If I were teaching the basics…

…these days, I’d change out my old lessons plans a bit.

Used to be I’d review the camera, assign the seven basic shots, move on to a short stop action assignment, then an autobiography.  Each of these took the beginning student from nowhere through working with the camera and editing program on to more complex assignments (full bio included interviews, narration, on-camera segment, mixing music with narration).

There were mini-lessons between each of these assignments…lectures and demonstrations to edge the students towards good habits.  And I turned out some pretty darn good shooters and editors.

But now I’m out of the education game and back to working the occasional gig, in talking to producers and others on the pro side, I’m hearing (as discussed in past posts) some talk about a lack of knowledge of some of the other basics.  Plus I’m seeing an awful lot of folks searching this site for some help…it appears they know they need to learn more but aren’t sure what it is.  So here’s the new game plan…were I to be fool enough to go back to work.

One.  Always review gear before allowing students to use it.  Review and test.  What is aperture?  Where’s the lockdown on the tripod plate and how do you release it?  What’s the difference between optical and digital zoom?   Point to and name each of the manual controls on the camera.

Two.  The seven basic shots (wide, medium, close-up, extreme close-up, pan, tilt, zoom) with a kick:  require that these shots be done to create a sequence.  A sequence is a series of shots that creates a mini-scene or action in a movie or news story.  So the sequence might work like this:

  • Wide shot of students sitting in a classroom
  • Medium shot as one student stands up
  • Pan following student walking to the door
  • Extreme close-up of hand grasping doorknob
  • Shot from outside of door – close-up of student’s head as door opens and reveals him
  • Zoom out from inside classroom showing student exiting and door closing
  • Tilt down from open sky to student walking away

As with the original seven basic shots, when edited the assignment must have a title, each shot must be labelled with a short description, and there must be closing credits.

Sequencing is a critical skill…one that should be early embedded and always with the student for all future shoots.

Animation would be skipped entirely or left as an extra credit assignment once all others are done.

Three.  Now I’d add in a combination audio/lighting assignment.  Again, these were included as mini-lessons in my original teaching scheme…but again, I’m finding out that they are skills that are not always present in the newly emerging group of wanna-be videographers.  The light shots are pulled from a photography class I taught after retiring – but they apply to video as well.

  • Two shots from what I call The Hand Tip, which shows how to find the best light.
  • Then shoot ten seconds of each of the following:
    • Subject with full sun on face
    • Subject with sun coming over back (backlit)
    • Subject backlit with fill from a reflector (or white board)
    • Subject in open shade
    • Bad lighting (flare, exposure issues, whatever)
  • Test your camera for audio, as follows.  In each shot, have your subject count to five in an even, clear voice.  You can either do this outside or inside, preferably in a quiet environment.
    • Reach out and touch subject on shoulder – that is how close you will stand to them.  Shoot head shot with audio.
    • Walk back two paces or to around six feet and shoot countdown again.
    • Walk back two paces to around ten feet and shoot countdown again.
    • Finally, walk back to around 15 feet and shoot countdown.
    • Now attach a mike to subject and shoot from 15 feet.
  • Edit as follows:
    • Title page:  Light and Audio Assignment
    • Shot of hand as it reflects the sun.  When the two best lighting points are hit, put up a title that indicates the sweet spots.
    • Shot of person walking around camera, showing light changes.  When the two best lighting points hit, put up a quick title indicating sweet spots.
    • Label and place the five shots of subject in different lighting situations.  Choose one and place title explaining why you think it is best.
    • Label and place five shots with audio test.  Label with distance for each shot, then choose one and place title explaining why you choose it.
    • Closing credits

I’ve found with students that I can lecture and lecture and talk til I’m purple…but if I let THEM make all of the mistakes I made years ago, then they can see for themselves the difference between the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Where would I go next?  Well, that all  depends on where they want to do or what you’re teaching.  Production, videojournalism, filmmaking…they all begin with the same foundation and then take divergent paths.

Four.  Sticking with videojournalism, I’d assign as follows:

  1. VO – the everyday “voice over” video story.  Cover an event such as a parade or street fair and shoot and edit a thirty-second video that allows the audience to get a feel for the sights and sounds.
  2. SOT – sound on tap.  This can either be an interview or a NATS (natural sound) story.  Keep it to a minute or less with the driving force the sound.  If an interview, it must have two segments with a cutaway shot to cover the jump cut.  NATS could be a band, ducks in a pond…an so on.
  3. VOTSOT – combines the two.  Use a combination of visuals and either an interview or NATS.  Ten seconds of VO, fifteen or twenty of SOT and another twenty of VO.
  4. PKG – the whole enchillada…the full scale package with narration, interviews, stand-up (piece to the camera), and NATS.  Telling a story in a precise and clear manner.

Students would have to adhere to the requirement of NOT directing action or characters at all.  In news you shoot what’s there and don’t direct people.  It’s real life.

I’m not getting into the details of each of the above much at this point…but if you’ve watched enough news or taken a basic class or two, you know what these are.  Maybe at some point in the future if I slow down enough to write another post there’ll be more.

And with that, I’m back into retirement and back on the road.

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