Writing a script and shooting a short film on video in the classroom (Greta)

Making video films with teenagers
by Sergi Flotats i Vicens, to be published in TESOL Video Interest magazine, May 2000

 For the last ten years, I’ve been trying to develop whatever strategies may trigger a motivated attitude among our teenage pupils. So far, one of the best ways to create a good atmosphere in the classroom has been by writing a film script and shooting it on video. It’s been fun, and most pupils have participated in a very active way. The whole project may use up a total of 30 hours for five to ten minutes of  edited film material.
The first step is to make them decide and choose an appropiate genre or a subject. You can use a warming-up questionnaire on cinema knowledge, habits and preferences, but that will depend on how much time you've got. Remember that you'll need most of it to write the script, which takes long and is a very demanding job.
 Next, we must create a story or plot, which may use an hour to start outlining and writing it down, and another hour to come up with a good development and an end. It won’t be necessary at this point to tie up all loose ends, and you can just leave the story open. You can always improve the development as you go along writing the script. Using their mother tongue at this stage won’t be a problem and it will help spark their imagination. Just elicit a translation with suitable English structures on the blackboard.
 You must establish some limits in order to be able to shoot the scenes. Make them think of the props they’ll need, of the possibilities in length of time and facilities available. Though you could do otherwise, the number of parts played in the film should be the same as the number of pupils you've got in your group. Try to elicit the names of the characters as soon as you can. That naming will make your students interested from the start, and soon you'll realise you start calling them by both their real and fake names.
The writing of the script is the core of the activity. Tell them the difference between dialogues, stage directions (we write them in brackets) and performance notes. Sometimes the pupils are a bit shy and it may be difficult to warm them up. To do so  involves a lot of work by the teacher, suggesting ideas and forcing translations into English, so that they use the language they know and also learn a few new words, but not too many. I really think that drilling sentence patterns is quite necessary with teenagers, because it really helps them develop formal cognitive strategies, which is what , more often  than not, we find lacking in them.
You can also add production tips so everything will be easily organised when you start shooting. You can also appoint staff and crew jobs, though that depends on the time you’ve got left. They can always share responsibilities with the camera, the settings and props, depending on who’s acting in each scene and who’s not. Either at this point or before, you can feed them with some vocabulary about cinema, so they'll know words such as “pan shot”, “views”, “props”, “travelling”, “close-up”, but shooting is always easy with a still camera on a  tripod, not allowing it to focus and refocus too often. A shooting schedule can help but is not necessary. You can always remind them about the next shooting date with some tips at the end of every  session.
You can first rehearse every scene a couple of times by reading the script aloud to correct pronunciation and intonation. Some students learn their lines by heart, but most tire of it soon. Let them read their lines. A shooting schedule always allows pupils to memorize just a few lines for a specific day, and you can always find out ways of letting them read the words from a blackboard or a notebook. What you’ll have to do is remind them almost  to shout the words aloud. In our case, the camera is rather a bit deaf and it’s hard to hear , specially when we shoot in outdoor settings.
 You can edit the film yourself or make someone do it or let the students do it. Whatever your choice, once you’ve got it done, it’s nice to have a premiére open to their other schoolmates as well. One of the advantages of this activity is the fact that it combines a great amount of linguistic operations that will help develop formal reasoning, the use of all four language skills, and also a strong feeling of group work, self-esteem and independence. I really think that fiction can help in teenage construction of a new identity in abandoning childhood. Both the creative writing part and the highly expressive and emotional shooting sessions can teach regulate and control the I and monitor their own behaviour.
  Finally, I think that the need to achieve integrative motivation among our students is not threatened, even if they use the language independently of its specific culture and society. On the contrary, they can make it their own for a while, just for fun, and even learn some swear words, allowing them to experience some exciting transgression of both speech conventions and learning rules. They  will end up feeling the language is not so alien after all and can really belong to them. You can check our web page at http://www.xtec.es/~sflotats/index.htm, where you’ll find some examples of both scripts and picture excerpts from a considerable amount of films.

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