Making a film

                 

        

Films made with my class of 7 years olds.  

Watch the film we made at the TESOL Spain National Convention in Salamanca

     Tips of how to make a film

Equipment

A camera and computer with editing software. Most schools will have this … however!  I ended up buying my own camera and software for my own computer. I personally would highly recommend this option. Why? Read on.

Most schools have their own video camera. However, you may well find there are a lot of different people trying to use it. You may get ready to film something during Tuesday’s lesson, bring in all the props, only to find someone else has taken it. Or the battery isn’t re-charged. Or, it simply doesn’t work. I had all these experiences when I made my first film. But the film making was so much fun, and the final film was so well received by the children and parents that for my second film I simply went out and bought my own camera. I then bought my own tri-pod, for the same reason. Now I have all my own equipment, so I can film, when I like. Nowadays many digital cameras can record video. However, you might want to check the picture quality before embarking on the project. Take some footage and down load it and look at the picture quality of the screen of the computer, not just on the screen on the camera.

A computer with editing software. Most schools have computers and most computers have something simple, maybe Microsoft Movie Maker. But again, you need to check the computer has sufficient memory to allow video editing. Many computers won’t. It will be very slow, and often crash. Also, editing takes a lot of time, and I personally do not want to stay behind at works for hours and hours. I simply bought some good software for my own computer. I spent about 120 euros on software called MAGIX. I highly recommend it but I’m sure all software is much of a much ness. Considering the amount of fun I have had over the last 6 years of film making, it was money very well spent. Editing a film is a labour of love. It does take a long time but I find it quite relaxing. But only because I do it in my own home, with a cup of tea and the music on!


     Watch the cinema trailer!     

 Where to film? Creating backdrops!

If you are Steven Spielberg with a budget of $100 million, then you can just go ahead and think of a cool story and film it. If you are reading this I imagine you aren’t and you have no budget. The first tip is work with what you have. Some of your film will be filmed in the classroom. All my films are partly set in a school. This allows you to use the school as a school, and your classroom as a classroom. Children love this, they can get to be naughty children and one of them gets to be the teacher! (see below  Funs ideas for scenes). You only need to film one end of your class. So you can cover the other end, or at least a corner of it, in metal foil, to create the inside of a spaceship. Or two corners to make 2 space ships (see The Vampires of  Planet X film). However,  to make the film more interesting you need to find other locations. What backdrops are there around your school? Is there an old building that looks like a castle? Is there a high wall that could be the wall of a castle, or prison? Is there a green area that could be in a forest? Is there a secretaries’ office that could become the police station? Is there a part of your school that looks a bit more modern? Could this be part of the inside of a space ship?

Also think about places in your town to film. You don’t need to take the children. Just film that castle, police station, bank, train, and in the editing, simply cut to a shot of the children in your classroom. It nicely sets the scene. I love skiing so I have used lots of footage from the Alps, of people skiing, of panoramic sweeping shots of mountains which then zoom in on a snow covered chalet, the secret hideout of the robbers. My favourite shot was skiing downhill, with the camera pointing behind me. I then put the children in front of a small blue screen*,  and on the computer, superimposed them on the video, and hey presto, I had Harry Potter skiing down a mountain, chasing Dr Black!

Top tip:  Build up your own personal video library. Save these images on your computer in your own Special Effects file. These shots can then be re-used year after year.

*Blue screens (or green screens) are simply a large piece of blue or green material which the children stand in front of and act while you film them. Most editing software allows you to then project another background onto this. This is how they do the weather forecasts on TV. With cheaper software (i.e. what we use, not the $3000 software professionals have) the final image does look grainy but it is very funny. Well worth it!

Making the most of your backdrops.

Your possible backdrops are likely to be limited. No problem. One trick is to film from different angles. It’s an obvious point but when you film, the audience only sees the area directly in front of the camera. So you can have one end of the playground, in front of the wall, as the outside of The witches’ castle and then film the other end of the playground, looking towards the school, as the school of the children in the film. As I said above, you can cover the back of the class in metal foil to make the inside of a space ship, whilst the front of the class remains a class. You can film children going up some stairs, and then going down the same stairs from a different angle. It looks like two different staircases. In the same way, you can film the children going down a corridor from different directions. The audience (the parents, friends) won’t notice.

