ds106zone Week 4: Video Killed the Radio Star

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Frans Persoon

Special thanks to Alan Levine for doing all the heavy lifting for this week’s assignments, much of this is based on the work he did last semester.

First half of Week 4 (Summary due Thurs 6/13 at 11:59 PM)

This week we enter what most students find the most challenging and/or rewarding portion of ds106: video. Working with video presents challenges with file formats, creating more complex narratives, and dealing with more complex software. But it’s also one of the most engaging forms of media — hence the current statistic that in the span of one minute of time, more than 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube.

Before we jump into video editing, we want you to spend a little time first looking critically at the video form itself. Read the first half of this post for details about your work for the first half of this week as we try to “read” movies. We are not trying to turn you into movie critics, the goal is just to practice noticing the details and techniques used in movies, TV, and web video.

Twilight Zone Episode this week
“To Serve Men”

“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”

“Night Call”

Ready Your Tools

For the work in the next 2 weeks, you will need to be using software that allows you to combine, edit, augment, re-sequence video, as well as being able to add or even replace the soundtrack within a video.

Reference the Tools for the Trade for links to software you might want to use as well as our new Video Guide for video resources and tutorials.

We most strongly recommend for the future assignment that you use the applications that come with most computers- either Windows Movie Maker or Apple’s iMovie, these are generally the easiest to get started with and should be available on your computer. Note that students often face challenges in Movie Maker and importing MP4 type videos (the most common format you will download videos in), you may have to install extra video codec software or find converters that will translate MP4 videos into AVI or WMV formats (try http://www.online-convert.com/ or http://zamzar.com).

For making small clips from downloaded videos, get a copy of the free MPEG StreamClip, an application for Mac OSX and Windows that makes it easy to mark and export the exact portion of a video – see our tutorial that shows you how this is done.

Reading Twilight Zone

You have likely watched plenty of movies, TV, and web-based videos, but when we say “reading,” we mean looking at them with a keener eye for the cinematic elements that make them successful (or not). This is not about reviews of “good” or “bad” movies or videos, but rather how well they convey the story to all our senses, how well they suspend our disbelief to make the plot real, to draw us in– how well they tell a story.

For your work in this week, you are expected to look for details in movies, many of which are found in Roger Ebert’s “How to Read a Movie

In simplistic terms: Right is more positive, left more negative. Movement to the right seems more favorable; to the left, less so. The future seems to live on the right, the past on the left. The top is dominant over the bottom. The foreground is stronger than the background. Symmetrical compositions seem at rest. Diagonals in a composition seem to “move” in the direction of the sharpest angle they form, even though of course they may not move at all. Therefore, a composition could lead us into a background that becomes dominant over a foreground. Tilt shots of course put everything on a diagonal, implying the world is out of balance. I have the impression that more tilts are down to the right than to the left, perhaps suggesting the characters are sliding perilously into their futures. Left tilts to me suggest helplessness, sadness, resignation. Few tilts feel positive. Movement is dominant over things that are still. A POV above a character’s eyeline reduces him; below the eyeline, enhances him. Extreme high angle shots make characters into pawns; low angles make them into gods. Brighter areas tend to be dominant over darker areas, but far from always: Within the context, you can seek the “dominant contrast,” which is the area we are drawn toward. Sometimes it will be darker, further back, lower, and so on. It can be as effective to go against intrinsic weightings as to follow them.

Read Ebert’s guide! It is more valuable than gold.

Note that the left/right positioning of characters is best applied in scenes where the camera is facing them- e.g., when the possibility of their position is equally probable, left or right. Many scenes are shot in dialogue, when characters are facing each other, and here the placement must also honor a very important film rule, the 180 degree rule:

To get an appreciation for some of the power of cinematic techniques, watch at least 3 of the following videos about filmmaking.

Other elements to consider keeping in mind include:

  • Lighting
  • Film “tone” (bright, monochrome, washed out, high contrast, low contrast)
  • Set design, wardrobe and location
  • Sound- music, sound effects (remember Foley?)
  • Action, stunts, special effects

Look, Listen, Analyze

Now we want to apply some of criteria to the Twilight Zone episodes you have been asked to watch so far.  You will be asked to analyze a scene from any of the episodes by watching it three times in different ways.

