Lesson Three: Putting it Together
(Making Great Video Diaries)
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Target Audience: High School Students
Subject Area: Media Arts Production
Objective: Students will apply the basic concepts in the previous
two lessons to produce great video diaries that they can treasure for
years to come.
Video camera (with Flip-out screen if possible)
Tri-pod for Video Camera
Video monitor with playback cable attached to Video Camera
Videotape stock that is compatible with selected Video Camera
- To whom are you speaking when you do a video diary? We have found
that video diaries are much more personal and intimate when students
create relationships with their cameras. They should personify the cameramake
it a close friend with whom students can share their secrets. As such,
students should feel free to be informal with the camera: in your bedroom,
sitting on the floor, lounging in bed, looking directly at the lens.
Get close to the camera. Weve found that the best shot scale is
head and shoulders, or tighter. Examples: Kiwi diary about football
and girlfriend on American High Show #1 ("You Only Live
Once") 14:0214:14 and Sarah talking about Robby going away
to college 21:3521:51. Also Suzy on American High website
talking about her insecurities.
- When is the best time to do video diaries? Every day. Thats
what the word "diary" impliesa daily activity. If you
do a ten or fifteen minute diary every day, you will create a body of
work over a semester or year that best describes your life and personality.
Dont just do a lot of assignments once a week, when youre
in the mood. Do them when youre happy, and particularly when youre
sad. When you need to vent. Keep the video camera set up and ready to
goloaded with tape, batteries charged, microphone attached. So
you can do a diary whenever the mood strikes you. The only exception
to this rule: Dont do a diary when youre so tired that you
cant think straight, concentrate, you be verbal.
- Narrative and philosophy. We have found that the best diaries have
both story-telling as well as a sense of values in them. Try asking
yourself with every diary entry the following questions which are central
to story sense: (a) What do I want? (b) Whats in my way to achieving
what I want? (c) What am I going to do to achieve my goal(s)? In terms
of values, ask yourself these questions with every diary you do: (a)
Why does it matter? (b) Why do I care? (c) What does it mean to me?
Great examples: Tiffany diary about Drew in (American High Show
#8 "Winter Formalities) 14:36-15:02 and Robby diary
about Brad coming out on American High website.
- Mix it up a little if it gets boring or if you feel self-conscious.
Try to be yourself. Do something while you do your diary. Prepare a
meal, put on make up. Shave. Do it in a different placein your
car, on the roof of your house, in your favorite secret spot. As long
as its relatively private and quiet (remember your source:ambience
ratio!). Have a friend ask you questions. They can be in the room with
you or speaking to you on the phone. Great examples: Kiwi brushing Rachels
hair as they talk about kissing on American High website and
Anna skipping stones at the beach in her diary about leaving home (American
High Show #6"Bustin Out") 3:044:34.
- Technical Quality Control. Check your audio from time to time. Listen
with headphones. Better yet: Play back a couple of minutes at the beginning
of each diary. You dont want to do a fabulous, once in a lifetime
diary only to realize later that the microphone wasnt plugged
in. Starting and Stopping: Make sure you dont miss anything at
the beginning or end of each diary. So count to ten after you hit the
record button before you start to speak. Also, let the tape run in record
mode for ten seconds after you finish speaking. If you are really concerned
about time code discontinuities for editing, then "black"
each tape before you record on it. That means record black image on
the entire length of the tape (recording with the lens cap on), and
then rewind the tape to the beginning before doing video diaries.
- Interview someone in class.
- A great interview comes from making the interviewee most comfortable.
Sit close. Let the interviewee sit in a comfortable chair or on the
floor. Say something funny, flattering, or charming to put the interviewee
at ease right from the start. Maintain eye contact with the interviewee
and nod your head in agreement with what they say. Even if you disagree!
Go easy on the interviewee at first. Ask easy, factual questions that
dont threaten. Save the sensitive topics, the controversial
matters, the abstract or emotional material for last. It will only
work if theyve been adequately warmed up.
- Try to ask open-ended questions that motivate the interviewee to
respond expansively. In other words, try asking "Tell me about
your college education," instead of "Where did you go to
college?" The latter approach will result in the one-word response,
"Columbia." But the former approach may yield a fuller response
like, "I attended Columbia University in the late sixties, a
time of great foment."
- Dont interrupt. Let the interviewee come to a complete halt
at the end of each response. Nod a little more. They may summarize
beautifully at this point. Keep the camera recording even after youve
agreed that the interview has ended. The interviewee will probably
add something important and surprising.
- Critique Student Video Diaries in Class. Ask each student for
talk for ten minutes without stopping. Whats on his or her mind?