A film, like a play, is something visual. Just filming a bunch of children in a class talking will not make an interesting film to watch. An obvious point but having a variety of backdrops will make the film look good. Having the children start off in the classroom, then chasing the baddies down corridors, up and down stairs, across a playground, then cutting to the football field in front of a tree (“In the forest”), then to the secretaries’ office (“The police station”) then back to the school creates an interesting film to watch. You are telling the story visually, which is very important with younger learners who have a lower level of English and so can’t come out with complicated dialogues explaining the plot. If you watch my film “The Vampires of Planet X” you will notice that the actual dialogue in each scene is very simple. It’s the use of varied locations which creates the film.

When I used to run a theatre club, I was surprised that some teachers worried about how to come up with an exciting story. They had obviously never read my scripts, because if they had, they would have noticed they all pretty much the same story. Thank goodness the children never noticed! My point is that given a variety of backdrops, you can create a very good film using a very simple story. How simple? Here goes.

              A film

(This is based on the play “The Robbery” which in fact I originally did as a film with a class of 5 year olds)

Scene 1 in your classroom. The children come in and sit down. Another child runs in and says “The new teacher is coming!” Cut to a shot of teacher (a child) walking down some stairs and along the corridor and to the door. Cut to inside the classroom, the door opens, the teacher comes in and  the children ask the new teacher lots of questions (whatever questions they know – What’s your name? What’s  your favourite colour? Have you got a ...? Can you…? Have you ever..?) Ding, ding, the bell goes, children exit running “It’s playtime”.

Scene 2 Cut to outside somewhere. Enter robbers “Where are we? This is the school. We are going to rob the children. Rob the children?! Yes, let’s go.” Cut to robbers walking across playground, in a door, along corridors and down stairs etc, with music (pink panther!!!).

Cut to classroom and robbers enter. “What’s this? It’s a pen. Put it in the bag. What’s this? It’s a ruler. Put it in the bag.” The robbers steal things. Cut to children coming down stairs and then along the corridor. Cut back to robbers.  “Look, children!” The robbers hide behind a table. The children enter “Where is my pen? I don’t know. Where is my ruler? I don’t know. What can we do? Call the police.” Child picks up phone, hello, police?”

Cut to shot of police station (google images?) and then cut to secretaries office (Inside the  police station), children with police hats on, one picks up the phone “Hello, this is the police” Cut to classroom “There are robbers” Cut to Police station “Where are you?” etc “Let’s go” Police exit. Cut to police running down corridor, down stairs, out of a door, across playground etc.

Scene 3 in the class. The police enter, interview the children (simple questions), a robber sneezes, “What’s that? Nothing” Another robber sneezes. “What’s that? Nothing” Another robber sneezes. Robbers stand up, “Look, robbers” The police and children chase the robbers around the class, down the corridor, out of the door, across the playground etc.

Scene 4. The robbers end up in the class again, or in the football field, and the police and children capture them. The end.

Note the language involved here. It is very simple. As I said, I made this film with 5 year olds. With chases and shots of children going up stairs, along corridors etc, this would end up as about a 15 to 20 minute-film – an excellent  length.

Simple tips for filming.

Tip 1

Don’t just film a whole dialogue in one shot. Cut to a close up of a character as they ask questions. For example:

     Shot of teacher in front of whole class (who have their back to the camera)

           Teacher:  Hello, good morning everyone, how are you?

     Cut to shot looking at children from the front

            Children:  Fine, thank you, and you?

     Cut to shot of teacher in front of whole class

            Teacher:  Fine, thank you.

     Cut to close up of one child

           Child:   What’s your name?

     Cut to close up of teacher.

          Teacher:   My name is Miss Black.

Etc.

To save time moving the camera back and forth, you can film all the children’s questions and answers first, and then the teacher’s questions and answers. However, you then need to edit it so it may be better at first to move the camera.

Tip 2

Try filming from different angles, for example, lying on the floor looking up at the children. Or stand on a desk and look down on them. This just adds a little variety to the film.

Tip 3

When new characters appear, film them walking down the stairs or a corridor. Cut to them walking up to the classroom door, reaching out and grabbing the door handle. Cut! Now film from inside the class. Shout “Action” and the child opens the door and enters. It will look good when edited together!

Tip 4

Add lots of action to the film. You do not want a film full of dialogue. Break it up with children arriving, going up stairs and along corridors, new characters arriving coming down stairs and along corridors. Baddies sneaking around the school, across the playground etc.  Watch the “Vampires of Planet X” to get an idea of how to add movement. Remember, you are adding this to make the film visually more interesting, not because it is necessarily integral to the story!

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