Characteristics of Video Production Texts and Classrooms
Compared to conventional print orientated classrooms, the video production classroom and the texts produced in them are marked by three significant characteristics: they are multimodal, use different writing technologies, and the students write socially and collaboratively. While all writing has these characteristics to a certain degree, the video production classroom highlights them even more so.
In this section I will examine these three characteristics in relation to the student video production “The Haunted School” (seen above).
Video production offers students uncommon opportunities to express themselves in a variety of modalities– written print, speech, gesture, spatial arrangement, visuals, and sound. This is one of the reasons why video is so powerful– it engages the viewer in multiple ways. In some ways, students don’t just write these video texts, they design and produce them into existence. The videos have to be imagined, talked about, negotiated, put into different forms (script, enactment, digital video) and each of these transformations involve different modes (print, speech, video, sound, and more).
From my experiences in the after-school program, I have found that some students are quite talented at communicating a story visually where they might struggle using traditional print. One student, Peter (a pseudonym), has been in special education classes all through elementary school and has limited writing ability compared to his peers, yet, he has written two of the finest scripts– yes, text based scripts– that the video club has seen. For Peter, it is natural for him to visualize what he wants to see on the screen and when he writes his scripts he uses an economy of words in plain language to quickly describe a scene, action, and dialog. With scripts of such quality and interest there is no shortage of students wanting to participate and make the video. His work attracts the best actors and directors.
“The Haunted School” (above) was first written in an “A/V” format– audio and video listed side by side. It is a very basic format that describes, shot by shot, what will be seen and heard. The production grew much more complex when the crew decided that all of the audio and sounds were going to be done in post-production– after the shooting was done. The voices are all dubbed, the natural sounds such as footsteps, doors creaking, and even the “silence” of the room was painstakingly done afterwards. In this film you can clearly see the multiple modes in play: dialog, written text (script), visuals (objects, places, people), spatial arrangement (framing of shots), audio cues.
Different Writing Technologies
Like all forms of writing, video production involves the use of technologies as tools in the writing process– and lets face it– many teachers are scared to death of some of these technologies. In the design and creation a video, students will employ pencils, paper, video cameras, tripods, dry erase boards, still cameras, computers and software, speakers, microphones, digital sound recorders, and a variety of stage props and settings. Pencils, paper, and dry erase boards seem easy enough but what about video cameras?– video editing software?– digital sound recorders? For some teachers, this is an immediate deal-breaker. They feel they don’t have the time, energy, and background to learn how these tools work. This is unfortunate, however, it an obstacle that must be acknowledged and addressed.
Teachers can learn to master these tools the same way kids will– by using them in meaningful ways. Playing with the tools is a good start and there’s nothing wrong with reading the manual but using them to accomplish a task is a surefire path towards mastery.
In “The Haunted School,” students were exposed to portable digital sound recorders for the first time. There was definitely a learning curve and the greatest challenge was probably file management. The sound editors went out to record a gate rattling or a can being kicked and came back with multiple takes of each. When they imported the sounds into the computer, they all had arbitrary names such as “audiowav008.wav” and had to be heard again just to understand what it was and if it was usable. Files had to be renamed, deleted, moved, etc. During editing, students had to work with many files in multiple formats. As always, once a student learned how to do a task, they were expected to teach others to perform them.
Social and Collaborative Writing
The social nature of writing is clearly evident in video work. Video productions are completed through a fascinating system of cooperation, negotiation, and compromise. After watching the process, it is easy to recognize that no video is completed alone– the camera operator, director, and actors are a team. When writing scripts and even during video and sound editing, students rarely work alone preferring to write and edit in pairs. There are many opportunities for students to contribute something to a production and their contributions matter.
Video production naturally employs an overt master/apprentice model and the teacher is only one of many people in the process who instruct and give feedback. Within these social interactions are important moments where students give feedback, assistance, and criticism to each other and move the production in specific directions. These moments are where the writing happens.
“The Haunted School” set the bar high on video post-production work and soon students were routinely incorporating voice overdubs and sound effects into their productions. The editor of the film became the de facto instructor for these techniques. The Haunted School” was written in early October and was intended to be a Halloween movie, however, due to the complexities of the production (particularly sound) it wasn’t finished until Spring Break!