Thursday, December 22, 2005

Producing a TV Newscast

District large group speech competition is just around the corner here in Iowa, and one of the categories is television Newscasting. Students are to produce a 12 to 15 minute newscast where they deliver state, national and international news. The newscast also is to include weather, sports, an original 30 or 60 second commercial and a 500 word special feature. The students have to take ownership of this project, because they are the ones writing the scripts and running the equipment.

Of course, some of the larger schools in Iowa have their own editing facilities or even their own TV studios. In order to help all schools compete on a more even footing, Prairie Lakes AEA helps out by letting students use our facilities.

Today, we had a group of students from a nearby school come in to shoot their TV News for speech contest. We started at about 9am by going over their script, blocking out which cameras will be live when each news story is being presented, and generally looking for problems and challenges in the project.

A new feature this year was our first attempt to use a chromakey in order to allow the weathercaster to stand in front of a computer generated weather map while doing the weather. That in itself was a challenge, as our lady weathercaster had to go shopping at the last minute for clothing that shot well on-camera.
The actual shooting started about 10:30am. The house lights were turned off and studio lights turned on. Two students sat at the anchor desk, other students ran the cameras, the video switcher, the audio mixing board and the computer with our CG graphics and text. One student ran the Kron editing appliance, where we fed the "on air" video and audio signals and would later edit down the project to the final cut we'll use.

After a last minute check of everyone involved, we "rolled tape" and a young student stepped in front of the camera with the clapboard.

"Scene 1, Take 1!" And with that, she snapped the clapper on the clapboard and stepped aside, while the speech coach gave a countdown.

"Coming in 5...4...3..2..1" With that, she gave a "throw cue" to the news team.

During the day, we taped perhaps 65 segments, ranging in length from a couple of sentences to a page or so. There were multiple false starts, blown takes, giggles, mispronunciations and times when someone lost his or her place in the script. No matter how frustrated we were, everyone kept a positive and supportive attitude. We all were there to work and have fun with this project.

Finally, we finished shooting at 3pm. Most of the crew then left for a late lunch at McDonalds, while one student and I started finding the correct takes of each scene and assembled them together. Later, the students will videotape a special feature or two and edit them into the video for the final product.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Guidelines for Use of Copyrighted Music in Education

At some point, you or one of your students will want to use a popular song as a background in a video production. And as nice as it could be to hear a current song while you are watching football highlights, remember that you are using someone else's property without permission. And that can bring on a heap of trouble.

Remember that it's not "music," it's the "music business." Somebody owns the song, someone else owns the recording of that song. And they all hope to make money by selling what you want to steal.

But, if you buy the CD, don't you own the right to put one of the songs onto your video?


Another question that I am asked: is it acceptable if you have a student perform the song in question, instead of using the original recording?

Remember that someone owns that song, the words and the music. So having Johnny perform the song in question is using their property without permission. It's still a copyright violation.

I've heard all the excuses for using copyrighted music:
But the kids really like it.
Who is going to know?
We're a school; nobody would sue us.
I bought the CD, isn't that good enough?

And my favorite:

But I got it on the internet...doesn't that mean I can use it?

I guarantee that sticking to the law won't make you popular with the students who want to use "their" music on a school video. But it will keep you out of trouble, and that should keep you (and your administrators) happy.

Here are some suggestions that should help you along this slippery path. And a disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, and I don't even play one on TV. As always, consult an attorney for legal advice.

1. To be 100% safe, don't use copyrighted music without written permission from the copyright holders. Instead, use copyright-free music or buyout music.

2. If you choose to use copyrighted material, consult the Fair Use Guidelines for Music:
a. Use 10% of a song, not to exceed 30 seconds,
and do not show the finished video out of the classroom.
Do not duplicate, distribute, broadcast, webcast or sell it.

b. Proper attribution must be given when using copyrighted materials. i.e.
"I Am Your Child" written by Barry Manilow/Martin Panzer.
BMG Music/SwanneeBravo Music.

c. The opening screen of the project must include a notice that "certain materials are included under the fair use exemption and have been used according to the multimedia fair use guidelines".

d. Your fair use of material ends when the project creator (student or teacher) loses control of the project's use: e.g. when it is distributed, copied or broadcast.

3. If you wish to use more than 10% of a copyrighted song, you must obtain written gratis permission from the music publisher and the record company. This is a long process with limited chance of success.

4. Remember that music publishing firms will litigate schools and institutions who violate copyright laws. Fines can be thousands of dollars per violation.

What to wear when you are on camera

Please don't wear:

* Large amounts of white or very light pastels
* Large amounts of red or black (jackets, skirts, dresses)
* Very bright, shiny jewelry
* Fabrics with narrow stripes, polka dots, or tiny patterns with high contrast (black & white herringbone)
* Harsh makeup, very short skirts or shorts
* Don't get a haircut the day before the video shoot

Please do:

* Wear pastels, pinks, blues, greens, browns, golds (red, black and white in small amounts)
* Wear regular street makeup
* Wear jewelry that is not very shiny
* Bring compact (powder), blush, lipstick
* Make sure hair is neat
* Bring some liquid makeup in case one of the male cast members has a skin blemish

Friday, November 04, 2005

Creating Titles

In the old days, video equipment that made titles for TV shows were called Character Generators. Today, titles are Computer Generated. So titles are often referred to as "CG's". Here are some simple tips that will make your CG's more pleasing to the eye.

1. Avoid thin lines.

Because of the way that our NTSC television system was designed back in the 1950's, thin lines will appear to flicker when seen on a TV screen. This has to do with interlacing, odd and even scan lines, and other technical stuff you probably don't care about. Just remember, if you make a title screen with a fine horizontal line, the line will flicker. Don't do it.

2. Computer screens and TV screens are two different things. Be ready for surprises!

When making CG's, some titles will look great on the monitor. When you drop them onto videotape & play back the results, your title might look awful. What happened? The RGB or computer monitor screen is much more advanced than the NTSC TV screen. What looks good on a 21st century computer monitor looks awful on a 1950's designed TV. Sorry. What do we do??

3. Stick with colors that work!

Never use highly saturated or "hot" colors on your CG. Bright red is awful, bright green is worse. Note that the most popular background colors are dark blue, grey and black. The most popular colors for fonts are off white, a golden yellow and grey. If you are using Photoshop or other photo editing software that uses RGB colors, never have your color values lower than 15 or higher than 235 (on a 0-255 scale).

