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A Focus on the Writing that Happens in Video Production

Written by Chuck Jurich
February 16, 2011

At first glance, it is possible to understate the writing that takes place in video production. Students are constantly contributing to the final product– whether it be revising the script or editing shot footage– but there is also a great amount of “downtime” where students must wait for crew members to prepare, setup, clarify, and so on. The crew can get noisy and they appear disorganized and even “out of control” by traditional school standards.

While the video club often looks and sounds like play, I argue that there is serious writing going on. Sometimes this writing is obvious as in a completed screenplay– an impressive document in its own right– but other times it takes a careful eye to see the brilliance of the students’ work. Evidence of solid writing happens when viewers watch 40 seconds of video, unconscious that the editor has carefully arranged 15 clips seamlessly pushing the story along or when we see a compelling sequence and we’re completely unaware of the camera. When the viewer forgets they’re watching video and are instead invested in a story, that’s when the students have done their best work.

Often with video in schools and classrooms, students are merely in front of the camera and adults do the technical work but this is not the case in our Video Club. Students do the jobs behind the camera as well– it is 100% kid work. They write the scripts, they operate the cameras, they move the mouse. Watching a student production, you will see all kinds of mistakes– flubbed lines, rough tracking shots, an accidental “cut” still left in– but there are also mistakes that only the kids see because they have trained their eyes and minds to see it. They recognize continuity issues, pacing problems, and misaligned audio while the viewers are often oblivious, engaged in stories, memorable scenes, and beautiful shots. Viewers may be impressed with the flashy parts of a film but the kids are more proud of the moves they make that viewers don’t see at all, the ones that matter to make a great video. Their favorite parts are almost invisible to the casual viewer.

Mastery over the technical tools of video production is desirable but not enough to produce a great video. Students also have to know how to construct a good narrative, how to develop interesting dialog, how to use rhythm, and a thousand other things that are no different than conventional print. The difference is that the video production crew can use sound and light to create mood while the novelist uses words alone. Its important to remember that video production has unique characteristics but it is ultimately writing, like any other.

After working with young children and video for nearly four years, I am beginning to see particular occasions in the video production process as critical reading/viewing moments. These moments are extremely important in the process because this is where students read/view the text in progress and give critical feedback that shapes the collaborative writing/rewriting to follow. It tends to happen through oral communication and as a result has an inherent social component to it.

In the next two sections I will highlight two specific examples of critical collaboration that occur in the video making process. One is while setting up a shot and the other involves executing a voice overdub.

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