How to teach film making to a teenager?
September 23, 2008 6:38 AM   Subscribe

I've been asked to teach a one time, one hour high school class on the fundamentals/elements of film making. What aspects of film making would be most exciting for them and with no film making gear how would one go about teaching it?

I’m thinking that I could give them a crash course in the elements of film theory – screen 5-10 min of say “Psycho” and talk about each shot and how it imparts meaning through what’s in the frame (mise-en-scene). Then maybe hand out 3-4 pages of a film script that hopefully they don’t know like “Blade Runner?” and collectively come up with a shot list for this script. Then view the film of that script part and discuss the differences of our shooting script and what the director actually did. Does this sound like anything a teenager who has already shown interest in the field of drama and film be remotely interested in? I don’t want to bore them (there could be up to 20 students). Any thoughts on what else I could do? Maybe my film choices need updating? Maybe my approach sucks? I’ve never taught before but I’ve taken many film courses and have worked in the film industry for a number of years – I realize this does not necessarily qualify me for the job but I have been asked and I do want to help as best I can. Thanks hive mind.
posted by glasskey to Education (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know much about film theory, but the one thing I wish I'd had in class or been more exposed to is storyboarding. Also the basics of light, sound, etc might be useful. When they shot a scene of a movie on my street, I felt I learned a bit about filmmaking. So maybe show part of scene being made, and the final scene.

I'm going from the angle of someone that might be interested in putting together a short Youtube video, multimedia script for a class/work etc.
posted by ejaned8 at 6:53 AM on September 23, 2008

I recently read this article by Roger Ebert via, about how how he used to teach film students in the late 1960s. The article describes how much can be learned about film-making by taking just single frames of film (or.. pausing a DVD) and talking about how the scene is framed, lit and constructed.

I think this would be a perfect exercise for high school students. It is essentially an extension of the lesson you described.. only kinda in reverse (watch the film first.. then talk about it).
posted by TheOtherGuy at 7:23 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

If I was an aspiring film maker in the class I would definitely want to ask you some questions (definitely be prepared for the "How did you get started in the industry" one). I would say schedule at least 15 minutes for Q&A. An hour is already a very short period of time and once you account for questions and other slowdowns (such as waiting for them all to read a script) there isn't much time to go through much material.

Again from the perspective of a high school film maker, I would say the most useful thing you could do is go through as many film making techniques as possible. Things like match cuts, jump cuts, wide angle vs telephoto lens, subjective POV camera, etc. You could show a short film clip for each one and explain or ask the students how the technique functions in the film (for example, show a clip from a noir detective film and ask how the lighting functions). Basically just throw out a lot of specific ways that film makers make choices that affect how the film is perceived by the viewer, and let the kids think about or experiment with those techniques on their own.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:31 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

The storyboarding thing is a great idea, and one could even take it beyond simple storyboarding. I seem to recall that in the earlier part of the 20th century when Russian film schools hosted folks like Eisenstein and Kuleshov, they had no money or equipment, so most of their film education was essentially imagining films, sequences of shots, drawing them out, etc. And then these guys pretty much invited montage.

I could see some sort of collage exercise that teaches provides a means for the students to teach themselves the basics of film language, and create the rough draft to a film they might make down the road.
posted by jrb223 at 7:46 AM on September 23, 2008

Another idea might be to light a scene (which you could pick/write in advance) using flashlights in a darkened room. You could have a few sizes/strengths of lights to use for fill and spotlights (with students holding them in place and maybe two acting as lighting designer and director). It would be hands-on, but inexpensive, to get them thinking about the dramatic effect of lighting without having to worry too much about techy-stuff.
posted by stefnet at 7:53 AM on September 23, 2008

It's probably not an appropriate film for a high school class (not that most of them haven't already seen it) but this shot by shot, cut by cut examination of a key scene from THE SHINING is a nice example of how to get inside the pivotal craft of editing.
posted by philip-random at 9:46 AM on September 23, 2008

I was once a student in a class like the one you describe. A couple of things that stuck:

- Plotting a tension vs time graph of the three-act structure that is nearly universal to feature films, especially the something-big-in-the-first-ten-minutes part. (I didn't have a background in drama, so even this kind of basic stuff was all new to me)

- Directing/acting with motive. No cameras, just pretending to be directors or actors, doing a simple example scene (no dialogue - the sort of thing you might do as extras). First time the director instructs actors where to be and what to do, and second time they are instead given some of their individual backstory and why the character is there, etc. So you learn firsthand the difference it makes in the level of nuance. Probably of little use to students who have already done drama though.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:47 AM on September 23, 2008

Also - demonstrate that the influence of the editor dwarfs the influence of the director in telling the story. This is interesting because it's (initially) counter-intuitive, but gets people thinking about the importance of good editing, who might otherwise overlook it as merely assembling the director's work.
The same source footage can be used to tell whatever story the editor wants to tell. See if you can find or create a good example of that.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:52 AM on September 23, 2008

Given that this is only one hour, with no follow up, and is supposed to convey the fundamentals, I wonder if a reasonably quick trip through the extensive credits of one of today's modern, high-dollar, mainstream films might be just the thing.

It would let you touch briefly on all the elements of production: financing & insurance, producing, directing, filming, editing, lighting, sound & music, casting, catering, animal wrangling, site management, gripping, gaffering and that jazz.

One look at a big blockbuster's credits sequence should give you an hour's basic lesson plan very easily. Go through each thing fairly quickly and pepper your talk with a few fun stories or humorous examples to illustrate the points you want to emphasize, and voila! The hour will be over before you even realize.
posted by OilPull at 11:53 AM on September 23, 2008

The Kuleshov Effect

Ask them to come up with their own editing sequences based on this technique.
It will teach them to think visually, and, if the lesson sticks, they will see its application everywhere.
posted by minkll at 12:24 PM on September 23, 2008

I'm going to be the voice of dissent here and say that most suggestions made here are far, far too ambitious (and not even necessarily instructional/useful) for what you're trying to achieve.

Go simple. It may be such an obvious thing, but the one fundamental idea that most amateur/student filmmakers have difficulty grasping is that filmic storytelling works through images. (Shocking, I know. But watch any bad/amateur film, and judge for yourself whether that particular director has grasped this very basic concept.) Building on the storyboarding idea, have students work in teams to tell a very simple story using only pictures. You can provide blank storyboard pages for them to draw on, or, better yet, have them take pictures on a digicam (even on their phones). This could be the first half.

In the second half, project the series of images (either using good old-fashioned transparencies and the overhead, or digital projector and laptop) and let the other students discuss whether the storytelling was successful or not. Rotate.

This is already at least an hour's exercise. It's simple, fun, and teaches fundamentals. If they can succeed at this, they're already halfway there. As an added bonus, it relies on their own creativity, and their own discussion. In other words, it's completely Socratic, and takes the pressure off of you to do all the talking which, frankly, will bore them.

/current film student, former lecturer
posted by war wrath of wraith at 5:41 PM on September 23, 2008

if you have time create a list of films that demonstrate good cinecraft. there are dozens of important films these kids have never seen simply because they are "old movies". sort of must see list. The list should include specific scenes as examples
posted by Gungho at 8:06 PM on September 23, 2008

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