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Lesson Plans

What’s your “Brief But Spectacular” take?

December 9, 2021

Full Lesson

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Originally published: April 17, 2018

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Every Thursday night, the PBS NewsHour profiles people and their passions in the series Brief But Spectacular. Creator Steve Goldbloom and his producing partner Zach Land-Miller wanted to find a new way to share original voices the public might otherwise not see. This lesson has been updated to work for online learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Grades

6-12

Subjects:

English, English Language Arts, English Language Learners, Social Studies, Art, Film, Media Arts, Journalism

Essential questions (choose what fits best): 

  • How does sharing your passion and ideas with others help them understand your identity?
  • Why is it important for people to share their ideas and passions with others?
    How does giving voice to people’s ideas and passions create empathy?

Materials:

  • Notebooks or computer device for writing script
  • Cell phones for recording
  • Online learning system (if in physical classroom, projector for sharing)

Overview:

To date, Brief But Spectacular has produced over 75 episodes with a mix of guests from well-known figures like Kathleen Turner, Marina Abramović and Alec Baldwin, to new and diverse individuals like poet Mahogany L. Brown and artist iO Tillett Wright.

It has also been heartwarming to watch viewer’s respond to some of our lesser-known guests. For example, Brief’s video featuring 92-year-old former high school teacher Flossie Lewis (see video below!) earned six million views within a few weeks of being released. Have a look at the series highlights here.

We were thrilled to discover that viewers of the NewsHour–mostly students–have engaged with the series by creating their own Brief But Spectacular videos. A recent YouTube search revealed dozens of videos uploaded from across the country. That’s where you come in!

Procedure

Warm up activity

Let your students know they’ll be watching three short videos (see below) before setting out to make their own Brief But Spectacular films.

Ask your students what ties all three videos together? What do you think is the main purpose of this series? How do each of the videos start? How do each of them end? Why is the person looking directly into the camera? Why do you see Goldbloom and Land-Miller setting up the shot at the beginning of the film? What is the expression on the person’s face? What makes them passionate about the subject?

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 Main activity:

NOTE: REVISIONS FOR DISTANCE LEARNING DUE TO CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:

  • Option 1: Conduct your own interview! Think about your topic, make a brief outline and start rambling (see more about the rambling below!).
  • Option 2: Conduct and record an interview of a classmate using a video conferencing tool you are familiar with and your school recommends. Don’t forget the clap!

Pre-pandemic instructions:

  1. The Interview
    • Remember, this is an interview not a presentation. While Brief airs as a 3-4 minute segment, the actual piece begins as an in-depth interview. The interviews are conducted as conversations for 30-45 minutes and yield the most interesting and relevant points in the final edit. This eliminates the pressure of having to be “spectacular” in a short amount of time — a tall order for even the most seasoned guests.
    • Place students in groups of three. Have two students interview the third on a subject he/she cares about. Let them know they should feel free to ramble–yes, ramble–for about 20 minutes per interview, and that they should take comfort in knowing that they’ll be able to improve the flow and pacing in the edit. Rotate through so each student takes a turn in the spotlight.
    • Recording tips: Brief But Spectacular is a very low-maintenance production.
      • Creator Steve Goldbloom and his partner Zach Land-Miller always shoot on a tripod, so be sure your camera is steady. Be creative–if you have to, lean your phone against books. Use natural light whenever you can; fortunately, classrooms tend to have a lot of this.
      • For a camera, you don’t need much. Students may use their smartphones or the web cam on their computer.
      • The clap you see at the beginning is Goldbloom and Land-Miller’s way of syncing up sound, since they don’t have a fancy slate you see in the movies. Most of their guests have no idea why they’re clapping. They enjoyed the bemused expression on their faces so much that they decided to include this feature at the top of every video. Your students should feel free to do the same.
      • Remember to tell your students to look directly into the lens. This gives the feeling that they are speaking to the viewer and it’s been critical to Brief’s success as an intimate form of storytelling. While Brief films each guest for about 45-minutes, a good 20-minutes should be enough time for each student.
  2. The pieces are written in the edit room. You might think that after 20 minutes of rambling you’ll wind up with an overwhelmingly unfocused amount of material. This is true. Be sure your students know this is okay.
    • Take the time to transcribe the interview. Isolate the best points and build a highlight reel. At this point, Brief becomes a fun puzzle. Students should organize their thoughts on the page and in the edit in a way that best reflects what they are trying to say. Whether they are shy, loud, funny, sad — the more honest emotion they can capture, the more interesting it will be to watch.
    • Students may use iMovie or whatever editing tool works the best.
  3. Finally, remember to include the #BriefButSpectacularEDU and @NewsHourExtra tags when you share these videos on Facebook/Twitter. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Extension activity:

Go through the Brief But Spectacular videos to see if there is one that matches up in some way to student’s own videos. What connections can they make between their video and the one featured on Brief’s website? Students should let the person know via social media that their Brief video inspired them in some way. They will be thrilled to learn about your students’ passions.

Still need more inspiration? Check out this Brief But Spectacular video:

Steve Goldbloom, creator of ‘Brief but Spectacular,’ wrote this lesson plan. He produces the series from California through his production company, Second Peninsula. You can reach him @stevegoldbloom.


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