Badges, belonging and responsibility

Iconic filmmaking tools – meaningful objects –  become the badges of the children's responsibility, and seeing them all together they actually look like a professional film crew.  I think this is an important visual way of giving them a sense of their individual responsibility and belonging to the team. 

I have been struck by how important is to have the cool looking pieces of kit in the schools I have been working with. Of course if you take a camera or a clapper board into a school the children are going to swarm around them and want to play. But there's much more to these pieces of equipment.

We have been taking small groups of children and training them to be a film crew.  The specialisms break down something like – camera, sound, director, assistant, performer.  One of the things we have to do is to determine which children are best suited to which task.  At first they really don't know, but usually want to have a go with the camera.

After working together on a few small projects preferences begin to emerge. This is usually through  a process of observing and encouraging.  

An interesting strategy (once they've had a bit of experience) is not to allocate the roles myself but to let the children themselves decide. I tell them that I will not be making the decision, but they must decide among themselves who will be director, camera operator and so on.  I give them 10 minutes on their own to negotiate.  Once they have decided there may be one individual who has been sidelined; to the one who is sidelined I give the desirable task of being production stills photographer.  



Once the team is assembled they take ownership of their specialist equipment – camera, fluffy microphone, clapperboard, tripod, clipboard etc.  

I was very proud when a child who lacked confidence identified that using the clapper board was something he could do very well and announced this to the whole class.

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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.



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 
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.


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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Free software for viewing and editing your videos

There's a lot of frustration over the compatibility of small popular video cameras and some basic editing software packages, as far as I can see.  For example the popular Flip cameras produce excellent results but MP4 is not a great editing format and may not even be viewable on some laptops running Microsoft Movie Maker.



I've been having a look at VideoPad which includes a free video editing software version for Windows.  I have not tried it in earnest yet but it looks quite neat and can handle a number of file types – probably more flexible than Moviemaker in this respect. It might be a good companion for the Flip cameras, but let's see.


A big weakness with many free video editing packages is the limited number of audio tracks. Generally you can cut the audio with the pictures and add a commentary layer but that's about it. The number of audio tracks is a difference between amateur and professional editing packages. Great audio can have a huge impact for your video.


A lot of fun can be had preparing an exciting audio track so think about using another free programme Audacity to create muti-track audio for your video. You can usually open the video file directly in Audacity, edit the audio and then re-import the finished audio back into the video editing software.

VLC Media Player


Finally, if you have difficulty viewing some video files  you might have a look at the free VLC Media Player. It plays many file types and can do some media conversion as well.


The Tate Channel

I have been enjoying the Tate Channel  -  an online collection of videos with artists of various shades. This is a rare and inspiring resource.   I say rare because these videos have been prepared with the context in mind, on the whole they are not mini documentaries, news reports or commercials, but are made for the web audience. The videos are very simple interviews (usually minus the interviewer) which allow the artists to talk in a very natural and open way.  Here is the deadpan world of John Wood and Paul Harrison, a pair of unusual video artists.


Leftbank Advent

The Advent exhibition at Leftbank last Friday was was one of those thrilling 'glad we came' evenings. Everything about it was glorious – the magnificent building, the friendly ambiance, the red sofas, live music and of course the art works. I won't go into the details here, much better to visit the blog or the website , but it was great to see such a wide variety of artists celebrating the advent theme in different ways. The photos of the inn signs and the incense jar. I also liked the inclusion of the lovely work by the primary school children. Here are some grabbed stills and video, doesn't do it justice but will give you an idea.