I have my students working on what I call the basic shots assignment. Shoot the seven basic shots you will use frequently in video production and shooting news. These include wide shot (WS), medium shot (MS), close up (CU), and extreme close up (ECU). The camera moves include pan and tilt. The lens move is zoom.
This assignment is important on several levels. First, it teaches students to look for relationshiops – at perspective. A wide shot can be a building, medium shot the bottom of the building, close up the door, extreme closeup the doorknob. Or – a wide shot can be a person, medium shot the person from the waist up, close up the person’s head, extreme close up the person’s eye. Wide shot could be a hand, medium shot the four fingers, close up the thumb, exteme close up a fingernail. You get the picture – it’s all about relationships between one shot and the next. Pan is a left to right/right to left sideways move. Tilt is an up/down or down/up move. Zoom is in/out to get closer/further away from your subject.
At the same time students are learning some of the vocabulary of video production. Once they have the shots and put them into the editing program (iMovie in this case), they have to add an opening title (Basic Shots), place a stripe subtitle on each :08 to :10 clip that has both the name of the clip (WS, MS, CU, etc) and a short defintion of the term, ending with credits with their name. In this part of the assignment they are learning the basics of editing, which includes how to capture tape to the computer, how to create a title over black, how to cut clips to the desired size and manipulate them into the proper order, how to title over video.
My requirements are firm. I don’t give credit if the clip is too short. I don’t give credit if there is a title for the clip and no definition. This simple assignment may take from several days to a week as students struggle with their impulse to rush through it or with the concepts (remember these are your typical high school students…and in my class I have a lot of freshmen). I also have to make them understand how little they know. They’ve spent their lives watching movies and television and, while they are remarkably sophisticated about visuals, they are mentally and physically still ignorant. They need to learn the terms and patience to create professional work. They need to slow down, think, and then push the record button.
Had a problem with one of the first classes I ever taught when I couldn’t get the concepts and the need for a variety of shots across. Everyone was shooting medium shots. So I took the class (it was small) out, divided it into four groups and had them shoot (it was October) a student carving a Jack’O Lantern. First group was placed twenty feet away, not allowed to zoom or move and could only shoot wide shots. Second group was about eight feet away and could only shoot medium shots (no zoom). Third group was about three feet away and cound only shoot closeups and last group was only allowed to get shots that were extemely close up and could use the zoom. After about five minutes all of the groups were complaining – they couldn’t see anything. All their shots were the same. Once we finished shooting we went inside and I let them share shots and, using a storyboard I’d already made up, edit a final project using a variety of shots. That brought the message home. They got it. End of discussion. I’ve since learned to explain my expectations better – part of the failure initially was I was new to the classroom and didn’t realize how much support high school students needed.
How does this help you as an aspiring videojournalist? Your goal is to allow your audience to see the world in new ways. If you look at the Wyoming Cattle Drive video, you’ll see everything from expansive wide shots to ECUs of minute flowers. While the wide shots and medium shots show the setting, it is the details that draw your viewers in. You are the eyes and brain for your audience.