  1. Analyze the camera work. Before watching the first time, slide the volume on the clip (or on your computer) all the way down. Take notes on the visual aspects of the clip. Look for camera angles, cuts, how many times the camera switches view, the quality of light. Look for the ways the camera tells, guides the story.
  2. Analyze the audio track. Now turn the volume up, but play it without looking at the screen; just tune into the audio. Take notes on the pacing of the dialogue, the spaces in the the audio, the use of music or sound effects (think back to our work earlier on listening to audio).
  3. Put it all together. Finally, watch the scene as normal. Pay attention to something you may have missed the first time or how the elements you saw in the first two steps work together.

Write up a blog post that includes an embedded clip of the scene, and the notes you made in the three views of the scene. Did you notice thing new by minimizing one of your senses?

Next use what you have read in Ebert’s column or anything else you observed in the cinematic technique videos to identify key elements of this scene. Include specific reference to Ebert’s ideas of left/right character placement, what the camera angle suggests, how the way the scene is shot builds the story element. We are looking for the video aspects that makes this work well (or not) – not just “this is a great scene” or “this is my favorite movie”.

Exploring the Episodes Even More

Seek more background information on this episode from its entry in WikiPedia or the Internet Movie Database (if that fails, use the web more generally). Find at least 3 interesting bits of information about the making of the episode – summarize them and link to your sources.

Next, try to identify the film genre and justify your choice with supporting evidence from the film using one of the references below:

Following this, find at least two other YouTube clips from this same episde; download all the clips as .mp4 files to your computer (here is a tutorial on downloading YouTube videos).

To get practice in basic video sequencing, locate at least two smaller portions within these clips that demonstrate the points you made in your analysis above. We want you to put these scenes together in a short montage, sequencing them together so that you get some basic experience with video editing. The goal is to pull sections out of the scenes with MPEG Streamclip and combine them into a newly edited video. This is possible to do just with the MPEG Streamclip see our tutorial on combining clips with MPEG Streamclip. You can of course use any other software, but you should try to use Streamclip’s trim tools to make the shorter clips

Upload your montage to YouTube, and include it as part of a post on Exploring a Great Episode Scene summary.

What Are the Genres of YouTube?

You’ve read a little bit of genres in movies and film, but given the volume of video content on YouTube, and its meme generating nature, might there be genres specific to this type of video?

Review this document of ones genres identified by previous students. See if you can add a new example to an existing genre, or create a new one and add an example to it.

Write a blog post describing your thoughts on the genres listed and the justification for the example you chose or genre created. And of cours, embed the video in your post!

A Little bit of Pre-Production First

Before you move on to the Video Assignments, many of which require use video editing tools and techniques, we would like to focus on pre-production steps that will help you complete the assignments.

What we want you to do is identify two more complex video assignments that appear interesting to you, and just do the set up work that will enable you to complete the assignments. DO not start editing, just identify and assemble the media you think you will need (e.g. find the source clips you might use in YouTube, list or find the types of images or audio files you might need) and what you think it will take to create your own video. These should be more difficult assignments, and you can finish them as part of your stars for the second half of week 4.

We offer a few recommended assignments listed below, chosen because they have plenty of examples done by previous ds106 students and several also have tutorials that others have written for the assignment

  • Return to the Silent Era: Select a trailer or movie segment you can use for this assignment.  Outline the things you can add to make it more like silent movie style, or write the text you will use on the screens that display dialogue.
  • Vintage Educational Video Assignment: Identify an educational video you could use to create your own; create a script and set of media needs to complete  the assignment.
  • Play by Play: Write a script and record audio you can use for this assignment.
  • Plinkett Review: Write a script and record audio you can use for this assignment.
  • Make a Scene from a Horror Film: Outline and describe what you would need to do for this assignment
  • Redub a Movie: Write a script and record audio for this assignment.
  • Or choose any other video assignment, and document all you would need to do before going into editing

Again the point here is to just do everything you would need to do for these assignments up until you do video editing. This will help reinforce video production and editing done well can often take planning and time. Write a blog post outlining what you’ve completed for pre-production for these assignments. Include in your writeup a short review of two previously done examples you looked at for each assignment.

