In filmmaking, the process is most effectively broken up into three stages: pre-production, production and post production. This post will focus on these three stages as it relates to #thisismyschool!
Pre-Production: Getting Ready for #thisismyschool and Running it at your School:
If you liked #thisismyschool and want to try it at your school, here is the best place to start. First let me start with a question:
Are you crazy?
Just joking. Yes, there will be stress but it’ll be worth it!!!
Step 1: Make a Team and Collaborate
This is a cross-divisional project and therefore you’ll need representation across the school. However, you also need creative and organized people who are willing to put in the extra hours. I begin by emailing a few people to share the basic plan and see if they’re interested. Once I have confirmation of interest, I set a meeting to share the idea and begin brainstorming ways that we can highlight various learning activities from our school.
Here is our collaborative Google Doc for coordination and planning:
Step 2: Create a Narrative
In order to maintain interest and also avoid becoming a video montage with no glue or continuity, it is important that you have a narrative. Our story had two pieces that worked together to tell the narrative. The first component of the narrative is by following a student throughout the course of their first day at school. This student is greeted by EAGLE Ambassadors who act as tour guides and share important things about our school along the way. As the video progresses, you see the student growing up in front of your eyes. In order to maintain continuity and continue the narrative, 7 students in total entered the screen chronologically to show that the viewer understands that this is not just a day-in-the-life of a student. Instead they realize that there is a time-warp element that actually showcases the career of a student at AIS-R. I believe that with a narrative, #thisismyschool becomes not just a video-collage showcase of things a school does, but rather tells a school’s story.
Step 3: Brainstorm Vignettes
I believe deeply in intrinsic motivation and might even argue that it is the single most important thing in education. When we are interested in something we’ll give it our best efforts because it’ll be meaningful to us. I wanted students and teachers to feel strongly about how they could participate in #thisismyschool so I created Google Forms for each division so that students and teachers could submit ideas to include in the video. Giving choice and ownership helps to increase engagement and participation from the whole school and I believe providing more choice is a fundamental shift necessary in many aspects of education.
Step 4: Vignette Leaders and Delegation
After reviewing the submissions and envisioning some of our own, you need make a final decision about which vignettes can be showcased in video form and which ones show a great diversity of learning. Once you’ve decided, it’s best to delegate vignettes to someone on the core team. As well, it’s best to assign a teacher to be a vignette leader. This way all vignettes will have someone responsible for the preparing, planning and execution, as well as someone from the core team that they can refer to and ask any questions that might arise.
Step 5: The Route
When planning the route, you’ll have to consider the surroundings. Some of the vignettes will speak to certain physical areas of the school while others can be planted almost anywhere. You’ll have to consider the places you want to showcase and the places that you might want to avoid. Planning the intricate route and spreading the variety of vignettes along the route is not an easy task. This will take time and you will likely edit and revise multiple times in the process. Here is our first walk through with voice annotations and the final Google Doc with the order of vignettes.
Step 6: Make a Tech Plan (lighting, camera, sound, microphones, sound recordings, copyright free music)
Based on the locations and based on the what the vignette is actually is showcasing, many technical and logistical pieces need to be considered. Firstly, lighting is a huge concern. Do a practice run with your selected camera to see how it fairs in various lighting conditions. Depending on the camera your choice will depend on it’s ability to auto-adjust. The simplest would be a GoPro Hero 3+ and Feiyu Tech G3 Handheld Stabilizer. This year we used Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera with a Ronin M Gimbal. In addition we used Shure Shotgun Microphone and Boompole and some Zoom audio recorders in key places.
Finally, we try as best we can to avoid any copyright issues. By capturing live recordings of the band, orchestra, singers and authentic dialogue, this provides a copyright free soundtrack. When we use actual song we limit them to around 28 seconds and we we think that our ability to create new meaning for the original source and our educational use fall under the Fair Use Doctrine.
Step 7: Facilities
Facilities will need to get involved in order to make sure that the areas you are showcasing during the video are all as polished as possible. Facilities will need to do a sweep along the entire radius of the route. In addition, big items like couches, sets, rolling boards etc. will need to be coordinated with your facilities team.
Step 8: Props and Costume
There would be nothing worse than having a b-ball section without a basketball right? Props and costumes are important. We try to get people to dress for the occasion. MUN always dresses in their best during a conference and athletic teams have their own jersey’s etc so wearing them in the video will give an added touch of authenticity. Including as many props and costumes will help to identify, showcase and celebrate different groups.