5. Center your text

Don't put a lot of info on a CG screen. Keep the letters in the center, and away from the edges of the screen. Keep text in the "safe area" of your TV screen.

6. Step back to read it

After you make a CG, step back about 10 feet and see if you can read it easily. Look at your finished work the way your viewers will; step back from the screen.

7. And the most important tip ...
steal ideas from the professionals!

You watch the best tutorial for TV production every day in your living room. Multi-million dollar productions are broadcast just for you to pick apart and borrow ideas from. Watch the CG's on the air like a videographer would watch them. Notice the colors of the fonts and backgrounds. See how large the text is. How is the composition? The professionals show you their best work every day; it's up to you to learn from it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Multiple takes & logging while shooting

When working on a video project, I always go through the three basic steps:

Pre-production (planning)
Production (shooting)
Post-production (editing)

The key to success in a video production is organization. And I'm a rather disorganized person, so I'd like to skip that part and just keep all that information "in my head." But I've learned the hard way that a little organization during the planning and shooting stages makes life a lot easier when it comes time to edit.

In class, I always do a simple demonstration of logging an interview while taping it, to show students some techniques that make the whole process easier. It goes something like this:

Ed: "I need two students to help with this demo." And I grab a couple at random, asking them to come to the front of the class with me.

Ed: "All right, we're shooting an interview with Jenny. I'll have her stand in front of the camera, and Bret will be my gaffer." With this, I hand Bret a pencil and paper.

Ed: "Every videotape that I shoot needs a name. We'll label this tape as 'Jenny.' So I want Bret to write 'Jenny' at the top of his piece of paper. This is our Tape Log."

Bret writes this down and waits for further instructions.

"I'll start the camera rolling. Remember that we need 10 seconds of pre-roll before the action starts. While the camera is rolling, I'll ask Jenny to say and spell her full name."

Jenny looks at the camera and says, "Jenny Jones. J-e-n-n-y J-o-n-e-s."

Ed: "Very good. Jenny, I'd like you to hold up one finger, because this is Take One of the interview." Remember that the camera has been rolling during this.

Jenny holds up one finger for a minute. We're ready to start.

"All right, everyone 'stand by." This is Take One, coming in 5-4-3-2...."

And I don't say "one" because I want a moment of silence there before we begin.

I ask Jenny a couple of questions, and then I cough or clear my throat while she gives me her reply. Ah. A ruined take. I look at Jenny and say:

Ed: "I'm sorry. Guess I messed up that take. So Bret, would you write down 'Jenny interview Take 1, no good.'"

Bret does this and we continue.

Ed: "Note the camera is still rolling. Tape is cheap, so we don't bother stopping the camera or rewinding the tape between takes. Jenny, please hold up TWO fingers, so we know this is Take 2."

She does so. Bret writes down "Jenny interview Take 2" on his paper.

We do another take of the interview, and we successfully complete it. I look at Jenny and Bret.

Ed: "Were you happy with that take? Was that all right?"

They think it was fine.

Ed: "OK. The camera is still rolling, and we know it's been at least 10 seconds since Jenny finished. I'll turn the camera off, and I'd like Bret to mark 'OK' next to 'Take 2' on his log sheet."

Bret does so, and I thank both students as they go back to their desks.

Ed: "Class, when we've finished shooting everything, we'll take a big stack of tapes into the editing suite to begin putting this project together. At some point, we'll look at our script and want that interview of Jenny."

Ed: "Where do we find it?"

And the students reply, "On the tape labeled 'Jenny.'"

"What take do we want to use?"

Students: " Take 2."

Ed: "And how do we know that?"

Bret: "Because I wrote it down."

Ed: "How do we know which take is Take 2?"

Jenny : "Because I held up two fingers while you were taping to show it was Take 2."

If you use the technique of logging your takes and selecting the "good" take while you shoot it, you save a lot of effort and frustration when it's time to transfer the good stuff to your editor.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Biggest mistakes students & teachers make

Every video project is unique and has its own challenges and problems. However, some hassles and roadblocks seem to pop up again and again. Here is a list of the bugaboos that happen most often when schools are working on an original video production.

Never forget to:

1. Use a new, brand-name video tape at SP speed.

2. Always let camera roll 10 seconds before shooting.

3. Hold the camera still during shooting.

4. Always let camera roll 10 seconds after scene is over

5. Turn off the day and date indicator on the camcorder

6. Use a tripod whenever possible. Don't use the zoom if hand holding camera.

7. Keep your mike close to the subject when shooting audio

8. Write a script before you shoot

9. Budget enough time for the project

10. Tell a story with your video

11. Have your project planned out BEFORE you start editing!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Logging your tapes

You have shot hours of video to make your blockbuster movie. Some organization right now will make life simpler when you sit down to edit.

To find the video segment you want to edit within the miles of videotape, it sometimes helps to create a video log for each tape you have shot. The log tells the location of every shot you plan to use, as well as a brief description of it. Each video tape you used should have its own log.

How to Log on a VCR with a Real Time Counter

1. Rewind the tape to the beginning.
2. Name your tape. I give my tapes simple names, like "TAPE A" and "TAPE B".
3. Set the counter to 00:00:00. This means zero hours, minutes and seconds equals the start of the tape.
4. Watch the tape, and log the time each scene begins, as well as a brief description of the scene. You might log like this:


00:15:00... Long Shot... Mom and Dad standing in front of their new house
00:23:12... Close Up... Sue shows off her diamond ring
00:47:38... Medium Shot... Dog knocks over Christmas tree
01:15:12... ECU... Hand unwrapping a present
01:18:45... Long Shot... Family at dinner

Note: When logging a new tape, ALWAYS remember to rewind to the beginning, and reset your counter to 00: 00:00 before logging it!

Log only the scenes you think you might use when you edit. You can fast forward through the boring parts of your footage, and spend less time logging. That means you’ll also spend less time when you transfer video from your original tape to the editor.

Certain images and/or photos on this page are the copyrighted property of JupiterImages and are being used with permission under license. These images and/or photos may not be copied or downloaded without permission from JupiterImages.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Writing on CDs and DVDs

At the VidExpo in Denver this month, I had a nice chat with a rep from Maxell. We discussed recordable media, specifically recordable CDs and DVDs, and he pointed out a potential time-bomb ticking away in my library.

