Windows on the world
This exercise gives your students the chance to be creative in small groups - experimenting with different genres. This exercise would suit older students who have a reasonable understanding of the filmmaking process.
You will need:
Access to the internet and school library. Work that the class has done previously on a project. Pens, paper, scissors, glue.
Select a topic the class knows something about. It might be a project they have been working on, a school campaign or partnership, or a theme derived from a text you've been reading - preferably something not too close to their own day to day lives and experience.
Divide them into eight groups, or fewer if you think any of following programme formats won't work for your topic.
Assign each group one of the following "Programme formats"
A film drama - a fictional story for showing at the cinema.
A social documentary - something about the way people live or an issue they have to deal with like poverty, housing conditions etc.
A news story - where a reporter goes on location to interview people and film what's happening.
A commercial - selling something associated with the topic, eg a product, a holiday, a service, clothes, food etc.
A video game - with an interactive element so the player has to complete a task or search for things, or race or fight against something.
A reality show - which could be either: a Big Brother or I'm a Celebrity type show; or the kind of show where people try to live like they did in a certain period of time, or with tribespeople etc; or where you observe people in their normal life or job.
A Saturday night family entertainment programme - which could be either an Ant and Dec style show with games and sketches, or a competition like Strictly Come Dancing.
The work they have done previously on the topic will help the class in the following tasks, but they may need to do additional research into their specific subject.
Stage one - the presentation
Ask each group to:
- Choose the main focus of their film - whether it's a particular person, or people, an issue, an aspect of life, an animal, a historical event or whatever they wish to be the central subject of their film.
- Identify their main purpose - is it to entertain, to engage, to inform, educate, campaign, promote, and so on.
- What is their main message to the audience?
Then get them to prepare a brief outline of their production including:
- The style, content and structure;
- The platform it will be shown on;
- The audience (and time slot if relevant).
They may collect images to show the look they want for the film, and storyboard short sequences, to assist with their presentation.
Remember to think about sound and music as well as picture and editing style.
Then - get each group to make their presentation.
Stage two - putting it into action
Now they need to plan the shoot.
- They need to research the locations, take into account potential problems, risks and delays, cost implications, logistics associated with filming there.
- If it's a studio production does it need an audience, is it live, does it include bits filmed previously or outside?
- They also need to think about who needs to be involved at each stage. Are there actors? What size of crew do they need? How do they get everyone to the right place at the right time?
- What kind of equipment do they need?
- What about food and toilets, and overnight accommodation and transport?
They may collect images to help show some of the issues they have taken into account, or draw up schedules and call sheets. Encourage them to use the 'Create Films' section of this site to help their research.
Stage three - throw in an obstacle
This section is designed to help with the group's problem-solving, as well as testing how far they can or will stretch the truth!
Tell them they can't do it!
However explain to them clearly and carefully why they need to make changes - to reduce costs, or to suit a different market or audience, or because they can't film in that location - whatever you think will challenge them most in their given text. (We've given you some ideas, below.)
How will the groups adapt their films, the script, the quality, the style, to accommodate some of these problems?
How creative can they be in problem-solving? Are there shortcuts they could take to getting a certain message across, given what they know about conventions and preconceptions?
How does the balance of fact and fiction change?
Teachers may need to take a day between stage 2 and stage 3 to allow themselves the opportunity to create good obstacles.
Notes on Creating Obstacles
Try to keep it fairly simple. Removing or changing just one element should challenge the groups enough. It is helpful to think of the production from the different perspectives of people involved. This will give you clues as to the kind of problem you might throw at them. Here are some suggestions:
- A writer has researched a real-life issue for a social documentary. Now they must condense the action and cut out some of the characters to make it simpler and more exciting for the audience.
- A location manager finds the actual location has changed beyond recognition since the time period they want to show.
- The producer is told they're not allowed to film in the country the programme is about for political reasons.
- The broadcaster who has commissioned the programme has cut the budget dramatically.
- None of the ordinary people they are making a news feature about wants to be interviewed on camera.
- The location where they need to film is right next to a busy airport and the sound recordist finds it impossible to record clean sound.
- The actors are only available for a certain time.
- Not a single animal appears for a whole three days filming in an uncomfortable hide.
- The health and safety officers won't let them use the special effects they want because they are filming in a public area.
Or you might see potential problems concerning the costume department, the editor, the lighting equipment needed, animation required, the composer, the season it will be filmed in, the weather, and so on.