Recently, I attended the Media Educators of America Conference, at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. The event provided an opportunity to connect with faculty around some of the important issues primarily related to media literacy.
During a conversation that took place as part of a round table discussion, a teacher asked the group what they felt was more important in a movie making project – Creativity or Technical Literacy. I was a little disappointed at some suggestion that technical literacy was more important, but as the conversation progressed I realized that they were referring to something highlighted by Howard Gardner in his book ‘A Whole New Mind’. Gardner considers creativity as something that only occurs within a mastered discipline.
It makes complete sense that a student must obtain some level of technical literacy in order to produce a creative piece of work (or to produce any work for that matter), however this doesn’t mean that technical literacy must take the driving seat. Personally, I’ve become a little frustrated with the idea that a TV/Video/or Film class is primarily about learning how to operate a camera, capture sound correctly, and successfully migrate to an advanced editing application like Final Cut Pro. With the advances of digital technology, I hope we all appreciate that it is going to become less about how to use the technology, and more about what we do with the technology.
Our current knowledge of creativity suggests that it is an ability that can be cultivated and applied to a variety of disciplines. Here are some suggestions on how this could work in a film project.
For this article we’ll focus on the teaching of camera shots to explore this topic (this is in most state standards). We want students recognize and apply the industry standard definitions for camera views, commonly referred to as a Close Up (CU), Medium Shot (MS) and Long Shot (LS). We want to engage students in discussions about when and why these shots are used, and how they can communicate important information in the story, but we want to avoid the impression that a Long Shot is the only way to establish the location of a scene. Instead, we want students to use their knowledge creatively. The first thing we must do in a movie making project, is establish an environment where students feel comfortable in exploring unique ways that still successfully communicate information. The second thing is to integrate creativity into the teaching of the technology.
Here is a suggestion on how to introduce the latter when taking on camera shots. Have students view a scene from a popular movie that contains lots of information. Work with them to dissect the information contained in the scene and how it is being communicated to the audience (this is technical literacy). Demand that they use industry standard definitions during the conversation (now we’re are touching on the standards) and then when you think they have identified everything that there is (obtained knowledge), challenge them to storyboard alternative ways to deliver the same information using different camera shots and present their version to the class (apply the knowledge creatively). From my experience the students sometimes add some new additions for humor, but this is part of the creative process, as long as they successfully deliver the information in the scene. As an extension you could have the students go out and film the storyboard, but our objective is merely the teaching of camera shots so perhaps a mobile device will suffice.
My favorite resource for this assignment is one of the opening scenes to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. It is the first scene after the opening credits. This scene contains lots of action, and given the challenges of working with Shakespeare’s language, it demands that the filmmaker relies almost entirely on the camera to communicate the information in the story.
If students successfully complete this activity, it is likely that they have applied an understanding of camera shots and used industry standard definitions during their presentation. At the same time, you have introduced the role of storyboards in communicating the visual elements of the scene, and challenged students to be creative in how they use their knowledge of the camera views to deliver information to the audience.
My final suggestion is to explore some of the definitions for creativity, or have your class come up with what they consider as creative (I wrote an article on this with a lesson plan included). Find ways to integrate this definition into all the rubrics you use to evaluate student projects in the class. Try and avoid the following:
- ‘Student was creative in the camera shots they used’
This means nothing! Instead, get specific! For example, if you find a definition that references the words ‘Original’ and ‘Useful’ you could integrate this in the following way:
- ‘Student used an alternative camera shot than what was expected (the student is being original in comparison to their peers). The camera shot was successful in delivering information in the story (the camera shot was had value).
Other ways to foster creativity is to teach specific skills associated with creativity, as identified by E. Paul Torrance (click here for more information about this). This would allow each film assignment to focus on one of the creativity skills, such as:
- Be Original: moving away from the obvious; breaking away from habit bound thinking; the ability to creative novel, different or unusual ideas.
This means that for any activity you created to teach camera shots you would need to provide an opportunity for the students to be original and include this as part of the evaluation process. I’ll stop now, but hopefully you recognize how these examples sill accommodate the idea of giving students a video camera and asking them to capture five different camera shots to demonstrate their knowledge of a CU, MS, and LS, but now we are deliberately incorporating creativity as well as technical literacy as part of the process.