Movie magic: students beam videos to a huge worldwide audience

7th September 2001 at 01:00
In the second installment of Movie Magic, Vivi Lachs shows us how to edit movies for presentation.

You would think video-making would be a linear activity - decide what you want to make a movie about, research the material, draw up a storyboard, film, edit, add extra sound, and sit back and watch it. But it doesn't always work out that way. The sequence is rather less systematic and looks more like - plan an idea, storyboard, rehearse role plays, film, begin editing, re-film, re-storyboard, continue editing, change your idea, re-film, and so on. Video-making is a complex activity, full of learning possibilities.

A Year 10 media studies class at Clapton Technology College in London made digital videos as part of their GCSE coursework. Working in groups they considered the subject of mobile phones, focusing on issues such as peer pressure, crime, advertising and how they had changed the nature of communication. Although this was a media studies class and students had deconstructed videos in class and discussed how to plan out storyboards, they still found making their own storyboards difficult. It seems to be a case of knowledge after the event.

As one student commented after she had finished her video, "Now I know what to do". It may indeed be that students need to begin filming to get a sense of how they would like their pieces to look. One group's storyboard had a role play split into three sections like a soap opera. In between each section they had simply written the word "interview". One of the group admitted that they were going to go out and interview people, hear what they had to say and then come back and fill in the gap in their storyboard when they had that information.

Editing

Although there are many activities involved in film-making, the to and fro nature of the work means that the filming and storyboarding tend to become blurred with the editing process. Indeed editing is often the most time consuming but also most crucial stage and needs a very clear focus. Key decisions are made and much of the learning inherent in the project comes from here.

Students will gather different types of footage, some with themselves as actors, others with people interviewed around their school or on the street. Some shots will be images of scenes, objects and buildings. They will have more footage than they need.

The mobile-phone groups were told that their videos could be a maximum of two minutes so that they would not take too long to download on the Web. However, some groups still shot 20 minutes of film. They then had to cut this down, work out which role play at which camera angle they preferred, which images most appropriately portrayed their message and which people interviewed made the most pertinent comments. They had to be ruthless, discarding some of their favourite parts or shots that made them laugh in favour of those that fulfilled the aims of the piece. One group had recorded their first scene three times and could not choose between the takes. Eventually they did make a decision, but it took till the last minute when they just had to give in and choose quickly.

Although it may be "fun", it's not a particularly easy process. Students need commitment and concentration and, even so, sometimes the piece will not come out exactly as they want it. They may have sound from one clip that is better than the image, and video footage from another with useless sound. They will need to chop and move and reorganise, add extra sound and try it out, and try it again. This is a demanding creative process, but the prospect of a finished product is what usually motivates students and carries them to an intensity that they may rarely achieve in the classroom.

Group work

A snapshot of work in progress: a group of five students gathered around one computer intently editing and discussing. Group work is so intrinsic to video production that even students unused to working collaboratively find themselves engaged in discussion. When I asked a student from another media studies project how he found working in a group, he looked surprised: "I can't imagine how I would have done it on my own." The group identity frames the piece as students have to make choices about the effect they wish to have on the viewer, the roles they take on and what to do if they disagree. It is not always a logical process; when I asked the same student how his group made decisions, he shrugged and answered "paper, scissors, rock".

The completed mobile phone videos included a rich mixture of role plays and talking heads, views and interviews, images and voice-overs that were cleverly pieced together forming a coherent whole. They were put on to videotape to be viewed separately and inserted on to a website with text to give some details of the process of making their videos. The Web pages essentially became containers for the video that was playing, giving greater access to them. The quality and indeed sophistication of the work was in the film making rather than the Web authoring. This is a subject that needs some additional thought.

When is a video not a video?

Making videos in the classroom has certainly become easier. New software is simple and intuitive enough to integrate video authoring into curriculum work. We are at the start of another digital revolution where everyone can become an amateur film maker and groups of students can make subject specific videos as a way of both presenting and consolidating classwork. So it is worth a thought about exactly how we want to make use of this in schools.