Step 9: Prepare a Whole School Message
#thisismyschool is clearly a large-scale video project that will involve many people. However, some people will likely not know much about what is going on until they are notified. Depending on how you plan on involving the the rest of the school, the whole school message may change. For our run, we organized a K-12 Spirit Assembly to be running simultaneously with #thisismyschool. We did this because we wanted to have the #thisismyschool finale finish at the Sprit Assembly. Therefore our Spirit Assembly was structured into 3 acts where the final act was our Wave Your Flag celebration which really characterizes and captures the essence of our school. As a result of all these moving parts, we catered the whole school message including the Who, What, When, Where and How to the varying audiences.
Step 10: Practice on Route (practice footage, storyboarding, rehearsal, staging, blocking)
Practicing on the route with the Cast is crucial. It crucial not only for appropriate blocking and staging for the cast but also to work on your own camera work. Especially if you are using a camera that doesn’t have a viewfinder, these practice takes are crucial. This practice helps me to familiarize myself with the storyboard. By walking the route multiple times and watching the footage, I am able to solidify the storyboard in my own head. Leading up to the actual production, I also end up running through the storyboard in my head. Without fail, the night before then video, I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep until I run through the storyboard in my head at least 4-5 times. Additionally, I also like to share the practice footage with my cast so that they can reflect on their own lines, blocking and delivery.
Step 11: Walkthrough (Core Team and/or administration final check)
At this point, everything is done…presumably. We always walk the route before the filming to make sure everything is set and nothing is missing. This is the last chance to touch up an area, move a prop or make any little adjustments.
Production: Careful not to Trip…
If you are well prepared, this stage should be relatively stress free. That’s not to say that you won’t be stressed leading up to the event because trust me, you probably won’t be able to eat anything that morning. However, there is nothing more that you can do in this moment! The vignettes have been chosen, they’ve been practicing and they know where to stand. Supervision is set along the route. Producers pace back and forth in their section making sure that all students are in place and ready. The tech is ready. Executive Producers help to send messages to vignette leaders and/or Producers if needed. A call is made to mark of the beginning of each take…
In the moment, I feel nervous and incredibly excited! As I go along the route I feel like I am in some sort of deja vu because I feel like I’ve been there before, only this time, it looks a little different. I get to witness all these vignettes come to life in front of me. I see students and teachers contribute with enthusiasm. I see all the planning coming to life in front of my eyes.
The feeling of excitement is palpable. The energy is frenetic and purposeful. Everyone has a job and nothing will get in the way of their moment. The feeling out there is personal to everyone. You can feel how people are happy to be there and to show off something that they are proud of. You can also feel a strong sense of community where everyone needs to work together to make this happen. There is a feeling of grandeur. Everyone is just trying to seize the moment and encapsulate something special to them, their class, our school or even something broader like trending topics and social movements. It’s certainly monumental.
It’s like this for about 60 minutes. Then adrenaline and fatigue combat after it all winds down…and you stay this way until you finally get to see a take… fingers crossed!
Post-Production: Where the Magic Happens!
More than any one of my previous large-scale video endeavors, #thisismyschool will require a lot more editing and post-production. Naturally, clueless to this reality, kids will see me later in the day after the filming and they’ll ask if the video is ready. Obviously, that would be impossible. Therefore, to buy some time between filming and finally revealing it, I make a little Teaser. Check it out here for yourself:
One of my jobs is to think about all the people involved in the project and then make the credits. I usually break the credits up into 3 types: text PNG’s, credit stills and scrolling credits. Text PNG’s will lay down on top of the video and help to explain what is happening in that scene. Credit stills are pictures of the core team during the event with some text PNG’s on top to introduce and give credit to them for their hard work. Finally scrolling credits will scroll across the video at the end acknowledging everyone involved in the production. The scrolling credits will run beside some b-roll footage (b-roll footage is kind of like behind the scenes, mistakes, bloopers or supplemental video).
As you can clearly see, this will not be an easy undertaking. The three stages: pre-production, production and post-production stages are important stages in the whole process. Hopefully, this post helps to explain how you too, can pull this off at your school!
For you review, below is my UbD planner which houses all three stages succinctly: