Making Movies with Students: Filming

By Megan Power on November 6, 2009
  • Grades: 3–5


A few weeks ago, I blogged about the planning and storyboarding process while making our class movie about the story, No, David!, written by David Shannon. This week I am focusing on the filming stage and discussing student’s jobs. Take a look at my easy and organized way to help set up students be in charge of the filming process.

Once your movie is storyboarded, you are all ready to begin working on the filming. My students work in groups of three and each group is in charge of two pages from the book. Previously, students storyboarded to get an idea where the actor is going to be in relation to David on the page. They also decided if there will be a close up shot of the person’s face or a full body shot, and everything in between. This process is a huge help during the filming stage.


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Student Jobs

Next, I take time to briefly describe the three jobs that students will have: director, actor, and cinematographer. The actor is the person that will be filmed. The cinematographer works the camera and does the filming. The director is in charge of the whole scene. They need to make sure the actor knows their lines and is in character. It is important to emphasize that all the jobs are important and the movie would not turn out without everyone doing their jobs. In the beginning, students tend to think the director job is not special. After beginning filming, this opinion quickly changes. Take a look at this link to see a video of how another teacher organizes her jobs. (scroll down and click Behind the Scenes)

Once students have an understanding of the jobs I have them decide as a group who will do what job. I find this step very important. I could easily decide for the students or help them pick jobs, but it always turns out better when they are in charge of their decisions. My only rule is that everyone has to agree. Little kids will typically raise their hand for the job and stare at each other waiting for someone else to decide for them. By making them decide and everyone agree, it teaches the students how to communicate and work with others. My students then tell me the agreed jobs and I write them on the back of each storyboard page.


Preparing to Film

If you are going to film a movie where you are putting students into a different location like the pages of a book, you will need a green screen. This can easily be done by using green paper or material. Make sure your actors are not wearing green or they will disappear into the background. You will also need to make sure your editing software has a chroma keying function. I use Pinnacle Studio for my software. (iMovie on newer Macs have a chroma keying function.)



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Filming

Action! My students have learned that movies are put together from lots of small video clips. When filming our movies we will film many small clips that we sequence and put back together later to create our movie. Because they understand this process, they do not get upset about filming the scenes from our book out of order.

During the filming of the first few groups, I might have to step in a little more to help. I especially find I need to assist with directing. While doing this it is important to make sure to explain that what I am doing is the job of the director. This models the job for the children.

For this movie, students have learned to work together and communicate in the following ways to make their filming successful: The director makes sure the actor and cinematographer are both ready. The director then counts silently with their fingers to three and points to the cinematographer. The cinematographer then pushes record which makes a faint beep sound on our camera. This is the clue for the actor to deliver their line. The cinematographer then clicks record again to stop recording and the director gives their actor notes such as speak louder, show more feelings, etc. This continues until the group is happy with their clip. This is a great time to discuss what bloopers are and how professional actors and actresses make tons of mistakes. Your students will have many bloopers because they really want to get their scene perfect.

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Magical Learning!

The only word I can use to describe what happens during filming with students is magical. The students will stun you with how professional and grown up they act during filming. They just naturally get this type of learning. I always wish I had a hidden camera capturing what goes on to show to other teachers. Besides the academic benefit to making a movie like this, students really learn about themselves. This year I had one of my students shine through as a very gifted director. I just stood back and watched her take charge of her scene, pulling the correct volume and action out of the actress. Our actors learned how difficult their job is remembering their lines, looking in the correct direction, speaking loudly, not fidgeting, and so much more. I have had students whose voices trail off as they speak, finally realize it when filming. I have had students not realize that they fidget in a certain way, until they see themselves on film. I have seen students find special talents in lighting and sound they would not have found in the traditional classroom. Students that are typically shy and quiet find their voice on camera and build self confidence that spills over into their regular school day. In short, the work and learning going on during filming is extremely sophisticated. People would be amazed that such young students learn so many basic academic and social skills and can produce such quality work. It is addicting to me and fascinates me every time!


Please feel free to comment with what kinds of projects you are trying in your classroom. Write me with any questions that you have! I am always excited to hear from you.

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