Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lights, Camera, Take Action: Let the Fun Begin!

Click here if you missed Part One or Part Two.

The Interviews

While research will probably be ongoing, after three weeks or so, spend one or two class periods discussing and practicing interview techniques, as the interviews are often part of the research process. However, students should have completed enough research to be able to generate intelligent, knowledgeable questions for the interview subject.

Students need a good understanding of the difference between closed and open-ended questions, then practice writing the latter. Talk about questions that elicit stories, (e.g. describe your vision for the next five years), and explain how long-ish answer will make their job MUCH easier than a series of short one or two word responses.

We also talk about good interview etiquette, e.g. how to ask for an interview, etc.

Once they're comfortable with the structure, they write 4-5 questions and practice on each other, before writing 10 questions for their "expert" interview. I don't have them write more than that, because we talk about spontaneous and follow-up questions. If they have a long list of questions, the interview can become just a walk through of their list.

You can find good interview information in this excellent site from Media College,
with suggestions for conducting interviews here and here and here.

The Videotaping

Now the fun really starts! I always spend at least two to three days discussing photographic composition: framing a shot, the rule of thirds, placing the horizon, filling the frame etc. Fodor's provides an wonderful site with good examples that we explore as a class. You may not want to discuss all of the techniques, but definitely explore the ones mentioned above.

Once they've grasped the concepts, if you're lucky enough to work in a district that doesn't block Flickr, have students look through the site in groups to find examples of each of the composition techniques; alternatively, if you want more control of what they're accessing (!), use Flickr's nifty little "add note" feature that lets you drag a box around elements, then label it. The label only pops up when you drag the cursor over the box, allowing students to determine what composition technique the photo uses, before you reveal the answer. (You can only label your own photos, btw, not others you find on the site!)

Once students understand the different elements, give them a few days to take several pictures of each technique, bringing their best examples into class to share and discuss. Obviously, they should be aware of these elements as they shoot the footage for their documentary.

GREAT TIP: Use Saran Wrap or one of those plastic screen covers for a palm pilot. Draw a rule of thirds grid on the plastic, then lay it over the camera's LCD display, making it easy for students to compose their shots. (Thanks, Joe Brennan!)

Other topics to discuss

  • Sound: If at all possible, use an external mic rather than the camera's built in mic. It will solve 90% of the sound problems.
  • Lighting: Shoot in the brightest light available, since I doubt you'll have floodlights to take around with you. Remind students to be aware of shadows.
  • Backgrounds: What is BEHIND their subject? Any lampshades over the heads? Any background noise?
  • Camera Angles: Students should strive for a variety of camera angles (see the sheet with the sample script), and avoid zooming and panning without a good reason for doing so.
  • Tripods: These are really cheap and will help avoid the Blair Witch effect. Or find something steady on which to rest the camera.
  • Equipment: Students need to show up prepared. Here's a good equipment checklist to use or modify to fit your students' needs.

Media College provides video tutorials on camera basics and shooting interviews, among others; Adobe also has a great classroom-oriented digital media site. Be sure to explore the entire site--it's a fantastic resource for all aspects of digital storytelling. Here is a list of suggestions for videotaping interviews. Finally, here you'll find 12 guidelines for more effective videos. If you're teaching this as part of a technology class and want links to more technical information about cameras, lighting, sound, etc., I'll provide several resources at the end of this series.

Students will probably need another 2-4 weeks to conduct/videotape their interviews. During that time, they can work on our next post: scripts and storyboards.


  1. Not about your post (sorry!) ... but did you find a way to make single-spaced lines single-and-a-half after quotes/photographs? (Found your message on Google Group Help, on my help request). Your blog doesn't seem to have any single-spaced lines ... but Group Google Help hasn't answered either of us.
    And those free web cartoon are gorgeous. I shall upload some too.

  2. Hi Angela--

    Sorry to answer you here. I couldn't find an email address for you. I do have single-spacing issues, every time I post an image or quote. Everything that follows it moves to single space.

    No, I didn't find a fix that was easy. You have to mess with the HTML. Apparently, it's been a long-standing problem for Blogger, and they just haven't fixed it yet.

    I'll hunt down the fix I did find again, and post it here later today.

  3. I've found a solution! Through Paul Munn who'd posted part of a solution to the problem. Today he emailed me this link, I made the suggested changes to my html codes and now my blog looks gorgeous again. And yes you're right Blogger haven't found a solution, but this guy has:
    Here's the link:
    Good luck.
    And you can email me from my blog - top right-hand side,just click on the book cover. But there's no need to if this works as well for you as it did for me.