For a number of years students have been making multimedia presentations and websites. The software has developed quickly and the ease and sophistication with which this can be done has greatly improved. Video authoring could be seen as the next parallel step to multimedia authoring. Alternatively it could be seen as an additional media form to integrate into already existing forms of presentation.

There is a choice. The answer to "When is a video not a video?", may really be, "When it is not only a video." In successful multimedia authoring, text can be superimposed on images, animations can run alongside explanations, sound can augment the understanding. Essentially the sound, text, images and animations interplay to create a whole piece. If one element was to be removed, the meaning would be compromised. Video can be seen in a similar way. If video becomes one element within a wider context, it makes it become more of a group player. This changes both what students have to do with video and also the learning that comes from it.

An example of this integration can be seen in a Year 10 history project at Stoke Newington School in London. The subject matter was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Students had just completed a unit of work on the Cold War and the teacher wanted to spend time consolidating details of one of the subjects, looking at perspectives in historical fact. She began by splitting the class into four groups to cover the key players in the crisis - Cuba, the USA and the USSR, and an outside perspective, the UK. From these points of view students designed an archive newspaper to be displayed on the Web. They wrote the articles, headlines and editorials, but rather than using a still image, produced a moving one.

The significance is that just as a newspaper picture only tells one aspect of a story, so the video did not need to explain everything, and did not need to give background information as it was in the text on the page. The video could become one multimedia element among many. Thus students needed to decide which ideas were to go in the video and which were to appear in the text. These are all decisions that experienced multimedia authors are familiar with.

The students chose to set up mock interviews with the leaders of the countries that were key players in the missile crisis. The students tried to consider styles of questioning and what those leaders would realistically say. (One student interviewing Kruschev asked: "And how did you feel Mr Kruschev?" before the teacher intervened questioning whether "feelings" would be something that the interviewer would ask about). They had to be aware that they were creating archive footage, and that the leaders themselves would make assumptions about what their citizens would know. The outcome of the project was some careful editing of speeches, some mixing of video role-play and recreated footage of events, a Web newspaper with integrated video and a strong engagement with the fairly complex subject matter.

Video can be used in the curriculum to motivate and engage students actively around the subject matter. Students, used to TV and the Web often become dedicated to producing a quality product and to learning the skills to do so. Given the pressure on curriculum time, making videos in the classroom is not an everyday event and a class will often have only one opportunity. Despite this, after one project, students are the experts and ready to advise.

Movie Magic, part one, appeared in TES Online, June 8. Vivi Lachs will be back in January with more tips on movie making Vivi Lachs is the curriculum director of Highwire, Hackney Learning Centre and the author of Making Multimedia in the Classroom: a teachers' guide. RoutledgeFalmer, pound;19.99. Tel: 08700 768853. Work from Highwire City Learning Centre can be seen at www.highwire.org.uk

WHAT THE STUDENTS SAY

What did you think of the editing?

"It was so easy, incredibly easy to do. There were two buttons to press... and it came out nice."

"The bits you had to go over again and again were boring."

"I found it difficult and I found it confusing, taking bits and deleting certain sections."

"We had two edits we were going to use, one very long and one very short. The first one had no sound 'cos the mike wasn't on, so we had to get the clip of the protestors without sound and put in a crowd cheering."

How did you choose which footage to use?

"We could remember from filming which bits were right and wrong. We knew which bits we wanted to use, but it took time, looking through to find them."

"We decided which shots would be the most effective and would get our point across best."

"We went through the footage a lot and then split it into parts so it was easier to select."

"We talked about what footage we wanted. If all or most of us wanted it, we put it in."

What advice would you give about editing?

"Leave a lot of time for the editing 'cos that takes the longest. Like anything else, if it's rushed it won't come out as well. Get the important parts out of your clips, the parts that seem straight to the point."

"Don't plan too carefully, 'cos if you do plan too carefully and then see something else you can do, you might want to change it."

"Watch everything through first and don't delete any footage until you're completely satisfied."

"Use a variety of shots and different sorts of ways of doing it, it will keep people more focused on it."

"Don't worry about it so much, you can go back, and do it slowly. Write down how to do it."

"You have to find ways to compromise your ideas. We wanted an enormous flag in the background and ended up with a small one."

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