Your assignment: Write, Direct and Edit a narrative (fiction) short film with dialog and action in class (or on location, with teacher’s permission). This builds off of the documentary we just watched, “The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing”
Form a crew of 3 or 4; come up with a “Production Company Name”
Come up with an idea for your action sequence with your crew
Write a 1-2 paragraph treatment (description) of your short film
Write a script (in screenplay format) for the dialog scenes
Draw a storyboard for each shot in the action sequence. (The storyboard form is at the bottom of this post, and is handed out in class)
Scout locations, find props as needed, and cast actors from class (pre production)
Shoot your film during class time, somewhere on campus; OR, with permission, shoot outside of class.
Skills (we will learn)
How to shoot a dialog scene
How to use a boom microphone
How to shoot with one or two cameras, with a clapboard
How to script (screenplay format)
How to storyboard
How to keep continuity between shots (match action)
How to control the pacing of the film
How to edit (includes creating a project, inserting and moving shots, the “L-Cut” for dialog, cutting to music, basic sound mixing, titles and credits, and transitions / color correction where needed)
How to watch, compare and critique each other’s final work.
Length: 3-5 minutes total
No weapons, sexual references, drug references or profanity. No violent fight scenes. No blood.
Characters: Two characters. You may have students in your crew to act in your film.
Plot: The film should start with an “instigating event”–some situation that starts the action. The chase ensues. The chase must resolve or end in some way with a final short scene
Dialog: You must have a short dialog scene (at least three lines each character) at somewhere in the film (often it works well at the beginning or the end)
Shots: At each moment in the film, the editor should have at least 2 shots to cut to (this is called coverage).
One random prop: You will be assigned one random prop that you must incorporate into your film, in a major or minor way
One random line of dialog: You will choose a line of dialog at random that you must use in your film.
Style: The dialog scenes need to follow a traditional shot-reaction shot structure (2 singles and a two shot). The action sequence must be shot two different ways–for example, all in close ups and all hand held.
Edit: Each crew member edits their own version, with an alternate ending!
Communicate a message that’s important to you: First, identify problems in the school and give students the opportunity to come up with their own issues to tackle. In class, we will brainstorm areas of concern (no matter how big or small). Some suggestions:
‘Don’t text and drive”
“Get enough sleep”
“Get more exercise”
“Stand up to bullies; cyberbullying – see something, say something”
“Stand up to sexism/racism/etc”
“Help a student who needs it (ie suicide or drug addiction)”
“Get involved in politics/protest — speak your mind”
“Protect freedom of speech”
“Positive body image – Eating Disorders (raise awareness)”
Identify audience. Is it fellow students? Teachers? The community? The world that needs to know?
Find a visual way to convey this message, that is creative—think outside the box—don’t just stand there and say it. Show it! Tell us a story or create a scenario that cleverly relays this message.
During pre-production, you will storyboard this project and get more creative with camerawork (shots, angles) and editing (cuts, transitions, effects and graphics)
For your first shooting and editing assignment, your crew will film interviews with ten people in the hallways and common spaces around the school! Half can be fellow students; the rest must be staff members (adults).
We will shoot for two or three days. You will need a camera, handheld microphone, XLR cable, and headphones. You will rotate positions (interviewer, camera operator, and if you have three crew members, producer). You need to get steady, well-framed medium shots of interviewer and interviewee, and record your subjects names and positions. All shooting will take place during class time. You will learn a bit of digital editing to import and cut your shots together, and add lower thirds and titles to your piece.
Before you go out to shoot you and your crew needs to plan (or “pre-produce”), by researching and writing questions. The planning is a graded part of your assignment. Download the planning sheet here as a Word Doc, so you can type right into it: Street Interview Assignment.
In class Assignment Description: Using the website www.shortoftheweek.com, find short films to watch and review. Your picks will become part of a class database of recommended films, found here: Film Recommendation Google Sheet. You will use class time when not otherwise occupied editing, shooting or planning your films.
Watch films. One film must be a documentary. Hint: Select “Channels” and then scroll down to find Award Winning films (as well as films grouped by genre, topic, medium, etc).
Recommend any film you think your teacher or peers should see.
Fill out all columns, including your name, a description of the film and if you feel it’s a good film to show in class.
You will want to draw storyboards for all your film projects, so that you can pre-visualize how your script will turn into images (and sounds) on the screen. Each shot should be represented by a storyboard frame (think of thumbnails on your computer which stand for video clips.) You can show everything from the proximity of characters to each other, the angle of the shot, how wide or close up it is, movement (of actors and/or camera), and so on. You can write in notes on the shot (what the camera is doing), as well as character actions or dialog/voiceover. Your storyboard becomes your shot list on location–like a grocery list or shopping list, you can check off your shots as you shoot them. A storyboard is an invaluable tool for the creative filmmaker!
Watch this funny and informative video on storyboarding–
The New York Times has created a site where ‘Film directors walk viewers through one scene of their movies, showing the magic, motives and the mistakes from behind the camera.’ Really worth watching and learning from!
Objective: Create a 3 to 5 minute non-fiction film that explores a subject interesting to the student through interviews and visuals. We will enter your films into this year’s Salem Film Festival’s Five Minute Student Doc contest. Link: Salem Film Festival
Possible topics: A biography of a subject; an exploration of a hobby, sport, or passion and the people who do it; an investigation of a controversial topic, exploring both sides of the issue; documenting an event; a historical documentary, using still images. See examples at the bottom of this post.
Subject is student’s choice, but must be approved by the teacher
Topic is concrete; film should also explore a theme or larger idea
No more than 5 minutes in length
1 main interview (more if needed)
30 shots (“b-roll”) to illustrate that interview
Still images, historical images or “found footage” (pre-existing media) if needed
Music can be used for montage sequence(s), intro and ending
May use text or a voiceover to convey information beyond the interviews
Choose a partner, or choose to work alone. Your teacher may pair you up with someone you haven’t worked with before.
Identify and research three subjects.
Discuss them with your teacher.
Identify and arrange interviews (subjects, locations) or an event to document
Type up a pre-production packet:
In a treatment (4 or 5 sentence paragraph) describe your film (story, characters, theme)
A list of interview subjects (with a one sentence description of each)
Interview questions (at least 5) for each interview subject
A list of locations
A list of shots (“B-Roll”)
A voiceover script or on screen text (as needed)
A production schedule (when you will be shooting, and where)
An equipment list for each shoot
A list of five next steps for your production (what do you need to do from this moment to get your production rolling) … download this production packet template here: Documentary Production Packet
Practice technology needed for shooting (wireless lavaliere microphones, camcorders, location lights with umbrellas)
Shoot the video
Rough Edit (Shooting may continue while you begin editing). This means putting the pieces in place to tell the story. Resist using effects or doing extensive audio editing until the story is complete
Screen for fellow students and teacher
Fine cut (trim, effects, color correction, transitions, titles, credits, audio effects and mixing)
Share and screen with the class
Search the Short Film of the Week website to find short documentaries on your own. Also, watch these select outstanding short documentaries for inspiration and ideas…