Video Lesson: Film Fights are alternative assignments to help students hone video skills

I’ve been out a few times this year for journalism conventions, which means I need a lesson plan for my Intermediate TV kids who stay behind. If they are in between projects, I want something fast and easy, requiring little supervision. But I want to be sure they are practicing shot composition and sequencing: the storytelling techniques they need when producing news and feature packages. So, when I was at the JEA/NSPA convention in April, my freshmen and sophomores participated in a Film Fight.

The prompt: Your protagonist just wants to accomplish one simple thing, but it all just keeps going horribly wrong! Shoot your sequence. Then edit the story in reverse. The last scene becomes the first, the first scene becomes the last, and so on. If you’ve seen the film “Memento,” you get the idea. No more than 4 to a group. Shoot for a finished piece of 2 minutes maximum.

When they finished, we watched and judged. I had the students reflect on four elements:

  1. Sequencing: does the sequence relate to the prompt in a creative and clear manner?
  2. Editing: are the scenes edited backwards to full effect? Is the technique understandable and meaningful?
  3. Audio: are the levels appropriate for natural sound and voice over?
  4. Visual: are there a variety of shots, including wide, medium, close-up, high and low angles, depth?

I can’t take credit for the idea. A student introduced me to filmfights.com. Users submit films based on the prompt, or “fight,” of the week. Viewers vote on the best film in that fight category. The prompts are broad enough to elicit a lot of creativity. If you look at the site in class, be sure to preview the films for language and other content. I didn’t share the site with my underclassmen, just the premise.

My students enjoyed the process. It took them about four days to shoot and edit. It was a break from creating the “newsier” pieces the curriculum calls for, but the project still reinforced the skills needed for any kind of digital storytelling.

Susan Houseman

Susan Houseman co-advises the Spoke newspaper and teaches broadcast journalism at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, PA. She was the 2013 PA Journalism Teacher of the Year. She also serves as the vice president of the Pennsylvania School Press Association and the PA state director for JEA. Houseman worked as professional broadcast journalist at both NBC and ABC affiliates before becoming a teacher.

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