How does it feel to be doing the first video diary? What does the student
hope to get out of this experience? Play the diary back in class and
talk about it. To minimize potential embarrassment, screen diaries in
small groups three or four students who agree to work together
because they are friends. If you sense the student might prefer, give
him or her the option of screening the diary with the volume off for
the first one or two diaries. Here are some things to discuss:
- Sound. How are the source:ambience and signal:noise ratios? What
can be done to improve the situation?
- Visuals. Are the images stable? Balanced? Asymmetrical? Deep? Well
lit? Interesting? What can be done to improve the situation?
- Intimacy. Is the place private? Quiet? Is the student comfortable?
Relaxed? Real? Honest? Does it feel like he or she is talking to a
good friend? What can be done to improve the situation?
- Story and Value. Do we have a sense of the students goal(s)
and obstacle(s)? What is the student going to do about it? Do we sense
that the student cares? (If she doesnt, why should we?) Do we
get a sense of why it matters?
- Have students interview someone on their own, at home. It could
be a good friend, a parent, a boy/girlfriend. Some fantastic student
directed interviews include Anna and her mom (end of episode 107), Robby
and Sarah (Episode 101), Suzy and her Dad (Episode 105). Have each student
play the best five minutes in class. These can be critiqued using the
same criteria as applied to the video diaries. Additional questions
may include: Did the interviewer interrupt? Did the interviewer ask
questions in a way that yielded interesting answers?
- Assign additional Video Diaries to Your Students. Of course,
give the students ample opportunity to address whatever subjects matter
to them. But when they are stumped, here are some topics that seem to
get great results.
- Talk about an activity that youre good at (a sport, an art,
a hobby). E.g. Brad on dance show in American High Show #3
("Boogie Nights") 02:24 03:40.
- Talk about the romance in your life. Is there someone special in
your life? If not, is there someone who interests you? Talk about
whats special about this person. E.g. Anna talking about boyfriends
on American High website.
- Who are you? What makes you unique? Morgan in American High Show
#2 ("Who Am I?") -- 03:50 5:05 and Robby in American
High Show #1 ("You Only Live Once") 2:10- 2:25.
- Describe your family. What do you love/hate about them? E.g. Suzy
in American High Show #3 ("Boogie Nights") -- 09:01
- Describe your biggest fear. E.g. Kiwi in American High Show
#1 ("You Only Live Once") --18:47, Sarah talking about how
she is torn between wanting Robby to go off to college and the desire
to keep him at home (21:35).
- What does it mean to be a kid? E.g. Morgan in American High Show
#1 ("You Only Live Once") 6:02 6:36.
- Describe your life in ten years. E.g. Suzy in American High Show
#8 ("Winter Formalities") --
- Talk about money and your life.
- Talk about honesty. E.g. Kiwi on American High Website.
- If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be? E.g.
Suzy in American High Show #3 ("Boogie Nights")
10:12 - 10:58
- Talk about money and your life.
- Talk about your ambitions. E.g. Morgan in American High Show
#1 ("You Only Live Once") -- 16:34 17:00.
- [Event-oriented]. E.g. Talk about Homecoming, your involvement in
the dance show, sexual assault prevention week, whatever youve
got an opinion about.
Evaluate each video diary in terms of the story-telling potential by
addressing what the students did
- Does the student seem comfortable?
- Is the student confiding in a person, creating a character out of
- Does the student pick a good time to do diaries?
- Does the student tell stories as well as communicate their attitude
about the story he or shes telling?
- Is the student self-conscious?
- Is the student engaged in an activity while doing the diary?
- Is the location for the diary ideal? Private, intimate, personal?
Recommended Reading and Reference Links:
Schroeppel, Tom. The Bare Bones Camera Course for
Film and Video available from <TomSchroeppel@worldnet.att.net>
The Digital Filmmaker's Resource Site: http://www.2-pop.com/
Exposure: The Internet Resource for Low Budget Filmmakers:
Adita Video, Inc. Links to Video Resources: http://www.adita.com/links.htm
Videomaker Magazines Website: http://www.videomaker.com/scripts/index.cfm
About the Author: Jonathan Mednick is both
an award-winning filmmaker and an experienced educator in the fields of
film/television production and media studies. This past year, Mednick
was a producer and director on the critically acclaimed PBS TV series
American High. Mednicks role on American High included
teaching video production to the students at Highland Park High School
and supervising the making of the student-produced video diaries that
are featured so prominently in the show. Mednicks latest film, Dita
and the Family Business -- a personal documentary about the family
behind New York Citys fabled Bergdorf-Goodman Department Store --
will begin its theatrical run in New York's Film Forum in September 2001.
Jonathan Mednick is currently teaches film directing and producing at
the University of Central Florida. He has also taught media production
at New York University, Wesleyan University, and at the University of