A Low-Cost, High-Impact Filmmaking Project For Students & Schools
A few months ago, a simple little idea snowballed into an awesome filmmaking project in school. The whole production was such a success, I wanted to share it with you and explain how we did in case you’d like to use it in your school. And of course, I’ve included the EPIC VIDEO below!
I got the idea as I was walking the down the hall and two things happened at once. As one student was handing me a little encouraging note they’d written for me, another kid threw a paper plane that smacked me in the head. I combined the two experiences, and at the end of the day went straight to the top and pitched the idea to the principal. I half expected him to say there would be health and safety regulations like all the kids would need to wear steel toe boots, hardhats and safety goggles! After giving his stamp of enthusiastic approval, the principal worked out the logistics with the teachers, so that when we gathered on Friday afternoon for our big wrap party assembly, everything was ready.
Here’s The Big Picture
Part One. Every student in the school wrote a positive and encouraging message on a piece of paper and then made a paper airplane with their message hidden inside. Everyone made one. Everyone brought one. Everyone threw one. Everyone got one. All the classes had conversations about how our words don’t always go where we intend, but they always have power. Sometimes our words encourage those around us, and sometimes they hurt.
Part Two. We filmed the entire spectacle at the assembly and used the footage to make a film that included all the students in the school.
Making the planes was a fun project for the students to work on. It was also a great opportunity to think about others and imagine words that could make someone’s day better. I also liked the inclusive nature of throwing our words out there, without being able to control where they went or who they went to.
Here Is How We Produced The Video
I enlisted 6 camera operators from Grade 6, each with an iPad. With 300 students involved, we knew we’d only have one shot at filming this. To make sure I had footage I could use, I spent about 15-20 minutes with the crew to explain the shots I wanted them to get.
There are two common mistakes people make when they film. The first is holding their iPad or phone upright in the portrait view. If you’ve ever seen videos with blurred or black lines on both sides of a narrow strip of video, that’s what you get when you film in portrait mode. You want to hold your phone or iPad horizontally so that the view fills the screen of your TV or computer. I also made sure everyone had their iPad fully charged and had lots of memory, and that they were all holding them horizontally.
The second mistake people make is moving their camera around too fast as they try to capture everything. It’s impossible to make fuzzy, shaky, out of focus footage look good. So I quickly came up with a shot list and assigned different shots to different students. You can watch the footage and see if you pick up the shot list.
For instance, I wanted one camera to capture a paper plane being thrown away from the camera. I got one camera person to stand behind a friend and direct them to bring their arm back right to the camera and then watch them throw their plane. I had cameras on either end of the room so I could cut back and forth and capture everyone. I directed some camera operators to get close up shots and other students to get wide angle shots. I had two students lie down on the floor and shoot up at the ceiling with all the planes flying above them. And of course, we also tried to keep the camera operators out of the shots as much as possible.
How The Actual Moment Played Out
With our cameras in place, I quickly explained to the staff, students and family members assembled what we were about to do…then I marched up and down in front of my ‘troops’ like King Theoden or Aragorn, in Lord of the Rings, making a rousing speech in a dramatic scene before an epic battle. Then we all counted down and let the planes fly.
After throwing the planes, all the students were instructed to pick up one plane each, and open it and read the encouraging message written by someone else at their school. All the camera operators were told to move through the crowd and ask students to read what their planes said into the camera.
I’m not going to lie, this was super fun, and it worked on every level. Even the little JK and kindergarten students were able to throw a plane and scramble around on the floor to pick one up. But it was also a powerful statement for all of the students to recognize the power of our words to make a difference in someone’s life.
Producing & Sharing The Film
At the end of the assembly, we transferred all the movie clips from the iPads to my hard drive and on the weekend I put it all together. Considering I’d only spent 15 minutes describing the shot list to a handful of Grade 6 students, I was thrilled with the quality and quantity of shots that I actually had to work with.
I used iMovie to edit the clips and included the most epic music I could find as the soundtrack. On Sunday I uploaded it to YouTube and Facebook, and Monday morning sent the link to the school who sent it out to all the staff, students, and families, making it really fun and easy to watch and share. Within a couple days, there had been over seven thousand views, which also became a cool local story for the community.
You are welcome to use this idea if you are looking for a fun and creative idea that can bring your students together and help them to discover the power of their words and the ability to encourage those around them.
As you watch the video, try to count how many different camera angles you see. As I said, we only had one take to capture the magic of this moment, and we did it!
If you have done a project like this in your school, or have any questions of would like more information on how you can do this with your students, please leave a comment below. Now hold onto your seat…cause here it is! 🙂
Hi, my name is Rik Leaf. I love everything I get to do as a recording artist, producer, slam poet, and writer. But I particularly enjoy working with schools and communities where I can empower and encourage students by helping them discover the unique opportunities their talents, interests, and abilities can provide.
I’m excited to offer teachers and schools my best lessons through a brand new online Slam Poetry Training Course that I developed over the last 10 years teaching slam poetry to thousands of students.