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.)
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.