For final delivery, I burn a CD or DVD and then use a Bravo printer to print the label directly on the face. However, sometimes I get in a hurry and just write the name of the production on the top of the master DVD that I keep on file. And what do I use for this? My trusty Sharpie marker.

The Maxell rep pointed out that most markers are solvent-based. A quick whiff of the marker tells you that some powerful chemicals are inside. Well, when you write on the top of a recordable DVD or CD, that solvent starts eating its way into the disk. And when it reaches the layer where all those ones and zeros are recorded, it corrupts whatever it touches.

So the DVD that played perfectly in the past suddenly stutters and acts up. And, he said this could happen in as little time as one year after you write on the disk.

One year. Ugh.

Office supply stores and mass retailers sell "compact disk marking pens" that use water-based ink. These are safe to use when writing on the top of a disk. You might want to pick up a few of those right away.

What about those of us who print paper labels and stick them on our disks? The rep told me these can separate in time and jam your machine. He said paper labels should never be used on DVDs, because even the slightest imbalance on a DVD can render it unplayable. And let's be honest: how many of us can center those labels perfectly on a disk?

Camcorder batteries

This has happened to everyone, myself included. You are on location, ready to make the best video of your life, when suddenly, your camcorder battery dies! How can that be, when you have only shot about five minutes of footage, and you charged the battery all of last night? Let's look at the gremlins that ruin camcorder batteries.

Two big problems!

1. We never fully discharge the battery! If your new battery will record for one hour, don't shoot for ten minutes and then recharge it! If you recharge a battery before it needs it, the battery develops a "memory", which means it holds a charge for less time. A one hour battery becomes a 45 minute battery, then a 30 minute battery, than finally a 10 minute battery. The solution is simple: discharge that battery until it won't run the camcorder, then recharge it fully.

2. Don't overcharge the battery! If the manual says to charge the battery for three hours, we usually charge it overnight, "just to be safe". Again, don't do it! Check the manual, and charge for only the time required.

A good tip!

Buy a spare battery. Sounds simple, but the reason most of us abuse our camcorder batteries is because we are in a hurry to start taping again. If you keep a fully charged spare battery, we have the luxury of fully discharging our main battery, and properly recharging it.

Video Blogging

Will Richardson writes in this month's issue of Technology & Learning about the blog revolution and how some schools and educators are using blogs.

We all know that many blogs aren't much more than online diaries, but now, some educators are using blogs to share information and to increase student achievement.

You can see Will's blog here.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

More on Video Yearbooks

eSchool News Online has a nice article on the new generation of video yearbooks and what some tech-savy schools are doing with them. This is worth a look:

The School Video Yearbook

Today was spent in an area school where we discussed creating a video yearbook for the senior class. Actually, we're a little late in the school year to discuss planning, because some events like Homecoming have already happened. But better late than never.

Our plan for a video yearbook is to create chapters, much like those in a print yearbook. The video yearbook is meant to supplement rather than to replace the printed version, but some of the content is similar. Here is an example of chapters you could use in a video yearbook:

Example #1
I. Fall Activities
II. Winter Activities
III. Spring Activities

Example #2
I. Sports
II. Music and drama
III. Everyday life
IV. Graduation

Example #3
I. Senior collage part one
II. Football and basketball
III. Senior collage part two
IV. Life in the classroom
V. Senior collage part three
VI. Drama, arts, music
VII. Prom and graduation

Most of my smaller schools like to include a baby picture and senior picture of each graduate. Remember that some local photographers may hold the copyright on senior photos, so be sure to get clearance to use the photos. And in return, it's nice to give a "Special thanks to XYZ Photography of Silver Plume, CO" in your credits.

If each photo is on the screen for five seconds, we know that 12 pictures will take one minute to show. If you have 50 graduates, each showing a baby picture and senior picture, you are looking at 500 seconds, or nearly 8 1/2 minutes of photos. For that reason, we usually break this up into two or three chapters, so viewers don't fall asleep as the video slogs through all the photos.

Once you have decided what chapters you want in your project, you should make a "shot sheet" or "shopping list" of the video clips and/or still photos you want in each chapter. If, for example, you are working on the "Sports" chapter, you would want video or photos of:

basketball (boys and girls)
cross country, golf, soccer or any additional sports.

You also might want photos of cheerleaders, pep rallies, coaches, cheering crowds, celebration bonfires or "Spirit Week" activities.

You can break this down even farther if your students can visualize what they want to see and hear on the finished video. Such as:

closeup of foot kicking ball from tee
coin toss
scoreboard showing winning score
cheering crowd in stadium
two people hugging or cheering after a big win
two people crying, sad or depressed after a big loss
bus pulling into or away from school
coach giving pep talk to the team

You can see that you could easily list every shot you want in a chapter that only runs three minutes. This shot sheet is much like a shopping list. Much like you go to the store and buy milk, eggs or macaroni, you are taking your camera and obtaining video clips of "coin toss," "scoreboard" or "kickoff." Using this method, you don't shoot 10 hours of footage hoping to get four or five nice 10 second video clips.

Here is the list of steps I give students when planning their video yearbook.

1. Make an outline of “chapters” you want in your yearbook.

2. Write down the specific video clips, still photos, sound bites or interviews you want for each chapter.

3. Assign someone to videotape events you want on tape (Homecoming, Class Play, etc) Have shots of as many different students as possible, not just your friends

4. Obtain permission to use any copyrighted music.

5. Gather all still photos needed. Carefully label them so that they can be returned to owners.

6. Log tapes so you know what clips are on each tape.

7. Put still photos in the order you plan to use them in the yearbook. A still photo is on the screen for 5 seconds; so it takes one minute to show 12 photos. Make sure you don't want to show 400 photos in 10 minutes.

8. Write down all titles and credits ahead of time. Check the spelling of names.

9. Have your video planned before you come to the Video Suite to edit! Allow enough time to complete the project.

10. Plan enough time for the project.

Certain images and/or photos on this page are the copyrighted property of JupiterImages and are being used with permission under license. These images and/or photos may not be copied or downloaded without permission from JupiterImages.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hand holding your camera

There are some times that you just can't use a tripod while you're shooting video. Here are some techniques to get the best possible footage while hand-holding your camera.

