by magic.


We now have four whole camcorders as part of our classroom set. All four of them use a format called MiniDV. You want to stick with MiniDV if you plan to edit your videos rather than just showing them through the camera. We have three Canon ZR-930’s and one Panasonic PV-GS300. The Canons are very basic cameras with one extra benefit. They have an external microphone jack which allows students to plug in a wireless mic and boosts the audio quality immeasurably. Well…actually it is measurable but…never mind. The Panasonic is my favorite. It has three imaging devices instead of a single device, optical image stabilization and a pretty decent microphone. The video that comes off of this camera is great in terms of color saturation and clarity.

Of course a tripod is a requirement. It has two main functions. It reduces camera shake and reduces user fatigue. In other words, you can set up a tripod for hours and it never gets tired and it never gets shaky. Try that with a 9th grader. Look for one that is strong enough to hold the weight of your camera but if you’re using a consumer level camcorder, a twenty to thirty dollar tripod will work just fine.


As mentioned a little earlier, you want a camcorder that uses MiniDV tape. Not only is this becoming the standard format, it is just easier to work with when it comes time to edit. You will want to use a computer to edit in a style of editing called non-linear editing. It’s just easier to fix mistakes and the old linear, tape-to-tape equipment is expensive, slow and getting harder to find.

So you’re going to need a computer. We use Apples because Macs come out of the box with everything you need to download and edit video, create podcasts and author DVD’s. PC’s come with Microsoft Movie Maker which is a decent but somewhat limited editor. Other software is available and I have used Pinnacle Studio before with great success.

Then What?

Well, that’s up to you. Try to think of the video in terms of a text or an essay. Every movie a student makes is like a mini term paper. It requires thought, planning, research and some technology skill. Add that to the fact that kids just love TV and you can’t miss. Just give the class a topic, assign some jobs and let them run with it. It might encourage them even more if you post some of their work someplace like Teacher Tube. My class started an after school project with some local artists and filmmakers and their documentary ended up being shown around the city to great reviews. It was called “Golden Grillz & Satan Likes Puppies.” More on that in the next post.

Classroom Video Part One: Introduction

Its been a while and I thought that I would change the way I do things. I’m going to switch between issues in the media and using video in the classroom. I’m still pretty new at using WordPress so it’s going to be a learning experience…

More and more classroom teachers are introducing video production to their students. It works on several levels. First, students are used to television and the idea of making a short video appeals to them. Second, every video a student makes is like a mini research paper so everything that works for a research paper works for a video. Third, students who are creative or more “hands-on” oriented will excel, gain confidence and self-esteem.

Everybody watches TV. According to kidshealth.org children spend as much as 1000 hours a year watching TV so it’s not a real stretch to believe that kids enjoy television. The idea of making short TV shows is very appealing. Students who have never shown much interest in school have perked up for me in my production class and done very well. Several have actually graduated and moved on to the local community college in order to continue their studies.

The main reason that using video in a classroom is so valuable is the fact that creating a single video requires a great deal of collaborative learning. Donna Lund of Robert Morris College wrote that she has learned to “appreciate the power of video technology to enhance language arts skills of secondary students in many ways.”

Some of the basic skills learned in making a video include writing for an audience, public speaking, research skills, learning to work within a group and problem solving. (Lund) In my class, students must form “Production Companies” that bid to compete for funds. In order to do so, groups must brainstorm ideas within the parameters of the assignment, submit a written program proposal that addresses issues of location, style, genre and the target audience as well as a succinct description of the video. Then they write scripts, cut the audio and gather the images. At this point the students are allowed to start their editing. The final productions are shown on what we call Presentation Day and a blanket invitation is sent out to the teachers and administrators in the school. Students then stand up in front of the group and talk about their video before it is aired.

It can work so well that some of my kids don’t even realize that they are learning. I have had kids come in to my class who are painfully shy, in danger of failing or dropping out or who can’t see the value of school. When these students begin to see that they are capable of great things in a medium that they love, something clicks.

I’d like to digress just a moment and share a story. Early in my teaching career, I was given a student, TD, that no one else wanted. I heard all of the horror stories. He was a disruption. He was lazy. He was trouble and so on. I met him and put him to work on the school news show we did at the time. TD enjoyed it and started to take it seriously. It turned out that he was a bright, creative and somewhat frustrated with school. He was also always in trouble. But he worked hard for me and to wrap up the story, he came to see me at the start of 2008. He told me two things that made my day. One, he stayed in school so he could work on videos and two, he is now in film school and is working on his first film for an upcoming festival.

Self-esteem works and it happens easily with classroom video production.

Next: Getting Started

%d bloggers like this: