It’s a word that gets attached to many other words. It’s a powerful and thought-provoking modifier. Dream job. Dream vacation. Dream spouse. I suppose that most would equate it with something that has the qualities of an ideal state, a near-perfect condition, outcome, or result. As media educators, we often deal with realities that are a far-cry from the ideal. With tight-budgets, NCLB, the impossible struggle to keep up with changes in software and hardware, and the ever-present challenges associated with educating students who occupy a wide spectrum in terms of both aptitude and attitude, we probably only find rare occasions to use the term DREAM (DayDREAMing doesn’t count).
Is it possible that a DREAM Project exists? Now there’s a thought. It’s the Holy Grail of media education, is it not? But is it out there? Maybe. If someone asked you to describe a dream vacation, undoubtedly a long chain of descriptors would follow: sunny beaches, gentle breezes, no cell phones, and of course, free food. But what do the descriptors of a dream project look like? I’ll type as you shout them out. What’s that? Challenging, OK. Multifaceted in terms of both software and hardware, good. Others? Yes sir, you in the back—a little louder. Did you say ‘something that will end up in their reel’? Absolutely. Anyone else? Something that involves a serious approach to pre-production, especially writing? Excellent.
This list would easily exceed the space allotted for this article. But here comes the payoff: The project I am proposing may be as close to a dream project as you can get. But here comes the caveat. It’s not really a project, rather more of a large composite of many smaller projects. It involves serious pre-production, writing, creative storytelling, legal issues (such as releases), location scouting, lighting, advanced camera work, editing, perhaps compositing, Photoshop work, DVD authoring, audio mixing and sweetening, sound effects, and more. Does this sound too good to be true? For once, it’s not.
It’s interesting how one economic factor can affect and even cause many other smaller industries. Consider housing construction. The size of the feeding chain of businesses from contractors all the way down to realtors is staggering. This dream project is similar, in that it consists of a large primary core with many ancillary spinoffs. Enough already with the analogies and the build up. What is it, you ask? The dream project could be called The Film Short Total Package. Film short? All of this for a film short? Yes and no, and mostly no. The central core of this project is a film short, somewhere between a five and under-thirty-minute production. Length here is not the issue. The film short itself is a comprehensive project, involving copious amounts of pre-production, tremendous amounts of production, and a serious investment of time in post. But let’s look further. Where the real beauty of this dream project comes in is with the related media projects that this will spawn.
As we approach this film (let’s drop the word ‘short’ as it often diminishes the impression and value of the work), let’s ask ourselves, how can this be used to lead to other supporting media? Think about a feature-length film release. Most people first become aware of an exciting new film from viewing a trailer online or as a theatrical preview. Bingo. Have your students create a trailer or two for their film. Better yet, have them edit a trailer at the beginning of the post phase, before they begin serious editing work on the film, as this is similar to the industry. What else do feature length movies use? Posters. Have them create one or two movie posters for their film in Photoshop. Unless they are shooting in HD, they will probably have to use a digital still-camera to get high-quality images that can hold up to the size of a poster print. Screen grabs from SD video will be too pixelated at movie poster size. What else do we need? How about a radio spot or two promoting the film. This is a great way to get them into multitrack audio editing, and have them adhere to exact, industry lengths (:60, :30, or :15). Plus, creating trailers and radio spots forces more writing, which is one thing they need more experience with (and is also the one thing they try to avoid at all costs).
Anything else? How about distribution and packaging. Have them author a DVD of the film, with special features, including deleted scenes, interviews with the cast, trailers, and perhaps even a still gallery of either storyboards, movie posters, or both. Any professional DVD needs an attractive label on the DVD face, and every DVD box needs an attractive cover designed. Show them the importance of a unified look between their DVD label and the DVD box. DVD covers can use SD-quality screen grabs if kept small enough, so they can litter the back of the box with scenes from their raw footage. Finally, they need to export web-friendly streams in various formats for the web, such as Flash video (flv), Quicktime, and Windows Media versions, in various bitrates/quality.
As I move my students into this comprehensive undertaking, I have them keep a production binder with all of the talent releases, location releases, scripts, storyboards, and other supporting written materials. Even if they shoot on school grounds, I have them go through the process of meeting with the principal/director/superintendent to sign location releases, and if other students help, releases on them as well. At the end of this undertaking, we hold a small film festival, and I have a local printer output their posters and I place them around the venue. I also have multiple copies of the DVD’s and their cases printed on display. Besides the pride and prestige that flows from having their work showcased, it also inspires the younger classmen to have another good reason to return to the program the following year. With the parents there at the festival, it is instant validation of what their children have learned in our programs (but yet somehow fail to tell their family about). Our programs are often the best kept secret in the community.
A dream project? You judge. I would say that as far as hitting all of the bases, this one’s a grand slam.
Randy McWilson is the Digital Media Instructor at the Cape Girardeau Career & Technology Center, Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He has aB.A. in Mass Communications from Southeast Missouri State University (1991)and has been teaching digital media since Aug. 2000. National Education Team for the Television (Video) Production Contest for SkillsUSA Nationals. Coordinator for the Missouri State SkillsUSA contest in Television (Video) Production.