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Televising the revolution

A bit about the Media Team plans (one or two people have asked). Next week I'm kicking off a video focused team at Our Lady of Victories School in Keighley.

Schoolx

Many schools have radio stations and a few even do TV shows. OLV school already has a successful radio station which is brilliant.

Some projects, and those in higher education as well, seem to be modelled on very old production formats. Even the term TV has a lot of old fashioned baggage. So I hope the children will use the tools in a free and imaginative way – not just produce a show that looks like BBC regional news which has been around for half a century.

Thankfully I detect there is a loosening of old style media skills teaching. I don't know where it will go but I hope the media team next week will come up with some real innovations about how to organise, film, edit, present. Looking at all the potential platforms and audiences.

The plan is to achieve the following:

  • Employ and develop a full range of creative skills within a complete team, not just the obvious technical bits like cameras.
  • Allow the team to innovate and change for the better how media is made – doing it their way.
  • Produce a high quality product.
  • Have a real purpose for the product – e.g. enhancing communication between parents and school.

I am sure we are getting to a point where children already have a place in the media environment – without needing to be employed by it. So this would be no simulation.

We are aiming to do a termly show at OLV school and will be setting this up next week. I'll let you know how it goes.

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Shadow Theatre

Here's a little sample of a video we made at a school in bradford. I have not done shadow puppets before but I was impressed with how this went. Of course in this context the process and what the children learn is more important than the product.  Scripting, building a wooden frame and cloth, fixing up lights, performance etc.

There is a lot of teamwork and problem solving in this exercise. The children have to work together to figure out how the performance is going to look. For shy children there is some degree of safety behind the screen specially when they are in role play. This could be a great way of getting them to talk.

I'm enthusiastic to feature the voices of the children and to work on their timing, intonation and general delivery. For quieter children this is a great way to really listen to their voices and to enjoy the quality of voices that may ordinarily be drowned out by louder children.

 

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The producer – capturing the hearts and the imagination of the team

What is the role of a video producer  and how does that translate into a school project? What are the benefits of a video project in a school?

In the professional world (in which I've been there for 30 years) there are many different skills and resources that go into producing high quality video.  The reason TV is so expensive is mostly down to the availability of talent both in front of the camera and behind it.  There are performers, photographers, writers, editors and so on.  And it's not just the raw skill that's required but the ability of these people to get on with each other.

The producer has to bring all these people together and keep them functioning as a team with the creative elements being handled by the director. Although often the two roles are blurred or even the same person.

A producer will be required to understand enough about the process and skills required to be able to allocate tasks, encourage good practice, set standards, trouble shoot; They are talent scouts, facilitators, mentors; They manage and plan. They have a stern voice when the project goes off track.  A producer sets boundaries of responsibility and resolves conflict. When confidence breaks down the producer must raise spirits, be cheerleader and offer hope.

TV production teams are messy and uncomfortable places generally. The participants are vulnerable – it's as if their very soul is being put on the line. Then there is the added pressure of impending deadlines.  

In truth, the main source of pressure is the interdependency between team members.  No one person can achieve success on their own and yet they may all want to claim the success as our own. They may have difficulty trusting one another. So to be genuinely creative in this context requires great sacrifice and humility.

The dynamics of even the smallest video project can bring into play these elements.  

Many children have little or no experience of belonging to team like this. They miss out on some invaluable experiences: being needed for their particular talents, the experience of generosity and grace, responsibility with independence, the celebration of success.

As well as these essential team skills and experiences, there are also many other practical skills to be learned – writing, performing, technical work, photography, research, directing, drawing, design,, interviewing, planning, coming up with ideas.

Video production as a team exercise is indeed a great learning opportunity but only if someone takes on the role of producer.  Without someone acting as a producer in the way that I have described the results may be poor and the experiences negative.

A producer must ensure that the video production captures more than simply footage, it must capture the hearts and the imagination of everyone involved.

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Creative Project – order or chaos?

I've been reviewing some of the projects I have been involved with recently and thinking about how they could have been improved.

The conclusion I have come to is that most creative projects are to some degree chaotic and uncertain; You can't always predict how they are going to run. You have to be flexible and responsive to new ideas and directions as they come up.

