Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Video production class weblog--Day 3--order restored

1) Yesterday afternoon, one of the students and the technical assistant spent hours trying to get the Pinnacle software to work on the class computer. Somebody ended up bending a prong on one of the connectors, so I figured all was lost, but then he calmly walked down the hall to find a replacement connector. Then they took apart the computer to gingerly pull out a video card. After that, the software finally ran, so with a sense of a massive crisis averted, I could drive home.

2) Today, the class was mercifully free of technical problems, in part because I spent much of the time showing them scenes from movies to help prove my points. When I discussed Hitchcock's theory that reality is full of visual irrelevancies, I showed them the first scene of Rear Window to demonstrate how Alfred used the images of a leg cast, a smashed camera, photographs, and magazines to convey exposition for the rest of the film. The last shoot-out scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid demonstrates how one can constantly form compositions in light and color even in the midst of a gun fight. I also would freeze the shot and talk about compositional weights balanced on the wide screen.

3) We were lucky to have a film scholar visit from USC-Columbia, Patrick Nugent, who is in the midst of creating an ambitious 20 minute rotoscope film for his senior project. He showed the class samples from various film and media projects, and then he gave a power point presentation about the need to plan the shoot, write the script, storyboard each shot, arrange for permissions to use locations, get enough coverage, and so on. He used the light saber fighting scene from Stars Wars V to demonstrate the 180 degree rule, and we talked about creative solutions for typical lighting and sound problems in student productions. He said that in a way, the school has already supplied all of the white boards we need for lighting, since we can just reflect the light off of the walls.

4) After lunch, the three groups began brainstorming ideas for their 8-10 minute narrative films. We tried to get them to avoid the classic cliches of younger filmmakers--the alarm clock ring beginning, Pulp Fiction plagiarism, and moping emo adolescent lovelorn feel-sorry-for-me storylines. Then the students began to come up with excessively complicated story ideas that involved jewel thieves, drug dealers, obsessed murderers, stalkers, and zombies. (Contradicting myself, I talked of the need for plausibility, but I would also like one group to make a zombie attack scene.) Tomorrow, they will pitch three story ideas to the rest of the class. I will show them the 25 words or less Hollywood pitch technique from Robert Altman's The Player.


Jason Bellamy said...

I'm really enjoying reading this dispatches from the frontlines. Keep it up -- in the classroom and on the blog!

hokahey said...

Your class sounds very exciting. I would actually like to a have a real filmmaking class - which has a regular meeting time and which students take for a grade. Then I would definitely use your idea for group work. And I would definitely require screenplay and storyboarding on index cards. Some of the film clubbers actually write scripts - but they never do storyboarding - which I really believe in.

My Film Club is kind of a floating thing and students talk a lot about elaborate plots (as you described - they like zombies too) but they find it hard to get started. My resident auteur is not only starring in our 22 minute Drama Club thriller, she is also working on a making-of doc. about the making of our Western. She has become a talented editor and I have learned from her how to make sharper cuts.

We pretty much wrapped our Drama Club thriller this afternoon. I noted how their acting got better as the days went by -and they really liked filming out of sequence. Still, memorizing lines is a thing of the past. No vacuum problems today. The only big problem we ran into today was that one of the girls failed to bring in her costume shirt (which they were supposed to leave at school) so she kind of shot our continuity which we had so painstakingly maintained. The thriller has a surrealistic element to it - so maybe we can explain her change of clothes away. Afterall, we film critics can justify anything.

We just have two brief exteriors to shoot. Hopefully tonight's rain will wash away all the snow. We need to film on one of the playing fields - sans snow. Then finish editing - no music for the thriller - add music to the Western (one of my students has written and recorded two original songs; one is done - it's amazing!)

Ed Howard said...

Yeah, just a note to say keep this up. It's fascinating to hear how one goes about teaching aspiring young filmmakers.

FilmDr said...

Jason and Ed,

Thanks for your words of encouragement.


Thanks for your supportive comments and the reports about your Film Club. Our school is so rigorous, students usually don't have much time to accomplish much in clubs, so they need the big blocks of time that interim provides, and I would be hesitant to try to do anything without a grade. That said, however, for creative classes, I tell my students up front that I prefer to hand out 100s to everyone for their full participation. That technique usually works.

hokahey said...

I just wanted to add that I also show clips from movies to demonstrate particular techniques. I use the opening of "Rear Window" for the same reason you do. I like the idea of using the ending to "Butch Cassidy." I use the battles/light saber duels at the end of "The Phantom Menace" to show parallel editing. I show clips from "Elephant" to show how simple a narrative can be - and Drama Club used the technique in which the camera follows the student through the school for one of our films. I'm not a big fan of extras on DVDs but I use some of the making-of docs. to illustrate certain elements of film - especially the whole illusory nature of filmmaking - that you can create a whole different world within the frame and it doesn't matter what's around it. I used the doc. from "The Descent" to show how the vast cavern system was created by close shots in a very small set.

hokahey said...

Ah, yes, the school that is very rigorous academically sort of tires students out for extra-curricular activities - my situation exactly - so when students come to Film Club they'd rather just talk about ideas - and in Drama Club it takes a lot of effort to get them going.

A question about Pinnacle - how does it compare with iMovie HD 6? Is it easy to use?

FilmDr said...


That's very interesting about your use of Elephant and The Descent for teaching purposes. I will look into them.

Also, I've only worked with Pinnacle and Premier Pro, and Pinnacle doesn't freeze up the computers nearly as much.

Jason Bellamy said...

Jumping back in here just to second the making-of doc for "The Descent," for the reasons Hokahey mentions. The highlight is when they talk about how they used the same rock wall for at least three different shots in the cave. They just kept changing the angle. Once they point it out, you wonder how you never noticed. And then you remember it's because we're watching the actors. A good lesson even for film fans.