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Project Based Learning: My Filmmaking Studio

Welcome to the third post in our series on Project Based Learning (PBL). Before jumping on this blog post to discover the secrets of filmmaking in the classroom, we recommend that you read the first two posts in this series, PBL: The Approach and My Podcast Station.

It should be noted that this series was born with the intention of covering PBL in the foreign language classroom, but this model can be applied in any other subject area, since it has been shown that the proposed projects can be applied in any other area with positive results.

At the end of the day, these projects are a tool to develop a series of skills and learn content.

In this way, the skills and content can be changed and modified depending on the area of knowledge you want to work on during the project.

Our Model

We would like to go over, as we did in past publications, the model that we apply in the classroom when we develop any of the four projects that we are going to explain in this series.

When organizing tasks for the project, we do it in three parts: Pre-production, production and post-production

Pre-production: In this stage, we carry out all the activities that will help with the creation of the content. This stage includes all the actions we need to take before pressing the record button. From the creation of rundowns, scripts, configuration of the platforms to the composition of the music or scenarios.

Production: This stage focuses on creating the content of our project. This content can be recordings for the podcast, videos for our film, images for our theater, or interviews for our newspaper.

Post-production: This stage houses all editing and change activities before delivering the final product. During this time, we can see students working on editing the videos or dumping the information collected in their newspaper.

In each of these three stages, students have different roles within the group. The group roles are designed so that at the end of the project the students have worked on "future-ready skills" such as communication, critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, leadership skills or social and emotional learning skills.

The Power of Filmmaking in the Classroom

How many of us have been hooked on a movie or a series to the point where we couldn't stop watching it?

That is the power of attraction that a movies and shows have. But it not only attracts the consumer but also hook the people who are in charge of making these productions.

“I became a director just for the love of movies, because of the power of cinema” Antoine Fuqua.

Film productions, whether they are full movies or videos, have been used in the classroom since long time ago. This kind of cinematographic material can be used in two diferent ways in the classroom: The student as a consumer or the student as a creator.

Many are the movie directors like Steven Spielberg who relate how his knowledge on different topics has grown because of his movies. Directors, screenwriters and actors have to study their roles, learn about how their characters live, their culture, their history, their life, their times...

The learning achieved when a film is planned and made by the people involved in it can be compared to the learning obtained in any subject taught in a formal educational system.

If the learning power of a movie is overwhelming, why not use it in the classroom as an educational tool?

Why not strengthen our knowledge and develop our skills with a film as a catalyst?

Do you want to learn more about the power of filmmaking in the classroom? You can check out this very interesting podcast.

The Pre-Production Stage

The Pre-production stage of the project is the most important part of this activity. We are great advocates of the importance of planning activities before they begin, a belief that we convey to our students on a daily basis.

What at first may seem "a waste of time" in the long run, gives our project dynamism and coherence. When we invest time in planning, we are minimizing the potential problems that may arise in the future and also, we will avoid a dozen pauses to resolve conflicts arising from a lack of synchronization or communication within the group.

Can you imagine that Steven Speilberg will start recording one of his movies without having planned every moment of it in detail?

Or that the famous Quentin Tarantino did not spend time preparing his films, they would not have the complexity and the large number of hidden details that his famous creations have.

The first step is to decide what kind of film we want to make, what message we want to convey to the public and how we are going to do it. There are endless types of films with different characteristics that adapt better or worse to the message and style that each group chooses for their short film.

Once the type of film and the message they want to deliver have been chosen, it is time to distribute the roles for this part of the project and get directly into the creation of the script.

For the creation of the script we used what is called "Seven Point Story Structure".

What is the “Seven Point Story Structure”? It is a tool used by many filmmaking academies to teach directors, in a simplified way, to create the timeline of their story.

Do you want to learn more about the “Seven-Point Story Structure”? Visit this blogpost

One of the characteristics of a good teacher is to understand the level of knowledge and skills of their students to adapt the complexity of the tasks and tools that are provided to them. In this way, we can adapt the “seven-point story structure” to the needs of our students. If we are looking for something more complex we may want to use the movie structure called “Three-Act Structure” that is explained below:

On the other hand, if we are looking for something simpler, we recommend using the “Nine Sentence Story” which is explained below:

If we follow the "Nine Sentece Story", students will write three sentences for each part of the story, giving a total of nine.

It is important to understand that all three the "Seven-point Story Structure" , the "Three-Act Structure" and the "Nine Sentece Story" are only guides that will serve to structure the story in order to carry out the "StoryBoard" that is going to be the cornerstone from which our short film will be built.

The Storyboard is the key to the film, it is where the students will express their ideas in detail by drawing and planning each of the scenes that they will have in their film, as we can see in the following example:

Example from the Filmmaking Dossier from the Utah Film Center

This example is in Spanish since it is the one we use in our classes, here there are some other examples of storyboards you can use in your class in english.

In the storyboard, the members of the group have to pay attention to the different angles that their scenes can have. For this, they are given a document with some suggested angles such as the following:

We cannot forget the importance of the roles within the group. Roles are very important since they help to organize and distribute the different tasks the group needs to accomplish. Following this idea, these are the roles that the members of the group have during the pre-production stage:

The Production Stage

Due to the great work done in pre-production, the production part should be easy for our students. During the first phase of this project, they have chosen the film's settings, written the script and structured their film in a coherent way through the planning documents and the storyboard.

In the production part, students focus on the production of their content. In this case, the recordings that will be used later for the creation of your movie will be made.

As mentioned above, in each phase of the development of our project (pre-production, production and post-production) the roles of the participants change completely.

For the production stage these are the roles that we are going to use:

The Post-Production Stage

In the stage of Post-Production, we are going to focus on the creation of the final product by putting together the content created in the production stage. To complete this task, we change the roles of the students again:

During this stage, students will edit the video using different kind of software (explained later in this post), add the music and finalize the details to present the project to the teacher and the class.

Our Filmmaking Studio

Thanks to a grant from the STEM department of the Utah State Office of Education, we have been able to create our own Filmmaking Studio at our school:

This is the gear we used to transform one of our rooms into a filmmaking studio

If you don't have a big budget and you are looking for cheaper options we have selected some ideas that may help you to design a filmmaking studio at an affordable price: