In November 2015, Networking4Youth partnered with Agamjot Singh from CinematikOne on a short film production. The goal of the film was to collect, sort and create brief descriptions from 2015 tech-related youth events. Images appeared across social media sites and lacked a central location.
We quickly discovered that gathering the data was the easiest part of film production.
More challenging was sifting through the images and selecting “optimal” photos. How do we define “optimal”? At first, I thought optimal was clarity, perspective and finished products. Examples of finished products in our 300+ photos included: 3D printed ducks, 3D printed signs, engraved hockey pucks, a functioning Lego Mindstorm.
We then had to narrow our choice from 300 photos to 40. How do we make the choice?
Optimal, as we began to discover in the following months of reflection, is not finished products. Ideal images demonstrate process, action and partners engaged.
Six Lessons Learned from Short Film Production
In the first few versions of our film, we included many happy kids holding hockey pucks proudly bearing their names. Cute idea, right? Upon closer examination, we missed the story. The internet-connected, portable laser printing machine that produced the pucks IS the story. This “super-printer” reflects a profitable industry, producing endless possibilities for new and global business merchandising.
Other examples of manufacturing tools? 3D design software (Tinkercad), sound production studio (Fuel Technology), Makey Makey circuit boards, illustrated instructions on how to build a LEGO robot connected to a smartphone.
Our film endeavors to answer some basic process question: Which tools are used in the creative process? We hope our film will guide viewers to creation tools.
The term “innovation” is frequently used to describe STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) activities. Is our film on innovation or makerspaces? What is replicable? reproducible? Maker Spaces are physical, concrete spaces. They can be created by individuals or teams. Makerspaces IS the story. Innovation is abstract. We hope our viewers reproduce makerspace activities in their own communities.
Is the location of the event – say Southway Hotel or Lansdowne Park – as instructive to viewers as partners engaged by Jewish Family Services and Britannia Woods Community House? Arguably, diversity of people and diversity of experiences on site is the story.
Final photos selected in our film demonstrate a cross-section of partners engaged, including parents. An image of a child & parent learning together arguably serves a greater function and message than a child learning a new skill on his/her own. By adding name and title in our film (as can be seen on left side of the screen – we read from left to right) viewers are introduced in a casual way to politicians, professors, teachers, and community partners engaged in the process of teaching our kids to code.
Re-tweets can be viewed as introductions in the virtual room. Twitter can illustrate two-way conversations with producers of maker tools (for example, Scratch Foundation) and stakeholders such as local, national and international makerspaces. We curated images that reflect dual level of partner engagement: community partners were engaged in real time and tool makers were engaged through social media sites.
Passage of Time
Typically, passage of time uses such markers as we did “x” and then did “x” and followed by “y”. How do we demonstrate evolution and stages of development without “after that” and “following” and “two months later”. We decided the best way to demonstrate the passage of time was to use Part I, Part II and Part III (with months attached to each section). Passage of time can reflect larger project goals and sustained commitment.
Is a picture useful if the viewer cannot identify a person or activity in the film? Arguably, a picture is only useful if it can be placed in a broader context.
In our film, the image of a camper marking an “x” on a piece of colored construction paper is identified as playing a pixilation activity (graphic design skill) and the camper making arrows facing up, down and sideways is identified as playing an error detection game (computer science skill).
Tech companies and their mission statements were labelled for educational purposes. Shopify for example is identified in the film as an e-commerce and business-to-consumer (B2C) company and Prototype D is an example of a small company working on sustainable development and renewable energy projects. If we miss labelling the basic functions of these companies, we miss our educational purpose.
Music, Color & Font
Kids are more likely to engage with tools that are colorful, fun and gender neutral. Do specific colors engender feelings of fun and warmth and love? Which colors are used most frequently by toy manufacturers? Toy colors include purple and orange shades. We used a purple theme. According to research purple implies creative, imaginative and nostalgic.
Small to medium font size is important not to distract too greatly from the picture. The image is more interesting to the viewer than text. The font size is clear, rounded, straight (with the letters as stand alone, not interconnected like script). Text is readable only to the point that it encourages the viewer to spend more time looking at the picture.
Music was perhaps the most challenging part of making a film. Royalty free music is available on websites such as Incompetech. If the music is too slow, we can lose the viewer even if we’ve followed all of the steps listed above (action-oriented and educational pictures). If the music is fast and grating, we risk losing interest and audience.
After working so diligently on creating a compelling and cohesive storyline, how do we apply a piece (or pieces) of music that feels upbeat, light, joyful, happy and not loopy and repetitive? Music selection was the longest process and most difficult choice to make.
I listen a lot more carefully these days to the background music in documentaries, drama, comedy, animation and ask myself: Does the choice of music reflect the mood of the storyline? Is the sound calm and receding in the background and does it enhance the mood and enjoyment of the story?
We were compelled to re-think the creative process over a 3 month time frame until we could answer the following questions with certainty: What is our story? What is our message? And which pictures tell our story best? Good luck with your creative process! Maybe this reflection can help you save a few steps when you start to create your own short film.