The primary rule of a hand held shot is DON'T USE THE ZOOM. A zoom lens magnifies the also magnifies any camera movement or shake. So, instead of zooming in to fill the viewfinder, zoom back and get very close to your subject.

This has another benefit. If you are hand holding the camera, zoomed back to a wide angle setting, and are a couple of feet away from your subject, then you can capture very good audio with just the on-camera mike. I've seen professional TV ENG crews doing simple interviews like this.

If you can't get close to your subject and don't have a tripod, there are a couple of tricks you can use. Wherever possible, set the camera down on something--a wall top or railing, a table or
bookcase--any horizontal surface. To see what you're shooting, angle the viewfinder upward so that you can look through it .

If you can't steady your camera by one of these methods, try to brace yourself as you hand-hold it. Again, lean against a vertical support or prop your elbows on any handy horizontal surface. For low angles, try kneeling rather than squatting.

Here are some other good hand-holding techniques. Such as:

Hold the camera with both hands, elbows spread away from the body so that they can act as shock absorbers. You can hold your elbows tight at your sides for extra bracing.

If the shot won't run very long, hold your breath. Take a deep breath, let half of it out, then hold the rest and shoot.

If you pan the camera, stand with your feet parallel to the middle of the movement, then twist your upper body back until you can frame the beginning.

Remember, shoot hand-held footage with the lens at the widest angle setting you can. Remember that wide angle lenses tend to minimize the effects of camera shake.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Camera shots

The worst thing you can do (at least one of the worst) is to simply turn your camera on, point it at a subject, and let it run on and on. A good video project should have a variety of camera shots. This keeps the viewer interested, allows the director to visually draw attention to important details, and generally helps the flow of the video.

When writing your script (or storyboard), you have two things to work with: picture and sound. While writing narration or dialog (sound) the scriptwriter also needs to visualize what video (pictures) will be on the screen.

Here are several camera shots, the shorthand used in scriptwriting, and some uses for each.

Long Shot (LS):

The long shot is sometimes called an establishing shot. The beginning of a scene is usually a long shot, because that establishes where the scene is taking place. For example, a video shot in the classroom might open with a long shot of the entire classroom, to tell the viewer this is where we're going to be for the next few minutes.

Long shots are good for: illustrating the setting of a scene
Bad for: showing details or holding the viewer's interest for a long time

Medium shot (MS):

A medium shot is a little closer, a little more intimate with the subject. If we go back to our example, after opening your classroom video with a LS of the entire classroom, we might now cut to a M'S of the teacher as he speaks to the class. By the way, the above shot might also be called a "One Shot" because we see one person.

Of course, that would make this MS a "Two Shot." I'm sure you can figure out why.

Medium shots are good for: drawing attention to a person or object without revealing many details.
Bad for: A medium shot is a compromise. As such, it does a good job for a lot of things, but not for revealing detail.

Close Up (CU):

Close ups are when we get up close and personal with the subject or item we wish to illustrate. The close up is the director's way of pointing out something interesting, or essential to the plot, without any other visuals distracting the viewer.

Back to that classroom video for an example. We open with the LS of the classroom, then cut to a MS of the teacher talking about how important keyboarding skills are. At this point, we might show someone in CU typing on the keyboard while the teacher talks.

Good for: drawing attention to important detail. Also good for cutting away from the action to allow the editor to cut two takes of a scene together.
Bad for: establishing scenes.

Extreme Close Up (ECU):

The extreme close up draws attention to something by getting extremely close. In this case, it has to be essential to the plot development, and it has to be approached gradually. If Sue has a new class ring, we can't go directly from a MS of Sue talking about her ring to an ECU of the ring; that is too jarring to the viewer. You have to work your way to getting closer to the ECU.

Like this:

LS classroom
MS teacher talking about keyboarding
CU Sue typing on keyboard
MS teacher saying that the new class rings are available and that some students already have one
ECU Sue's hand wearing ring as she types

The ECU is good for: extreme detail when important to the plot
Bad for: everything else

When deciding on what shots to use, try to imitate the human eye and how it works with the brain to receive and interpret information. If you walked into a classroom, the first thing you would do is look around. In effect, your eye is getting an "establishing shot" or LS of the classroom. If the teacher is speaking to the class, you'd probably look at the teacher next. That is your MS, and probably a "one shot" as well. As the teacher mentioned keyboarding, you might look at someone typing on a keyboard, and your eye sees a CU of hands on a keyboard. And so on.

Watch a television show, preferably a scripted show rather than a "reality" show. Identify the various camera shots you see: LS, MS, CU, ECU, one shot, two shot. See when they are used in the script and what effect they have on telling the story.

Certain images and/or photos on this page are the copyrighted property of JupiterImages and are being used with permission under license. These images and/or photos may not be copied or downloaded without permission from JupiterImages

Monday, September 12, 2005

Shooting the interview

Interviews can make a video more interesting and fun. On TV, you'll see three kinds of interviews.

1. A "two shot" of the person asking the questions and the person answering them. This is most often seen in the news, or in an informal setting.

2. A one shot of the person being interviewed, cutting away to a one shot of the person asking the questions. Again used often in news and "60 Minutes" type shows. Using this format, you hear the question as well as the answer.

3. A one shot of the person being interviewed. In this format, you never hear the questions being asked. Rather, the comments made by the person being interviewed help move the story or video along. A&E's "Biography" is a prime example of using interview sound bites to advance the story.

Of these formats, #3 is the most challenging, but has great impact in an original video production. Here are a few rules to handle this type of interview.

Fill the screen with your subject. Frame the shot so it's just "head and shoulders" or "head to waist". Keep the background darker than the subject if you can.

Tell your subject look at either the interviewer OR the camera, but not both!

Have your subject SAY and SPELL his/her name at the beginning of the tape. While this won't show up on your edited video, it gives you the information needed for creating titles and "lower third" graphics.

Ask your subject to pause a moment before answering your question. Also have him/her finish the comment, and then pause for a moment or two. This gives the editor a few moments of silence at the beginning and end of the comment for clean editing.

The subject should answer in a complete sentence. Since the question will not be heard by the viewer, it makes no sense if the subject says, "At the prom." The subject should say, "I first met Bob at the prom."