That said, there is possibly value in at least attempting to structure the management of creative projects around tried and tested ideas. A creative project, like any other, has process steps and milestones. One reason why creative projects often fail is because not enough time is spent understanding the purpose of the project and refining the ideas around that purpose.  Sadly is is all to easy to forge ahead with half baked ideas with no idea of why we're doing it!

Step 1: The brief

Be sure about the purpose of the project and why it has come about. You might call this the creative challenge.

Get down on paper a description of what you hope to achieve, who it is for and why it is important.  For example –  Encourage year four children to take pride in their town by revealing its glorious history. We're doing this because ……

Set out what you want to achieve, how you are going to approach it,  who it is for and  why it is important.  

Step 2:  Ideas

Once we have a brief we can set about coming up with ideas (in the above case for revealing the town's glorious history).  Not enough time is ever spent coming up with ideas or evaluating them.  I would say that this is one of the biggest reason for the failure of creative projects.   The temptation is to settle on the first and most obvious idea you come up with. Often the crazy ideas are sidelined at the outset, and yet these are often the most interesting.

Make plenty time for coming up with as many ideas as possible, even the crazy ones, and evaluate them according to the brief.

There are many techniques for coming up with ideas – here are some.  Thinking Hats for evaluating ideas, Mind Mapping with which I'm sure you are familiar, and a favorite of mine, The Creative Whack Pack

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Step 3: Planning

Do you decide on the team and resources before you have an idea or after?  I would say that it's sometimes better to come up with the idea first with a small core team and then pitch for people and resources once you have the idea.  That way you'll get what you need rather than having to put up with what you have got.

Careful planning of the resources and the timetable, setting of realistic deadlines and getting agreements.

Step 4: Action

Well planned activity with a great idea behind it should be exciting. Any problems will be quickly resolved because of a solid commitment to the purpose of the project.

Step 5: Celebration

The positive outcome should be shared and celebrated beyond the immediate team. The more external praise and feedback the better. A public film screening, a party for those who contributed, a commemorative web page.  The legacy of successful projects should be preserved so that the benefits can be made available to the greatest number of people for the longest amount of time.

Step 6: Review

A constructive examination of the project should always be part of its legacy.  Did it meet the brief? What were the points of learning and so on.

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This may all seem obvious – in which case I apologies – but I need to remind myself just how important these project steps really are and that to skimp on any of them will weaken the outcome.

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Henry and the magic wallpaper

The grizzly  times of the Tudors and Henry's willy nilly habit of chopping off heads has a natural appeal for year four children. 

At this school we wanted to combine music, writing, film, animation and the wonderful technique known as green-screen – or perhaps blue-screen; Chroma Separation Overlay, CSO if you want to show off. 

This film takes some of the more unsavory facts about life on the Mary Rose as a starting point. We also wanted to involve the children in a variety of interesting ways – particularly to include some of the less confident and disruptive children.  For example, some of the drawings we included may be very simple and not hugely demanding to create  but we found a place for them in the finished piece.  

There is a natural tendency for the professional film maker to be concerned about maintaining a high standard but this must not be at the expense of including less confident children. This should not just be a showcase for the most talented children but  a way of unlocking talent and confidence in the least confident ones.  Otherwise why are we doing this?

Step 1

A mind mapping session to unlock all the facts the children had learned about life on the Mary Rose

Step 2

Using Garage Band create a rap backing track

Step 3

Listen to the backing track and practice writing and performing words to the rhythm of the track.

Step 4

The children in their own time (and with the rhythm in their heads) all write their own rap songs

Step 5

We select the best ideas from each of the songs to create a single rap to be used in the film

Step 6

Tasks are introduced and allocated to the team – animating the ship, drawing pictures, operating the camera and lights, recording the sound, performing, setting up the green screen, finding images, directing etc.

Step 7

Animating session.  We filmed the ship against a coloured screen and created the sea out of rolled up coloured paper which we animated manually. Pictures were drawn, biscuits were filmed, flames and rats were scanned.  The scurvy ridden faces were drawn.

Step 8

The green-screen session. The screen was set up facing a large area of windows so we had a lot of soft natural light. This was a hugely popular activity. The children decided to call this set-up the magic wallpaper.

