Virtual Summer Activities
In lieu of our traditional Summer Camp, we here at Plymouth EDTV are offering a guided virtual option to keep your video skills sharp all summer. Each of the four challenges are designed for students to progress through pre production, production, and post production over the course of one week and will explore some of the more elaborate areas of film production. These challenges are open to all grades and skill levels. Our goal is to share our passion for filmmaking with you. If you’re a Plymouth resident in grades K-12 you are welcome and encouraged to participate.
Each challenge builds on the skills developed in the preceding ones. Our main focus is, as always, storytelling. With that in mind, we do not want technology or cost to be a limiting factor for participation. Use any camera or device that records videos that you prefer.
Challenge #1: Recreating the Scene
True mastery of an art form, if there is such a thing, means constant exposure to new ideas and ways of presenting those ideas. One of the best ways to grow as a filmmaker is to watch movies and TV shows with a critical eye.
Go beyond just watching for entertainment value and truly study all aspects of storytelling; such as composition & framing, lighting, sound & music, performance, scripting, editing; the list goes on and on.
So with that in mind, your challenge is to choose a scene from your favorite movie or TV show and really, truly examine it. Take that scene and recreate it, doing so in a practical and safe manner.
Obviously if your scene is from a big budget thriller you won’t be able to generate special effects that took dozens of animators years to create, but remember this is your interpretation of that scene. Feel free to change the dialogue, tone, characters, location, whatever you need to match your vision.
You could make an animated scene live action, a live action scene stop motion, turn an entire scene into a single illustration or digital creation. Try not to get hung up on what you can’t do and instead focus on what you can do and what’s available to you.
Filmmakers have to come up with creative solutions to different problems every day. Those solutions are what generate the growth and understanding that comes with experience. So have some fun with this project, learn some things, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and don’t be discouraged if your project doesn’t turn out exactly like you imagined; because the truth is no project in the history of visual media ever has.
Your steps for taking on this project should look something like this.
1: Choose a scene.
2: Write out the script for that scene.
3: Film the scene.
4: Edit all of your different camera angles together to match what the scene looks like when the pros edited it.
When you’re done, submit your project at the link provided and be sure to mention the source material so we can compare the two and see what you did to make the scene your own. I recommend keeping the scene to 3 minutes or less because it takes huge movie studios with hundreds of people working almost an entire year to make a 90 minute movie. If you are having trouble deciding which scene to do, you can choose to do this scene from 2018’s Oscar winning film, Black Panther. The script for the scene and source clip can be found at the links provided. Now let’s go make a movie.
Challenge #2: Silent Movie
Deep in the history of filmmaking, where once upon a time the ability to record a video on a whim with a device you can carry in your pocket was a distant fantasy, there were actual technical limitations to cameras themselves. One of the most notable was the lack of sound and audio in the earliest of movies. Local theaters would hire musicians to perform orchestral renditions that would be played live while a film was being projected. Today dialogue, music, and sound effects are present in all but the most experimental of films.
My challenge to you is this: tell a story without the use of dialogue. In the world of cinema this is referred to as MOS. This acronym can be expanded into dozens of phrases such as Muted On Screen, Minus Optical Sound, or Microphone Off Stage, but the definition is commonly understood to mean that the scene does not require audio to be recorded on set.
Think of all of the ways that information is communicated to you without you having to hear a single word of spoken dialogue. Think about a picture; the phrase “A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words” didn’t just come out of nowhere. Truly powerful photographs can be “heard” by the audience even though photos carry no audio signal.
Think about your own life as well. Maybe you would rather go outside than help with the dishes but your parents give you that look. You know the one. The look that says everything they are thinking without them speaking a single word. Even if you’ve never lived through that, you’ve definitely seen it in movies before.
So tell me a story, but do it without having the characters in your story speak. It’s more challenging than you might think but it gets you really thinking about all of the ways that human beings communicate nonverbally.
When you’re done, submit your final 1-3 minute video at the link provided. If scripting isn’t your thing, try to interpret this scene from the Disney/Pixar film WALL-E, released in 2008 which won an Academy Award that year for best animated feature. In fact, WALL-E goes without a spoken line of dialogue by any character for over 22 minutes, at the very beginning of the movie. The crew used visuals, sound effects, and music to tell a story that was engrossing and powerful without the need for dialogue. How long can you keep your audience entertained? Let’s find out as we go make a movie.
Challenge #3: Conversation Scene
In the last video we introduced you to filming MOS. This time we are bringing dialogue back into the mix by filming a conversation scene.