Don't ask yes/no questions. Instead of asking, "Was it dangerous to climb the mountain?" try to ask an open-ended question. Something like, "What dangers or hazards did you face when you climbed the mountain?"

Be prepared to ask a follow-up question based on what the subject says. "You were almost killed in the climbing accident? Tell me more."

When the subject answers, be quiet and listen. No one wants to hear you saying "uh-huh" while the subject talks. Instead, smile and nod and give the subject non-verbal encouragement.

Keep answers short. Don’t let people ramble when all you want is a 15 second sound bite.

If you are unhappy with the length of the answer, shoot another take. Don't be afraid to prompt your subject for what you want to hear: "I really liked that part when you told about being on-board that battleship during the war. Could you answer my question again and just tell me about that?"

Pre-roll and post-roll camera for at least 10 seconds between every take. Use a tripod!!

Use an auxiliary mike or keep the camera close to the subject. Eliminate background noise.

At the end of the interview, ask the subject if there is anything else he/she wants to share. You may get something very interesting that you never thought of.

Shoot one or two cutaways to hide edits. This could be a close-up of the subject's hands folded in her lap, or of something the subject is talking about. An example: while the subject talks about the battleship, you could remember to shoot some footage of a photo of that ship to use in editing.

Remember that most interview clips will be only a sentence or two in length in your final video. Keep them short and keep them interesting. Think of them as "sound bites" that you see and hear on TV news.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Students, Teachers Become Expert Video Producers

Here is a great article that was originally in eschoolnews.

10 Reasons Why Media Education Matters

This is courtesy of Media Education Foundation.

» The average American watches over 4 hours of television per day.

» 56% of children ages 8-16 have a TV in their bedroom.

» The average American child sees 200,000 violent acts on TV by age 18.

» The average American youth spends 900 hours in school & 1,023 hours watching TV each year.

» The average American sees 2 million TV commercials by age 65.

» 45% of parents say that if they have something important to do, they are likely to use the TV to occupy their child.

» Children spend a daily average of 4 hours and 40 minutes in front of a screen – 2 1/2 hours of which are spent watching television.

» 97% of American children ages 6 & under own products based on characters from TV shows or movies.

» Children ages 2-7 watch television alone and unsupervised 81% of the time.

» Nearly 3 out of 4 teens say that the portrayal of sex on TV influences the sexual behavior of kids their age. 1 in 4 admits it influences their own behavior.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A chromakey demo

Today, I traveled to O-A High School to discuss and demonstrate using chromakey in a video production.

First we discussed what chromakey is. As an example, several students said that is how the weather person on TV can stand in front of the weather map.

How else could you use chromakey? How would it help you tell your video story? What could this technique add to your production? Could you create visuals that never really happened?

At that, I asked for a volunteer from the class, and B stepped up. He said he liked to water ski, so we did a fast demonstration on how to create a chromakey scene.

I had brought a collapsible green chromakey background, which we leaned against the whiteboard. I had B stand in front of the background, and then I handed him a prop. I had brought a nylon rope with a stick on one end. B was to hold the stick, while a student off camera pulled the rope tight on the other end.

I quickly set up my miniDV camera on a tripod, started the tape rolling, and instructed B to pretend to water ski. Soon, he was bouncing, leaning to and fro, and for a finale, he threw the rope to the left while he fell toward the right. He did an excellent job.

Next, I went to the Avio editor that was set up in the class. Connecting my Canon camcorder to the editor, I transferred 30 seconds of B to the editor.

Years ago, I had taken a ferry from the U.S. to British Columbia. While on the ferry, I pointed my camcorder out the aft window and taped the water that churned up behind the ferry. I used that footage next, transferring 30 seconds of that to the Avio. I had the student's attention.

The Avio editor has software that let's you create a chromakey effect. They call it "bluebox," but is still the same thing: keying by removing a part of the chroma (or color) signal. We keyed the two scenes together, removed the green behind B, and in a few minutes, we had the illusion of B waterskiing in the ocean.

Again, we discussed the effect. Did this really happen; did he really water ski today? How else could we use this? Could we create a virtual stage and set, and do a TV newscast with the virtual set chromakeyed as the background? Could you show a person flying on a magic carpet? Could you hold a set of handlebars and make it look like you were riding a motorcycle? Could you pose as a reporter in historical times, and for example, interview a slave helping to build the pyramids while showing video of the pyramids in the background?

That's a lot of information to put in one class period. But they heard the facts, they helped with a demonstration, and they discussed the results. And in the end, they understood the concept.

Visit the Carnival

The Carnival of Education was nice enough to list this blog as a place to visit this week. If you haven't done so already, stop by and see what they have to offer.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Production (shooting your video)

Here is where the fun really starts. With a script in one hand and a camera in the other, you start actually shooting scenes for your video project.

Some tips will help your shoot go smoother and be more productive. Before the day of the shoot, look at that camera. You need to know how to operate it, and that’s more than just grab, point and shoot. Learn what the buttons do; for gosh sakes, learn how to turn off the day/date indicator. Nothing makes a project look more amateurish than having “August 14, 1987” in the corner of every shot. So, don’t bother setting the correct day and time, just turn that silly feature OFF.

Many cameras shoot in two different speeds, one for best quality and one for lower quality but longer recording time. Right now, I’m looking at a Panasonic miniDV tape that says 60/LP90. That means that it records 60 minutes at full quality, or 90 minutes in the lower quality Long Play (LP) mode. Whenever possible, use the higher quality recording speed setting, that is, the one that uses the tape the fastest. If you’re using a 60/90 minute tape, record at the 60 minute setting. (And since you learned what all the buttons do on your camera like I mentioned in the last paragraph, that will be a snap, right?)

Make sure your camera batteries are fully charged if you aren’t using AC current to power your camera. In fact, find a spare set of batteries and charge them as well.

Are you recording sound? Do you have a hand-held mike that will plug in to your camcorder? From experience, I know that a $20 mike placed close to your subject will sound better than a $100 mike that is 20 feet away. And if you are only using the on-camera mike, well, you are in trouble. Later in this series, I’ll post an article about shooting with the on-camera mike. For now, find a hand-held mike, plug it in to your camera and keep it close to the source of your sound.

Are you using a nice, fluid-head tripod? Whenever possible, use a tripod!

