I’m gearing up for a film festival at the end of the month that celebrates the incredible talents and vision of the students in my community. The films are created by students in what is often an in-depth process. Starting with nothing more than an idea, students write story boards, scripts, choose film techniques, act, record, edit, process and polish until they have a video that depicts nothing less than the vision they started with. I’ve had many teachers ask how to help students make great films, so below is a series of activities that may help you during the process.

Of course, the basis for a great film is a great story. I won’t be covering how to write good stories in this post, but in the future I will share some resources that I have found useful. For now, the focus is on the film technique and technical side of making a great movie.

PART 1 Camera Technique


There is a nice video on filming techniques. Have students watch this video so they can begin to understand camera movement, angles and composition. Its a nice way to ease students into it all.

Possible Activity: List 7 Camera Techniques that caught your attention. For each, discuss when they might be used and why they would be useful in that situation

PART 2 Movie Clip Analysis for Camera Technique

Now that students are becoming aware of camera techniques, have them apply that knowledge. Have them watch a movie clip, and discuss or respond to the questions below.

  • What is the overall tone and mood of this clip?
  • What types of camera techniques stand out to you?
  • How do those camera techniques enhance the story, or reinforce the tone and mood?
Here is a clip from The Avengers. The beauty of technology is that students can find a clip from their own favourite movies to personalize this part of the learning.

Marvel’s The Avengers http://youtu.be/JCqfncpIjJM

Beyond movie clips, movie trailers are fantastic for analysis. Movie trailers show off the most interesting clips, and so in a 2 minute trailer students will see dozens of different camera angles and techniques.

You may even choose to send students to the Apple Trailers website to choose trailers for movies that they like or want to see soon.

PART 3 Developing Tone and Mood with Audio

Smallville – Time After Time http://youtu.be/l4a14HRd9to

Audio tracks of a film have just as much affect as the camera techniques themselves, maybe more so. Talk to students about picking the right sound track for their movie.

Here is an activity you might use.

  • First, have students watch a muted clip, like the Smallville clip linked above. Guide a discussion with questions about the mood of the clip. How do you feel while you watch it? Is it interesting?
  • Watch the clip again, but this time with audio. Ask the same questions as you did in the first time you watched the clip.
    • what types of emotions are elicited by the music?
    • do you think the movie clip is enhanced by the music, or is it just distracting?
    • If you have movie idea in mind, what kinds of music do you think you might choose?
By choosing a variety of clips to watch for this activity you can show students a wide range of emotions through music. Again, suggest to students that they find clips from the movies and TV shows that they like. They can hone in on how the music in their favourite shows help make the show enjoyable.

PART 4 Camera Stability

A viewing experience can be completely distracted by shaky video. Holding a camcorder or iPad steady is a skill that takes a lot of practice, and sometimes a tripod is necessary. For about $50 you can pick yourself up a nice iPad tripod mount. I’m pretty pleased with the iShot that I have, and it can be had for less than $60.



PART 5 Sound Quality

The iPads built-in microphone, which works great for day to day use, doesn’t really cut it when trying to make a great film. I use a video mic, similar to the Rode NTG2 Shotgun Microphone. A high quality mic like this is very sensitive, and picks up all of the nuances of voice.

To plug almost any microphone into an iPad you will need two things


Now that you have your mic, talk to your students about adjusting audio levels. I like to use iMovie on the iPad to talk about the audio levels. This figure below should help.

Practice, Review, Reflection and Feedback

I like to tell students ‘When you think you’re done, watch it, and have someone else watch it. Take notes about what you like and what you think needs improvement’. You might specifically ask students to focus in on three things: camera technique, audio quality and lighting. Just as we did during the video clip analysis activity above, have students discuss how each of these three factors affect the mood and tone of the film, and the overall impression it leaves on the viewer. After a review and reflection, students should be inspired to make many improvements in their next film. Now they’re ready for a big project!

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