Help your kids make a movie

August 06, 2010|By CHRIS COPLEY
  • With a little planning, simple equipment, youthful enthusiasm and diligence, your kids and their friends can produce a short film in just two days.
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With 12 days until public school starts in Washington County, your kids might have already done everything they wanted to do this summer. If they come to you complaining about nothing to do, suggest this: Make a short, 10-minute movie in two days.

With a little planning, simple equipment, youthful enthusiasm and diligence, your kids and their friends can produce a short film that tells a compelling story. In the process, they'll get to act, direct, write or handle technical equipment just like the pros. Plus, they'll produce something they can upload to their favorite social media website and share with their friends and relatives.

And they'll also learn about project planning, problem solving and creative collaboration with others - good lessons for success in life.

Here's how to encourage your young filmmakers:

Start with a good story

A good film is a visual telling of a good story. The story is key, according to Dave Dull, a producer at Antietam Cable and part-time teacher at Hagerstown Community College.


"It all starts from the story. You have to have that," he said.

First, make sure it's a story you can tell with local locations, friends or family members acting the roles and costumes and props you find in your home. Setting a story on Mars or in a medieval castle will require scenery and costumes that might be difficult to get.

Second, keep your story simple and compelling. The traditional way to organize a movie's story is the three-act structure.

"I'm big on the three-act structure," said Katherine Ryan, who leads filmmaking workshops for teens in Martinsburg, W.Va. "Show the hero going through their everyday life - that's Act 1. Then there's some sort of call to action."

The first act introduces the main character, the time and place of the movie and other background information. Act 2 is a film's longest act. This is when the main character deals with challenges and struggles to achieve his or her goal. Often, Ryan said, there are plot reversals, surprises or setbacks. New problems arise.

"Then, toward the end of Act 2, you have the climax of the story," she said. "Act 3 is the achievement of the protagonists' goal. Problem resolved."

Problems are a key part of telling a story in a movie. Dull emphasized that a good story has tough problems for the main characters.

"There's never any good story without conflict - man vs. man, man vs. self, and so on," he said. "Even reality shows, they are still stories and they have conflict."

A parent can help young filmmakers develop good characters with suitable problems and challenging goals.

Before shooting, plan

Backyard filmmakers making a 10-minute movie need not write out a complete script for memorizing. Clark Kline, organizer of 72 Film Festival in Frederick, Md., suggested storyboarding - drawing the story scene by scene - and planning all or most of the shots before picking up a camera.

"More than anything, do storyboards," Kline said. "It doesn't have to be fancy. I can't draw any better than stick figures."

Keep some things in mind when storyboarding, Kline said. Vary the type of shots you use. Say one of your characters goes to a restaurant to meet another character. You should plan a sequence of shots to bring viewers into the scene - first, an "establishing" shot of the restaurant exterior, then a "full shot" showing one character entering the door, then a closer, two-person shot showing the one character sitting at a table with the other. Over-the-shoulder shots show one character talking to another.

Ryan said variety keeps viewers' interest.

"The last thing you want to do is have everything from one point of view," she said. "It's tedious. It's like watching talking heads."

Ryan's technique for storyboarding is to take 8 1/2-inch-by-11-inch sheets of paper and fold them in half lengthwise. Draw your storyboard scenes on the left and write the dialogue, action and other information on the left. This becomes the guidebook for the movie during filming and editing.

Simple equipment

A two-day filmmaking project doesn't need fancy equipment. A basic digital camera will do. Parents should make sure they have cables or card readers to transfer files from the camera to a computer for later editing. Check this process ahead of time to make sure everything works.

Kline said another key piece of equipment is a decent microphone.

"The biggest thing is to make sure the sound is as good as possible," Kline said. "If you can't get a wireless mic, put a regular mic on a broom pole and get it overhead as close to the actors as possible."

The camera should have a jack for an external mic, so the video file will include good-quality sound in the same file. Make sure the mic jack will fit the camera. Purchase an adapter from an electronics supplier if needed.

A tripod will keep the camera still and add polish. If no tripod is available, try to set the camera on something that doesn't move, such as a table or tall cardboard box, when shooting.

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