Always use new tapes for your project; it’s a very small investment that will help you succeed. If you are using miniDV tapes, you might want to exercise them first by fast-forwarding all the way to the end, and then rewinding them to the beginning. I’ve found this reduces any “drop-outs” in the picture.

When you are shooting video for later editing, you have two tricks up your sleeve.

1. You can shoot more than one take of a scene. That is, you keep doing it until you get it right.

2. You can shoot out of sequence. For instance, if you are doing a TV newscast, you can shoot the sports first and put that scene in the proper part of the newscast during editing.

All right. You are out in “the field” with your actors, your camera operator, and somebody to help haul everything around. You have a well planned script with every camera shot written down or storyboarded.

Here are some camera operator tips.

A. Frame your shot. Zoom in or out to frame the shot you want.

B. Pre-roll on each shot. Let camera roll 10 seconds before action starts.

C. Identify each take while the camera is rolling. "This is Take 1" “This is Take 2” etc. Use a clapboard for this, as well as having someone say it out loud.

D. Hold it! Keep your shot for at least 20 seconds. Don’t shoot tiny snippets of action.

E. Don't pan and zoom unnecessarily.

F. Keep the mike close to the subject, so you can hear them.

G. Post-roll on each shot. After the shot is done, let camera roll for at least another 10 seconds before stopping.

Pre-roll and post-roll are essential! Every time you start that camera, let the tape roll at least ten seconds before the action starts. And let that tape roll an additional ten seconds after the action stops before you stop recording.

If you decide that Take 3 is the best take of the first scene, Take 2 is the best of the second scene, and Take 8 is the best of the third scene, be sure to write that down on your script. Why do we have each scene identified with a “take number? When you are editing, it makes it easier to assemble your project in post production.

As an example of how easy this makes editing; imagine editing a scene into our project. Which take do we use on this particular scene? Take 3 because I wrote that down on my script. How do I identify Take 3? It’s right there on the clapboard at the beginning of the scene.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Pre-production and scripting

Writing a script can be daunting, but there is an easy way to work through the process.

Start by writing an outline. List every major point you wish to make on your video. Remember the old method of writing a script:
Tell them what you're going to tell them
Tell them
Tell them what you told them

Which translates to Introduction, Body, Summary. So, your XYZ School outline might look like:

I. Introduction
A. Several long shots of school exterior
B. Shots of interior, physical plant, students and teachers interacting
C. Some two-shots of student-student, student-teacher, teacher-teacher

II. Our new building
A. Brief history of construction of building
B. Swimming pool, little theatre
C. TV studio and production facilities
D. Up-to-date internet access, CATV television system in building

III. Fine arts at our school
A. Music department
B. Drama
C. Speech

IV. School spirit
A. Pep rallies
B. Student council meetings
C. Several shots of students and teachers at sporting event
D. Annual car wash fundraiser for charity

V. Summary
A. What have we seen?
B. What have we learned?
C. For these reasons and more, XYZ School is the perfect educational environment for your student

Notice what we did here. We took the objectives from earlier and used them for our main talking points. It's starting to take shape.

Prepare a script

Here is a big secret in producing a video. You only have two things to work with: picture and sound. So when scripting, what will we see and what will we hear?

Your script is narration and accompanying pictures, word for word. Some people use a storyboard, where they sketch the pictures wanted while writing the narration, sound effects or music.
Other people prefer creating a two-column script, with a description of the pictures used on left (this also includes the titles), narration or music listed on the right. Adobe provides a nice template for a two column script.

We all have an idea of how to write the audio (or sound) portion of the script. It's a lot like writing the reports that we've all done in school. One difference is to write for the ear. That is, select words and phrases that are pleasing to the ear, since this will be delivered aloud. Save your flowery prose for another time.

For the video (or picture) column, list every video shot you want. Note if it is a wide shot, medium, close-up, or extreme close-up shot. Be sure to use a lot of different video shots. During narration, you might change shots as frequently as every five seconds or so.

Details on pre-production planning

This is really the hardest part of a video project, and the one most students want to skip. My personal opinion is that a project lives or dies in the pre-production stage; any time saved by skipping this will be lost ten times over later in the project, during shooting or post-production. Remember, the best time to solve a problem is before it happens.

Breaking down pre-production:


What is your video about? Are we making a video about the local high school? Are we making a video about how to make pottery or how to weld? Your goal is "I want to make a video about _____."


Video is not a "detail" medium; it paints a picture with a wide brush. So don't plan a video with tons of facts and details, a "grocery list" of information. Your main points will end up lost in the clutter.

Your viewers will probably walk away with about three main themes from your project. These could be informational, they could be emotional. What three things do you want your viewer to remember when they see a video about, for example, XYZ High School?

A. My school has an outstanding fine arts department, with speech, drama and music.
B. My school is a new facility, with up-to-date internet access, student TV studio, and swimming pool.
C. There is a strong sense of camaraderie at my school, a very tangible school spirit.

This is how you will tell your story?

Will you have someone on-camera, walking around with a mike in hand and narrating?
Will you have an "off-camera" unseen narrator?
Will you play act, with Johnny meeting Sue, the new student? Sue doesn't know anything about XYZ High School, so Johnny takes her on a tour, all the while telling her the information we want to convey.
Will you have two sock puppets on camera?

Target audience
Who will be the primary audience of your video. Don't say "everybody" because I doubt that small children in Afghanistan or chocolate makers in Switzerland will be seeing this. Narrow down your target audience by:
Geographic location
Gender if relevant
Special needs or special skill if relevant
Essential information if relevant

So your target audience may be:
High school age students, boys and girls
Lives in or near the communities served by XYZ School
Speaks English
Plans to attend XYZ School, or is considering transferring to it

(Note: the reason I listed "speaks English" as part of the target audience is that you may be called on to produce a video that is not in your native tongue, which is English in my case. I once produced a video for the Department of Human Services, who needed a Spanish language video that would explain the services they provide to Spanish-speaking people who had just moved to the area. Not speaking the language myself, it proved to be quite an adventure.)

The target audience and the treatment are intertwined; knowing who you are speaking to determines how you communicate information to them. If your target audience was 6 year olds, then the "Sock puppet" treatment might be a good idea. However, if you want high income parents to transfer their children to the XYZ School, you might want to skip the sock puppets.

