Discover content & activities to learn about, teach, and create compelling stories & visual communication.

30 (or so) Minute Film School

Okay: we can’t teach you in one post everything you could learn in film school, but here are a few techniques you can use to approach creating video.

These enjoyable-to-watch examples spotlight styles that are well-suited to quickly creating short, online videos with a small crew.

Film Techniques

Interview


What it is:
An interview with an on-camera subject and an off-camera interviewer. Note: the subject is looking off camera speaking at the interviewer who is seated just outside frame.

When to use it:
Use it when you want to share a first person story, or want to develop an idea through multiple viewpoints. It’s credible, personal, and can be compelling. But, cast well: choose subjects with charisma.

Monologue


What it is:
One person telling a story. Either talking to the camera or to a character / interviewer off-screen.

When to use it:
Pragmatically, it’s great if you are alone and need to convey an idea. Like an interview it can be personal and credible. If it is a good story it can also be fascinating, but beware, monologues can get very boring (and they are generally over-used). Short and sweet. Few are as compelling as Robert Shaw (the actor in the above clip).

Sketch (Visual) and Narration


What it is:
Sketch onscreen, with voice over narration audio.

When to use it:
Again, you can do it by yourself. It is important that you are good at sketching or at least can convey an idea visually. It tends to be compelling because the audience gets two streams of information (the visual sketch and the aural voice) for sense-making—this can be attention grabbing.

 Action and Reflection


What it is:
Action unfolds, then the characters involved in the story provide their understanding of it.

When to use it:
This can be a useful style because the audience gets to absorb the action, then gets a dose of meaning. You can use this technique for video or audio. The radio show “This American Life” uses it extensively.

Single Shot

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnOa7qmv1xw
What it is:
Shoot the whole video in one shot.

When to use it:
This is a useful style if you want to avoid editing (for time or resource constraints). When it works well, it keeps the action moving and the audience involved. The shot can take a while to set up, so plan ahead to get it right and be prepared to do several takes. But when you’re done with the shot, you’re done.

No Frills

Clip from Dogville
What it is:
A style that is self-consciously “low-fi” or even “low-rent.” Video with a unadulterated DIY aesthetic.

When to use it:
As with all of these, use it when the aesthetic fits your goals: if being DIY communicates the essence of what you are trying to communicate, use it. Establish the style in the first frame and be consistent throughout. A viewer can accept all kinds of strange things as long as they are consistent.

Direct Direct Appeal to the Camera

Clip from Blair Witch Project
What it is:
A person (or persons) speak directly to the camera as if speaking to an individual.

When to use it:
This is probably the most often used style for videos that require an action from a viewer—say, in a Kickstarter campaign where the video is an appeal to contribute money to a project. Plusses: it’s highly personal and gets right to the point.



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