A staple in almost every form of visual media is a conversation amongst characters. Conversations in films center around the relationship dynamic between those characters. Sometimes two characters are sitting in a diner talking over coffee, other times it’s a small group at a restaurant, and other times it is a character manifesting their internal dialogue with themself.
In almost all cases characters exit the scene with a specific goal in mind; ask out their crush, quit their job, go on a road trip, whatever makes sense for that character. This person came into the scene unsure of a course of action and leaves that scene knowing, or at least thinking they know, what the right thing to do is.
When filming a conversation scene it is important to understand the script. To explain that, let’s look at this sentence. I will see her tomorrow. It’s a fairly bland 5 word sentence but the meaning behind the sentence can change depending on how my character delivers the line.
I will see her tomorrow. Implies that who sees her tomorrow is what’s most important; me and no one else.
I WILL see her tomorrow implies that my character is determined not to let any obstacle stand in my way.
I will SEE her tomorrow means the importance is that the meeting will be face to face.
I will see HER tomorrow means that she and no one else will do.
I will see her TOMORROW means that the timing of the meeting is where the emphasis lies.
Understanding the motivation behind the scene and what challenges and obstacles are in our character’s way, will help us to decide how to film the scene. We can film this scene from an unlimited number of angles with almost as many ways of having our characters deliver their lines, but that’s not the most efficient use of our time. Knowing the important points you want the audience to take away from the scene will help to drive your decision making.
This leads into the topic of coverage. Coverage is the movie industry term for recording multiple angles of a single scene. Basic coverage for a conversation scene typically consists of a wide shot with both characters in frame, and then a close up of each character with just that character in frame. Editors then take the best takes from each different angle and stitch them together into the final scene. Good editors always ask for more coverage of scenes because it gives them options to work with when making the final edits. Remember you can always choose not to use an angle when you’re editing; but if you sit down to edit and realize you didn’t get enough coverage it’s too late.
So let’s get to it. Film a 2-4 minute conversation scene. The script can be about whatever you want and you can have as many characters as you want. When you do submit your video at the link provided, send in a copy of your script as well, so we can read it and follow along with your video. Again, a sample script is provided if you would prefer, this time we are using a scene from Black Lightning, the superhero drama on the CW. If you pay close attention to this scene you will see at least 10 different camera setups. Some are only used once while others are the primary framing for this scene. That’s coverage. You’ll also notice that the script and the scene don’t match perfectly. A movie industry secret is that they almost never do. With that in mind, let’s see what you can do. Let’s go make a movie.
Challenge #4: The Long Take
When watching movies we often take for granted the extraordinary amount of work that goes into producing video content. From pre production which includes writing, casting, and securing locations, to production which is the process of filming your story, to post production which includes editing, reshoots, and distribution; many of those steps are lost on the audience who only really care about the final product that they get to watch. All the work it took to record your scene just right with perfect visuals, audio, actor performances, lighting, and everything else; means that your audience is only seeing your absolute best and not the mistakes and creative problem solving put into making that happen.
Typically to hide mistakes, directors will record a lot of coverage, and editors will keep clips short sometimes a second or less because controlling the film set for 1 second is infinitely easier than controlling it for 10 minutes. But there is a level of respect and admiration within the film community for those who can pull off the long take. A long take is just that, the camera starts recording and doesn’t stop for a long period of time, sometimes minutes or even hours in the most extreme circumstances.
Think of all of the things that a director has to not only think about, but effectively communicate to the cast and crew. What if there is an incredibly emotional scene taking place and an actor is pouring their heart into a performance and they’re crying and everyone else is dead silent but then you hear this? It ruins the shot doesn’t it! So everyone has to reset to the start of that scene and do it all over again.
In the last video we talked about coverage and why that is so important. Getting enough coverage allows the editor to cut out parts that would distract the audience from the director’s intended message. In a long take however, there are no cuts. If your take is 1 minute long and an actor screws up a line, the camera shakes unintentionally, or you can see the crew’s reflection in a mirror, even if it’s 59 seconds into your 1 minute long take, you have to start the whole shot over again. It can be frustrating and it definitely takes a lot longer to get everything right, but the end result is incredibly satisfying.
So your challenge, is to include a 15 to 30 second long take; so no cuts, in your video. Try moving your camera and your actors throughout the scene. It will be challenging and mistakes will be made but the end result will be something you take pride in.
The rest of your video can be about whatever you want, just make sure to include a long take in your scene. Come up with your own script or try to recreate parts of this scene from the Oscar and Golden Globe Award winning animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I count 3 separate long takes in this clip; and even though it is an animated film, the principles of production are the same as with a live action movie. When you’re done, submit your video using the link provided. Now let’s go make a movie.