Budget in time and budget in dollars

You need a realistic idea of how much time you can devote to the project and how much money you'll plan to spend. If your project is due tomorrow and you have $5 in your pocket, then you'll need to keep everything simple and easy.

After you know these things: goal, objectives, treatment, target audience, budget in time and dollars; only then are you ready to put pen to paper and start scripting.

Pre Production (planning your video)

1. Planning your shoot
A. Goals.....................What is your video about?
B. Objectives...............Things your audience will recall
C. Treatment...............How will you tell your story?
D. Target Audience........Who will watch this?
E. Budget...................How much time & money?

2. Write an outline. List every major point you wish to make on your video.

3. Prepare a script. This is a word for word, 3 column script, with visuals on left (this also includes the titles), narration on the right and music in the middle. You can also do this visually on a storyboard. List every shot you want. Note if it is a wide shot, medium, close-up, or extreme close-up.

In the next blog entries, we'll go into more detail on planning a project

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What editing equipment do I need?

In the past, video editing was done by copying scenes from the original tape to a new “master” tape, with the resultant lost of quality as your finished project was “down one generation” from the master tape. Although there are a few JVC Edit Desk systems still out there, most student editing will be on a non-linear(computer) editor.

There are two types of non-linear editors available. The first type is the editing appliance. An editing appliance is a specialized computer that is really an “editor in a box.” While it has a hard drive, keyboard and mouse or trackball, you can only edit video with it. You can’t go online; write an email to a friend, or other traditional computer functions.

However, because these appliances are specialized, their operating systems are simple and pretty easy to learn. MacroSystem makes the Casablanca line of editing appliances, with the Prestige, Kron, Claro and Avio as different models in their line. I use the Kron and Avio with my students and have been happy with their performance. There are other appliances out there that I haven’t worked with, such as the ScreenPlay by Applied Magic.

If you’d rather use your own computer for editing, there are several software packages available. For the Mac platform, you can’t beat their iLife ’05 package of software. It includes iMovie, a pretty powerful little editing package for a beginner. iDVD lets you take your finished iMovie and create your own DVD, complete with chapter markers and a professional looking menu screen your DVD. iLife also has iTunes to play your MP3 files, iPhoto to store and display your digital photos, and an amazing audio program called GarageBand. In GarageBand, you can select from pre-recorded audio loops of drums, bass, piano and other instruments to create original music. I’ve also used it as a sound-on-sound recorder, in case you have a singer who would like to sing harmony with herself. GarageBand can also be used as an audio editor, to let you cut, paste and edit music or voice. iLife is unbelievable, and the education price is something like $59.00. If you run Mac OS X, take a serious look at this.

For the PC, there are more editing software packages out there than you can shake a stick at. Windows SP offers Windows Movie Maker as a part of the system software. It is a basic editor at no additional cost. Some folks swear by it, my personal wish is for a package with more features. At home, I am using Adobe Premiere Elements, selling for around $100. A trimmed down version of Adobe Premiere, it still have enough features to keep a beginning or intermediate editor satisfied.

Other PC editing software includes Pinnacle Studios Media Suite, ULead Media Studio, Sony Vegas and a lot more. Avid offers Avid Free DV, a free sample version of the Avid line of editors. While it is short on features, you can’t complain about the cost.
And folks, there are a hundred other vendors and products out there that I have failed to mention. This is by no means a complete list, but a taste of what you can find.

When shopping for computer based editing software, be sure that the package you buy has all the features you want. For example, make sure it has DVD authoring if you want to burn your finished video to DVD.

Is your new computer powerful enough to edit video? First off, you need at least 512 MB of memory, and 1 GB is even better. It helps to have two hard drives, one with the system software, and one dedicated to editing files. If possible, get a disk drive with a spindle speed of at least 7200 RPM, a buffer of 4 or 8 MB and a storage capacity of at least 200 GB.

Stay away from the low cost processors like the Celeron. While good for some functions, you need more power when editing.

You computer will need a Firewire (IEEE 1394) port. If your desktop system doesn’t have one, you can add a Firewire card for about $40 to $50.

Be sure to look at the system requirements when you buy your software, and be very sure your computer is powerful enough to run it. Believe me, you won't edit digital video on your SX386 Packard Bell.

Remember when I said you should keep some aspirin at the ready? This might be the time to reach for a couple. While all of this seems kind of daunting right now, it does get easier. We’ve talked about some of the tools that you need to be a video producer at school; next we'll talk about the training and techniques you'll need to create your first video.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What equipment do I need?

If you are interested in classroom video production, you need the right tools for the task.

New Guy: Hey, boss. Hand me a wrench.
Foreman: What kind of wrench?
New Guy: Doesn’t matter. I’m going to use it for a hammer anyway.

The right tools for media production are less expensive than you might think; and perhaps you already have many of them available in your school.

(A disclaimer: while I will mention some models and brands of equipment I use, this is purely my opinion. I have no financial interest in these; other brands may do as well or better. As always, your mileage may vary.)

Tools needed:

Camera: These days, the smartest way to move into editing is with a miniDV camera. You will have about 500 lines of resolution in your picture, about twice as many as on a VHS tape. There are a lot of brands that do a fine job. I use the Canon ZR series as well as the Canon XL-1. Other brands also will serve your needs. You will need a camera with Firewire (IEEE-1394) output. Also, be sure your camcorder has a microphone input if you want to do any serious shooting.

Tripod: It needs to be study, yet light enough to haul around. I can’t emphasize this enough: use a tripod whenever possible!! My favorite is the Bogen / Manfrotto 3046 heavy duty tripod with the 501 “Pro Video Fluid Head with Quick Release.” The fluid head allows you to do a smooth pan or tilt, which is essential. And the quick release mount is just that, letting you attach or remove the camcorder from the tripod in a second.

Microphones: We could write a chapter on mikes. There are lavaliers, hand-helds, wireless, shotgun, cardioids, PZMs. Does your head hurt yet? If you are just getting started, get a decent, inexpensive hand held mike. The Audio Technica ATR20 is a very durable yet inexpensive mike. The quality is good, and the price is low enough that you won’t cry when a student abuses it. A bonus is the 16’ cord that allows a lot of movement by the on-camera talent. Remember that if you want to plug your mike into your camera, be sure the mike has a 3.5mm plug that fits into your camcorder.

