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.