Daily Creates

To keep your creative juices running, do at least four daily creates this week. Doing a video one would be good practice or maybe including some aspect of your movie reading experience into your work.

For Your Summary of the First half of Week 4 (Summary due Thurs 6/13 at 11:59 PM)

Be sure to include these items in your weekly summary as well as your reflections about what you learned from trying to both read and create videos.

  • A post after your “3 time” review of a selected movie scene. Be sure to include aspects you learned from Ebert’s “Reading Movies” essay as well as other things you observed about the use of sound, camera techniques, lighting, set design. Be sure to link to any of the resources you used as a reference. Your post should also include the embedded YouTube video of the scene.
  • A second post with what you learned about the making of the movie, any production information you find interesting, and its genre. Try to identify another movie from the same genre. Embed the clip you created by combing clips from two different scenes together, this should be uploaded to YouTube as well and describe the details you “read” in these scenes.
  • A third post describing the YouTub genre example you added to the shared document and /or the new genre you added. Are these meaningful or just playful? Is YouTube really just video as we know it on the web or something different?
  • A fourth post describing two of the ds106 video assignments you might consider finishing next week. This should include a reason why the assignment appeals to you, as well as a description of the types of media or techniques you think it might need based on the description of the assignment and the examples done by others.
  • A summary of the two Daily Creates you have done this week, including any connection they might have to this week’s topic of reading movies.

After that, we need to dive head first into doing video assignments.

Second Half of Week 4 (Summary due Sun 6/16 at 11:59 PM)

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by jai Mansson’s photography.

Note: the ds106 Guide to Video is an essential resource this week.

Now that you’ve “read” movies and done your pre-work. It’s time to make movies! Video is perhaps the most rich of storytelling forms, and this week (and next) you will focus heavily on video storytelling. The only assignments on your plate for the second half of week four are 15 stars of video assignments, all of which are due this Sunday at 11:59 PM.

But here is the warning, danger danger Will Robinson– DO NOT LEAVE THIS ALL FOR THE WEEKEND (hence the breaking this week up into two parts). You should have a good start for the two assignments you did the pre-work for at the beginning of the week. You will get more feedback if you prepare your work for video ahead of time.

You will want to be using the video editor that allows you to cut and re-arrange clips on a timeline, and to add, and layer audio tracks. Most typically this is the software that came with your operating system- iMovie on Macs and MovieMaker on Windows PCs (but feel free to look at some of the other options in the ds106 Handbook). Many of the assignments will require downloading of clips form YouTube (we have a tutorial if you need it). PC users may have challenges in importing the downloaded mp4 video files- you will either have to install codecs to read mp4 videos, or use a converter to change mp4 into AVI or WMV file formats.

It is also inportant focus on the storytelling aspect of your video making–do not focus on just the technical points or making the video just for the points..  Be very sure that your video tells a story somehow and that when you write up your blog post you are providing full details and context for your videos. Think about the shape of stories we studied in week 4.

Here is what you should be including in all of your video assignments for the next two weeks (we will have ten more stars of video in Week 5 in addition to the mashup assignments):

  • An opening title sequence and closing credits – make sure your video gives credit to media sources.
  • Makes good use of audio- keep in mind the lessons from audio storytelling- use of background music, sound effects, and/or foley.
  • Your blog writeup includes the key elements— narrative describing the ides/inspiration behind the video you created and also details on how it was made (including credits/links to media sources and at least one screen shot of your video editing screen).

Video Editing Resources

Check the ds106 Handbook Tools section for options on video editing tools and links to tutorials for iMovie and Movie Maker. Other resources that may help include:

For Your Summary of the Second Half of Week 4

Due midnight, Sunday, June 16th
Your week summary should not take much to do. Besides linking to the work you did for the 15 stars, make room to write some reflection on what you learned about creating stories in video — and not just the technical aspects, but what did you find were the compelling elements of story in the work you did in these two weeks. In addition to that, include your comments on the work of others and your four Daily Creates.

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4 Responses to ds106zone Week 4: Video Killed the Radio Star

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