Headphones: A nice, inexpensive pair of over-the-ear headphones will block out extraneous noise and let you hear what your camcorder is recording. A must while shooting.

Videotape: miniDV tape packs a lot of information onto a very small tape. I find that it can be a little fragile, and for that reason I never re-use a tape more than a few times. After all the work and expense in producing a media project, don’t skimp by using a well-worn tape. There are several brand names available; I’d suggest you pick one brand and stick with it. Different brands use different formulations of tape head lubricant, and switching brands might cause your camera heads to clog.

Clapboard: Write the scene number, take number and shooting date on the clapboard, and then have a student step in front of the camera while the tape is rolling before a scene begins. This gives you a visual identification of each scene and the take number. And an interesting thing: students really get serious about a shoot when they see someone using clapboard. You can buy them new, or find them on eBay for about $20.

Aspirin: yeah, you’ll need it.

These tools will get you started on pre-production (planning) and production (shooting). What about editing? We’ll need to devote an entire blog entry to editors.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Three Steps

Every video, from a simple "video essay" of your flower garden to the next "Gone With The Wind" uses the same steps to plan and execute. There are three steps to each production.


Pre-production begins with the idea: "Let's make a video where we will __________."

In pre-production, you'll plan the goals and objectives of your video, target audience, treatment, and budget in time and dollars. Then you will plan your script, in either written or storyboard form. The few minutes spent in pre-production will make every aspect of your project go much smoother.


This is the actual shooting. With script in hand, you will get all of the video shots you need (and then some for insurance). You will gather any "flat copy", such as newspaper clippings or old photos that need to be transferred to video. You will find your music and sound effects. Now it's on to...


Once all the raw footage is "in the can," you'll convert the scenes into a polished, professional production. This is called "editing," or "post-production". While "the shoot" is the visible part of the job, professionals often spend more time editing than they do shooting! Sometimes the pros say "We'll fix it in post." Don't you believe it. The best time to fix a problem is before it happens, and that's in pre-production planning. In post, you will:

Transfer selected video clips or "scenes" to the editor
Transfer all music and sound effects to the editor
Transfer all flat copy (photos, artwork, etc)
Trim scenes to proper length and put them in order on a storyboard
Create all titles
Add any transitions or special effects
Add and mix music and audio
Render the video project and transfer to videotape, DVD or other delivery device such as a QuickTime movie.

"Some images © 2003-2005"

Why do we edit?

"If I can't picture it, I can't understand it."
-- Albert Einstein--

Video production is now in the hands of everyone. In the U.S. alone, there were more than 32 million camcorders at the end of last year and over 3 million more are sold yearly.

With all those camcorders, you'd expect to see a lot of exciting home video productions. Yet, most homemade video tapes sit on the shelf, unwatched because their quality is poor and they're just too darned long!

Editing is the process of selecting the good footage and eliminating the bad. Film is edited by literally cutting out the bad pieces of footage and splicing the good parts together. Video is edited by copying the good segments from your original tape onto your editor. While editing video, you can use these parts:

Video only: moving video, titles, still pictures transferred to video tape
Audio only: speech, music, sound effects, background noise
Audio and video: A choir concert, public speaker, the family at a reunion

So why Do We Edit?

It is said that the difference between a good photographer and a bad photographer is that a bad one shows you ALL of their pictures. We edit for that reason, among others. Use editing to:

Tell a story
Show only the most important parts of the story (cut out the garbage)
Draw attention to details (with cut ins, close ups)
Set a mood
Present a point of view.
Share information, such as an instructional or training video

Virtues of Video Production in the Classroom

Video production is HIGHLY MOTIVATIONAL because youths tend to love working in creative ways with new technologies.

It induces TRANSPARENT LEARNING because the students enjoy themselves.

It encourages COOPERATIVE LEARNING because the youths become part of a production crew.

It helps develop LEADERSHIP SKILLS because each participant is responsible for overseeing their area of the production.

It teaches STUDY SKILLS in that students research the content for their videos and subsequently digest the information through script writing and visualization.

It creates an INTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL because students take the video's story and camera into their own hands.

It teaches MEDIA LITERACY through learning about how camera techniques influence viewers.

It WIDENS THE CIRCLES OF REFERENCE because students need to communicate and work with others. Also, students have to search beyond the classroom for resources and thus connect and interact with their community.

It tends to induce IMPROVED SELF ESTEEM by providing youths with a recognized medium for broadcasting their views and ideas.

It encourages PROCESS THINKING because video production requires extensive planning.


Video production is TIME INTENSIVE.

Sometimes there is EQUIPMENT FAILURE.

Video production requires MUCH PLANNING.

It can, at times, create CHAOS in the classroom.

The teacher needs to have a BASIC KNOWLEDGE OF VIDEO PRODUCTION.

Good equipment is EXPENSIVE.

Thanks to KQED for sharing this.


It's a new school year and new things are happening! I thought that I'd join the other 8 million bloggers out there with a blog of my own. This one is here to share some information about producing original media in the classroom.

As the resident Video Production Specialist at Prairie Lakes AEA, my job is to serve 48 public and 17 non-public school systems over an 8,000 square mile area, which is about the size of New Jersey.

My blog is another way that I can make the FAQ of school video production available with the click of a mouse. While this information is targeted at K-12 schools, students and teachers in northwest Iowa, anyone who is interested in shooting and editing videos, creating newscasts or radiocasts, or just playing with expensive toys is welcome to look over our virtual shoulder. Hope you find something useful.

A few rules here: this blog will be 100% classroom appropriate. No harsh language, links to questionable sites or pictures are permitted. No complaining about the mean teacher, bad student or grumpy parent you dealt with today. We're here to share information and ideas, and in a positive manner whenever possible.

As my old boss used to say, "There are a lot of ways to get downtown." Likewise, there are a lot of ways to produce media, create projects for the classroom or school use. I know one or two ways, and I'll share them. I don't have all the answers, but I know a way or two to get where I want to go.

This blog won't focus on rubrics or detailed lesson plans. This will be meat and potatoes stuff; how to succeed in media without going absolutely crazy.

And a reminder: in all the years that I've done this in the classroom, only two students have died from it. The odds are you'll probably survive the ordeal.

Questions? Ok, let's get started.