The backing track was played from a CD player. Jobs included director, camera operator, sound and performers.

Step 9

Editing.  The editing for this was too complex for the the schools own software so most of it was carried out off-site.  However I think there is scope in future for sections of these films to be edited by the children.

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Learning

I liked the wide range of tasks and skills that this project involved, it was very inclusive. It didn't just use traditional animation techniques but required a range of solutions.  There was a high degree of problem solving particularly making the ship and water move – the children were fully engaged in finding their own way of doing this. 

Some of the less confident children appeared in front of the camera and some of the more modest drawing attempts were used in the film – this was obviously appreciated by the children concerned.

We had some positive discussion about making mistakes – if something didn't work we called it learning and improving. A mistake in the filming could be an entertaining out-take.

The green-screen was such a success that I am helping the school set up its own permanent green-screen (magic wallpaper).

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Learning to debate using video

At one of the schools I've been working with, we had a team debate about project ideas but it was chaotic. Everyone spoke at once, there was no chair-person and no idea about what we hoped to get out of the meeting  So, we came up with the idea of making the debate itself the focus for a film project. 

Step 1

To begin, we spent some time discussing debating styles and approaches – the role and skills of the chair-person, using your voice clearly, listening and picking up on points, including a wide range of contributions, sticking to the agenda and so on. 

Debate 06
 

Step 2

Next after a bit of rehearsal we filmed a wide master shot of the whole debate. During the debate we took notes of who spoke, what they spoke about, observations of performance, anything that could be improved.

Step 3

We looked back at the video and and had a conversation about how it went and anything that could be improved.

Debate-02  Debate-01 
Debate-03 
 
Step 4

A re-run of sections of the debate to improve the behaviour. The camera position was changed to focus on an individual's contribution to the debate. This was scary for the individual but gave a real chance to iron out any performance or communication issues.  We did this re-framing about four or five times.

Debate-05
 

Step 5

The debate was edited together using the improved sections to look like a really slick and well chaired debate. Someone said it looked like a scene from "young apprentice" – hope that was a complement!

This was a very exciting and memorable process which gave the children a lot of new skills and confidence. They looked terrific on camera and everyone was very proud of how professionally they performed. Of course it was an edited sequence, but it demonstrated what was possible to achieve.  

This is a great way to use video in school because it provides a little bit of fear, excitement and theatre into the learning. With instant playback you can address issues simply by showing them the video – often the facilitator need not say anything; show rather than tell. It's also a resource to show other children with some ready made role models.

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Art

Hidden Keighley discovery day

We completed the Hidden Keighley discovery day yesterday. Six schools trekking around the town in search of boxes which had been transformed by the children. My role has been to organise the film making element in collaboration with artist Amy Heild.

The process of making a film is a fantastic way for the children to learn so many skills and build their confidence, even a simple interview has so many elements to it. Deciding on the most relevant location to film the story, observing  & planning the shots, managing the equipment, problem solving, engaging with the interviewee are only a few skills needed.  It's particularly rewarding to pick shy children to work in front of the camera or take a leadership role and see them rise to the challenge. 

The brilliant thing about video is that you can re-take if things go wrong.  We've had some wonderful conversations about the value of being able to learn from mistakes. At first the children get embarrassed when they make a mistake but soon they're able to have a laugh about it and move on to an improved attempt.

Bringing professionalism to the way the video is filmed and edited can be a huge boost to many children. They imagine that professional film makers have none of the problems they face  – being nervous, tripping over their lines, wobbly shots and so on.  Once they realise that there are some simple techniques to achieving impressive results they begin to feel so much more confident.

We've had a lot of discussion about whether the process is more important than the outcome – i.e. that a poor quality film is OK provided that the children learn something in the process.  I'm sure that the end product is vitally important – especially for a product designed for public showing.  The buzz the children get from achieving a film that looks like something they would see on TV or at the cinema is something they can be proud of and will remember for a long time.

HK2 

This is  the model of Keighley Picture House. Inside is a screen on
which interviews about of the old cinema play. Next week all the films
will be shown at the real cinema at a red carpet event  for 300 children.

HK3

This is from the film Box of Sounds in which we take this animated Victorian girl to re-visit one of the local mills.

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