Back To School – a video project

The dream sequence has been a popular visual tool since the inception of motion pictures. In a dream sequence, the videographer or filmmaker deliberately distorts the images (and often the sound as well) to create a surreal, dream-like effect.

To see how far a huge special effects budget can take the dream sequence, check out movies like "Contact" or "Altered States." Thankfully, you don't need a seven-digit production budget to create a gripping dream sequence in your video.

The following storyboard, "Back to School," gives you a chance to shoot a fun, no-budget dream sequence. In "Back to School," a man finds himself in that all-too-familiar nightmare of being back in grade school wearing nothing but his underwear. A bad report card and a heckling bully complete the bad dream, which ends with an unexpected twist.

All you need to shoot "Back to School" is a male actor willing to parade around in his boxer trunks, a supporting cast of meanies and access to a school hallway. For best effect, have the three additional actors dress--and act--like rambunctious kids.

To create a dreamy look for shots 3 through 12, try shooting:

•    with a slow shutter speed (1/15th of a second or slower);
•    with a strobe effect;
•    through diffusion (try a woman's sheer nylon over the lens);
•    in black and white;
•    with petroleum jelly applied to screw-on accessory lens;
•    through a distorted "lens" (glass tumbler, plastic wrap, etc.).

To enhance the dreamy effect, try running your camcorder's audio through an inexpensive effects processor as you edit or dub shots 3 through 12. Adding long reverb, distinct echo or flange will give sounds like laughter and slamming lockers an eerie, dream-like effect. To further enhance the audio program of the dream sequence:

•    add eerie music
•    dub in sound effects of busy school locker room or kids playing in schoolyard
•    dub in sound of man breathing, breaths reacting to on-screen action

To really sell these aural effects, try running them through the same audio processor. Remember that there's only so much you can do with special effects to draw in the viewer--really connecting with your audience requires effective on-screen performances. Encourage your "actors" to have fun with their roles, being very animated in their actions and expressions. "Back to School" flies or flops based on the believability of the main character.

Oh, by the way, upload the results to your Vimeo or YouTube accounts, then send the link to us. We'd love to see what you come up with. Who knows?  There might be a prize involved for the most creative!

Enough pre-production. Let's get shooting!


[Storyboard captions]

1.    MS: Man gets into bed; lamp and alarm clock are visible in background.
2.    CU: Getting comfortable, he smiles contentedly, yawns and reaches over to shut off lamp. Cut to black.
3.    ECU: Fade up on man's bewildered face. Zoom back to wide shot of man in school hallway, still in underwear. Spying something familiar, he walks toward lockers.
4.    MS: Man enters frame, finds old locker and tries combination. It opens.
5.    CU: Inside, he finds less-then-stellar report card.
6.    MCU: Hearing laughter, man turns and looks behind him.
7.    WS: Three adult "kids" laugh and point from other side of hall. The tallest man struts towards camera, the other two follow.
8.    MS: Pointing at report card, bully laughs even harder. Suddenly, bully's mood turns serious.
9.    CU: Bully grabs man by the neck, slams him up against lockers.
10.    MCU: Bare feet dangling above floor, man drops report card. It flutters down and rests on floor.
11.    MS: A school bell shatters the silence. Both men look upward, above camera.
12.    CU: School clock.
13.    Dissolve or cut to closeup of bedside alarm clock. Hand reaches into frame, silencing bell.
14.    MCU: Content it was just a bad dream, man flops back on pillow. His eyes open wide as he feels something under the pillow.
15.    MS: Man sits upright into frame, holding report card. His expression is one of fear and surprise. He looks at camera. Fade to black.

Key to Abbreviations: CU Closeup ECU Extreme closeup MCU Medium closeup MS Medium shot. WS Wide shot