Helping kids to make the most of a video camera

helping kids make films

Before I was a mum and writer, I was Head of Media Studies in a secondary school. I spent my time enabling teenagers to get the most out of video cameras. So today I thought I would share some tips.

Letting a child hold a video camera is wonderful on one hand, it’s like giving them a passport to another world, will it release their inner jackass, their dormant Speilberg, their latent iCarly, or their desire to be a Blue Peter presenter? On the other hand they create badly filmed epics which keep them entertained for hours – they always involve zooming, panning, screaming – anyone watching swings between feeling utterly sick and wondering when the film will ‘kick in’.

I’ve been trying to gently introduce some theory, mine are a little young still, but older kids are ready to fully grasp the techniques that make their home made films look more like TV. Kids consume media, they get the conventions, they are quick to recreate them.

Film making would be taught over several weeks, but this post shares some basic things kids can dip into to develop their skills.

1. Teach them to work the camera and to respect it, whether it’s their camera, an old flip cam, or the family camcorder. That’s half the battle won! Technology is coming down in price rapidly, Tesco do a Sponge Bob video camera for just £24 which is a small investment if you are worried about kids breaking your phone or an expensive camera. Mine are currently playing with a flip cam I no longer use because my camera and phone both do great video now. Teach them about memory cards, they need to do their own ‘edit in camera’ aka deleting the stuff they don’t need.

2. Play with framing shots with a still camera first. I love this example and it can be fun to do this with still shots and a toy if you want to help your child learn how to frame things. Work out how much of someone you need in the picture, are they just talking or using their whole body to demonstrate something?

shot-composition

3. Shots look nicer when people have a nice amount of head room and are looking into the shot, rather than being placed too far across the frame. One third of the frame as a gap at the top and placed a third from the left, looking into the frame looks good.

The rule of thirds is used in film and photography, its all about placing things on these lines because it makes things look good!

ruleofthirds

4. Try out playing with angles, they make people look higher or lower status (or lose or gain a few pounds!)

5. Give them a cheap tripod to practice framing shots and playing with angles. Once you’ve got the basics you will instinctively frame things better ‘freehand’. There is nothing worse than watching the camera flying everywhere. Okay, I get it, it’s fun, but only for so long.

6. Edit some shots together and play with the possibilities of using music to create mood, titles to create meaning. iMovie on the mac and Movie maker on pc – free and easy to use software.

7. Storyboarding is the ‘true’ way to plan a film. Start with very simple narratives. Try to encourage them to draw the actual shots they will use and not just the story. Can they use 5 different shots form the examples above? Toys can be great to film with to start with as they don’t run off or get bored like siblings, pets and friends. Google storyboard template for printables like this one.

storyboard

8. Keep zooming and panning (moving left to right) to a minimum, cut to a new shot instead when you edit.

9. Start to focus on sound, becoming more aware of background noise, how near people need to be to the video camera’s microphone.

10. Have fun adding music and exploring how different music changes your film!

Having fun and playing safely with their video camera is the main thing.

Do your kids like playing with video cameras?

Written for Tesco.

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