The Film Business

An Educator’s Guide to Video Production

Think of video, television or film production, and what comes to mind? Perhaps a studio bustling with busy but focused production staff and intensely bright lights; or maybe actors or presenters rehearsing their lines whilst make-up artists brush their faces with powder to remove imperfections; or perhaps the image of the director, omnipotent and omniscient, providing guidance and commands to actors and crew. Whatever image you find, there’s a reasonable chance it will involve a number of industrious people each attending to their respective tasks. What each person in this environment does and how and when they do it is due to planning and coordination. What is said to camera is planned; how the image appears on the viewfinder of the camera is planned; any music featuring, its duration, and where this is used has been planned. Video, television and film production is essentially about planning, and planning and coordinating a video production is a craft, one which requires creative visual thinking alongside precise logistical planning. The application of this craft to video for educational purpose is better served if the educator has an awareness of the procedures and activities involved in producing a video.

If you are a lecturer or teacher and you think you know nothing about video and its production, compare the frameworks used to plan a lesson (Figure 2.1) and to plan a live video broadcast (Figure 2.2). A number of the elements of lesson planning and classroom management have connections with video production planning and the management of production resources. Teacher training, or tertiary education professional development courses, introduce the notion of structure and organisation in the management of course content and assessment and in directing students towards the desired learning outcomes as set out in the course syllabus or scheme of work. The production of a video for learning purposes is not so dissimilar to the planning required for a specific lesson or class. Each has educational objectives and a structured sequence of connected events which work towards achieving the intended learning goals. Each, however, operates within a specific context of use.

FIGURE 2.1 Example of a lesson plan.

This particular lesson plan was taken from my student teaching portfolio. The structure of the lesson plan (Figure 2.2) has a number of elements in common with the layout of the running order used for a live studio broadcast. These include:

  1. details of the personnel involved and their roles
  2. the date and time of the activity
  3. the title and theme of activity
  4. a breakdown of the structure of the activity listed in order
  5. the duration of each element.

A number of different lesson planning frameworks exist, many of which have been created or adapted by teacher training institutions and their respective subject areas.

FIGURE 2.2 Example of a running order. This was taken from a live studio broadcast onto the web in June 2007. (The names of the production team and studio guests have been removed.) The layout and items included will vary between productions and directors (Zorian-Lynn, 2001: 84).

Trial, error, and more error

The creation of a video as a means towards the attainment of a teaching or learning goal has more to do with thinking and planning than with technology. Consider this scenario:

A lecturer receives feedback from a group of their students indicating their difficulties in finding resources in the library. This is evident from the nature of the sources and references they are using and in the essays they submit for their course assignment; the problem reported can be seen to affect the quality of the students’ work. Given this problem the lecturer has an idea – why not use the departmental video camera to create a short video which shows the students where the books and resources they need for their course assignments are located in the library and how they can find them? After working out how to switch the departmental video camera on and off and operate the close-up and wide option, the lecturer sets out to create the video. They record some shots of the library from the outside, then they enter and record shots of various elements inside the library – these include a student using the online catalogue, the location of their own book in the appropriate section and floor, and a few lines of guidance from a helpful librarian at the service desk on how to find resources in the library. On return to the office the lecturer accesses the free video editing software supplied with their computer and manages to transfer the recordings from the camera to the computer, a little surprised perhaps to find over 30 minutes of material was actually recorded. After learning how the editing software operates, trimming and connecting the sequences together wasn’t overly complicated; the 19-minute finished video may not win any Oscars, but it has an animated title and makes its point, illustrating how to find resources in the library. The video is then made available online following a formatting process taking over an hour and the lecturer is pleased with their efforts, though editing and processing took much longer than expected. Some weeks later the students continue to report difficulties in finding resources in the library. The number of hits on the video has yet to reach double figures and the lecturer’s own book is cited in every student’s subsequent assignment.

A number of lecturers and teachers reading the above scenario may find connection with one or more of its elements. In respect of video production rather than student study behaviour, the initial technical aspects of camera operation and a basic understanding and use of editing software may be achieved quickly and with relative ease, and this may offer a degree of personal satisfaction for those new to video production. However, working with video sequences recorded in an ad hoc or spur-of-the-moment manner may not easily lend itself to creating an engaging or suitable educational video resource, one which attains the desired educational objectives which gave rise to its production. The scenario includes a number of errors which the professional video producer will have little problem identifying. The underlying approach to video production in this illustration is referred to as an empirical approach, one which Millerson and Owens (2008: 21) suggest is guided by ‘instinct and opportunity’. They add:

at worst, the result of such shot hunting is a haphazard disaster, with little cohesion or sense of purpose.

Whilst the empirical approach may work for experienced video producers and for home movies uploaded to social media, it may fail its educational audience in at least two ways, in failing to adequately address its learning objectives, and in presenting barriers to viewing and to viewer engagement. Students using video resources online are able to shuttle through the sequences they are viewing and are more likely to skip sections if the content they are viewing fails to engage their attention or address what they are looking for. A poorly thought out and produced video may be both of these. From a different perspective, the video resulting from the scenario above may actually prove counter-productive to the desired learning outcome insofar as it may lead to an incorrect understanding of its content. In the scenario, the lecturer’s inclusion of his own book in the video may be interpreted by his students as an indication that his book should be included as a reference in future course assignments. Any misunderstandings occurring in the interpretation of a video by the viewing students may not become apparent until one or more forms of student assessment reveal their presence, by which point they may prove difficult to correct.

Excerpt from Producing Video for Teaching and Learning: A Framework for Planning and Collaboration by Michael O’Donoghue © 2014 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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