Sunday, February 8, 2009

Film on the Fly

About a month ago I saw a tweet about a cell phone film fest sponsored by the Discovery Channel Education. Last summer I saw Hall Davidson speak at NECC about using cell phones and I was captivated by all of the possibilities of teaching and learning with these devices. His sentiments were much like that of Liz Kolb's: don't try and fight them, use them to your advantage!

Back to the film fest. After commenting to a colleague that I have felt like a hypocrite lately (as I assign video projects and teach about filmmaking). It seems I haven't had the time to make a movie with a new baby and family- blah, blah, bah... it's been a long time.

Insert Film of the Fly cellphone festival into my Saturday afternoon. Janet English did a marvelous job of getting the word out, starting up the ning, and although there were not as many movies made as I would have liked to have seen, it was still a great start. I think the blogs will be buzzing about this one and there will be more participation for her next event: Pi Day!

This event was simple, you get a text message (and an email as backup- great idea Janet!) and a prompt. This time it was:  Everything changed when the box mysteriously arrived at my doorstep. I was hooked instantly. With phone and tripod in hand I was off. 

11 hours later I had filmed, edited, added voiceovers, and exported to 3g format for viewing on cellphones. I wanted this to be readily uploaded to anyone's phone to watch as well. The finished product is called Nap Time Espionage. You can watch it below. 

Classroom Integration

I have done a similar unit with my multi-media class last October. It was called Cellywood. Students made two films, and each time I let them suggest themes which we voted on using our cell phones from One theme was international spies, and the other was about stopping bullying. Students could use their cellphones, digital cameras with video feature, or any of the readily available and cheap video recorders such as the Flip, and Zodak Zi6. It was a big hit! 

The "I want to try this next week" Scoop on Cell Phone Movies
Here's the real deal about using this technology. I experienced, and lived through some technical difficulties that the new-to-technology teacher who has never done something like this before, would find VERY frustrating. 

1. Bluetooth is great for transferring video from a cell phone, but only certain cell phones (like motorola) have an easy drag and drop folder structure in the phone. LG phones and Samsung phones were very challenging. I was using iMacs for all of this. Not all USB connections work with the phone and the computer either. Solution: get the student to try to connect their phone BEFORE they start shooting the project. A workaround for students who are stuck with footage they can't get off their camera is to email themselves the clips. In Canada, students who had Telus and Bell had the most success with this. In the end, I gave out my Motorola Razor phone to many groups, so start asking your staff and friends to donate old phones with video to your class. Make sure you only take them if they have a charger! 

2. Framing shots for the movie. Talk to the students about using a lot of close-ups instead of long-shots. A good mix of medium and close-ups is a good idea. Due to the poor resolution of the video, it will be difficult to see action from far away. Waist up, or about 6 ft away is about the max they should shoot from. 

3. The sound sucks on the phones, so suggest students do voiceovers in Garageband or other program after the fact, and take out the sound from the video altogether. If they NEED the sound, they should be very close to the phone. 

4. Movement is the enemy. I know this is contrary to the point of video, but the more the movement, the grainier the footage. The pixels need to be refreshed faster than the processor in the phone can handle and things don't settle down in the clips until the movement stops. Keeping the phone still in a rigged up tripod with tape is a great idea to help with this. 

5. Settings, settings, settings! Don't forget the settings. Most phones have settings that will allow you to take longer videos and adjust the quality. My Motorola Razor (Telus doesn't have the iPhone yet!) had a default capture time of 10 seconds, so I had to change it to allow longer clips to be recorded. 

Curricular Connections
Is this something that could be a meaningful, positive experience and still be meeting outcomes in the curriculum? You bet. Last semester in my Shakespeare unit with Taming of the Shrew, I had students use Kodak Zi6's to record their interpretation of a short scene from the play. The broad issue of my TOTS unit is to discover whether attitudes and stereotypes of women have changes from Shakespeare's day to now.  From selected scenes, students took the original language and put it into a modern setting of a school. It was part interpretation, part Reader's Theatre. They then had to post their video on the wiki along with a mind map created from which displayed their research from an original source text called The Good and the Baddle

Nap Time Espionage

One of the Bully Videos

So give it a try, keep it connected to the curriculum and remember to have fun! Let me know how things go, I'd love to see and share exemplars and rubrics with anyone out there.

1 comment:

  1. Great synopsis and next steps, CoolPool! You did a great job on your video and you helped us prepare for the next project on 3.14. Thank you! Earth Day in April will be our focus after that -there are many opportunities we can "fly around. Sign up at!