The path to becoming a next gen media maker gets easier every year but not necessarily clearer. Gone are the days of sharing VHS tapes and booking public broadcast airtime. The YouTube uprising is in full swing, 13-24 year-olds watch more content on YouTube than they do via their television screens. Nurturing young media makers today means preparing them for the online world but what exactly does that entail?
The Digital Platform Revolution has changed the kind of content people care about. It’s also changed how we want it to be delivered. Traditional media companies are either struggling or drastically altering their business plans. The pending purchase of Time Warner by AT&T will soon pair up 130million+ mobile customers with Time Warner’s large offering of content – including Warner Brothers, CNN, HBO, and more. Meanwhile, YouTube’s partnership program is allowing next gen media makers to become celebrities, and highly paid influencers, all from the comfort of their bedroom – or their local Youtube Space. (If a YouTuber has more than 10,000 subscribers, they have free access to sound stages in nine major cities!)
In 2016, people live on-demand lives. Their schedules don’t allow them to catch their favorite shows at airtime – and why would they when television ad breaks are becoming more and more frequent. This increased advertising is supposed to make up for the loss in viewers but common sense tell us this will have the opposite effect. Cord-cutting is on the rise and there are over 47 million U.S. Netflix subscribers – 87 million worldwide. With the rise in on-demand services, media makers have a wide array of platforms for content distribution, most of which are free to use – and monetizing content has never been easier. Product sponsorships and pre-video advertisements are easy to set up, and if you’re a larger channel the companies will come to you – this is how influential, and widely viewed, online content has become.
The dark side of all this prosperity is that there are instant critics who will shoot down videos the second they are posted. Competition, and the dating of video trends, mean that next gen media makers need to have their fingers firmly on the pulse of the online world. For students whose aims are more towards the traditional TV and Film industries, the Digital Platform Revolution means that it’s never been easier to get noticed. Producers are interested in viral videos and fan campaigns. If you have a following then they will listen.
Alongside the shakeup of video distribution is the revolution in camera technology. Today, most students carry around a smartphone which is well equipped for shooting low budget pilots and shows. These students should still be taught the old ways of doing things but there should also be case studies on the kings of online content, like Casey Neistat (5.8million subscribers, 1.3billion views) whose genre defining vlogs have shown the world that internet video can be serious business. It can’t be long until there’s an Academy Award for best online video. For next gen media makers, learning how to manage digital platforms can be just as important as film theory.
Alongside rumours of a white Christmas, there isn’t a better event than the John Lewis Christmas advert to signal that the festive season is among us. The retail giant has cast a black family for the first time, who star in an imagined Christmas morning where Buster the dog beats a young girl to her Christmas present: a great big trampoline.
The £1m advert, featuring a cast of CGI animals, and a very white Christmas, has been tackled by the the satirists over at The Poke. They responded by editing the advert to have a different and realistically grim ending. John Lewis have said that, following last year’s Man on the Moon advert, they were shifting away from “sadvertising.” Perhaps this parody is a karmic response.
This year’s Research in Film Awards, organised by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, raises the question: is film a good medium to showcase research? The award’s mission statement is to “showcase, reward and recognise the best of the large and increasing number of high-quality short films … produced as outputs or by-products of arts and humanities research.”
In 2005, there were just 20 researchers who listed film or animation as a creative or artistic output of their AHRC-funded research. In 2013, that figure had grown to 149. Alongside this data, it’s also easy to point to recent groundbreaking documentaries and the renewed respect they have begun to acquire. Before the Flood (2016), a documentary film about climate change, gained considerable press due to the growing undeniability of research, and the starpower of collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio.
AHRC’s multimedia editor, Emi Spinner said: “Just making a film provides a reason for people to get in touch and share ideas and expertise, which can be very productive in itself.” She added, “I really do believe that a well-made film can shift the debate just by reaching the right specialist networks, as well as a general audience.”
Certainly we can look at Chasing Ice (2012), a tour de force in the glacial effects of climate change, and admit that film has a deserved place in sharing research. Environmental photographer James Balog’s journeys into Greenland, Iceland and Alaska, and his goal to capture images that would help to convey the extreme effects of global warming have garnered a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
However, this view isn’t shared by everyone. Writing for the Times Higher Education, Matthew Reisz found that “in the US, Howard Hughes Medical Institute does not support public engagement through film at all.” Reisz also found that “requests for funding to make [research films] ‘would occur in a very small percentage of awards’ and would not constitute a ‘significant element of funding requested’, according to Valentine Kass, programme director for advancing informal STEM learning at the NSF.” In his investigative article, Reisz went on to outline similar viewpoints at other American research groups.
In Britain, attitudes towards research funding for films is different. The Wellcome Trust, among other research councils, regularly provide funding to researchers for public engagement, of which films are counted. The changing mood towards film as a medium for research can be tracked alongside the social media trend of the early 21st Century. At a time when science needs to be viral for people to care about it, pop-science curators such as Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson have guided public discourse on issues such as the fate of our planet and journeys to Mars, in TV series and short films. In summary, the beautiful medium of cinema deserves the noble goal of the dissemination of science-based research.
Lookbooks are a tool that both professional and amateur directors use to bring their films to life. They’re visual planning tools – and can contain anything from images to character sketches, location ideas to different colours and textures. For students, lookbooks can be a great way for them to contextualise their thoughts, unblock their creativity, and discover what genre and tone their prospective films belong to. Lookbooks can also be created from already existing films – this is an easy way to deconstruct movies and explore motifs.
Creating lookbooks also enables students who are working together to get on the same page. The great thing about this exercise is that the scope is up to you. This is a project that can be completed in one class. Students can be encouraged to look up photographs and paintings, and to take screengrabs from movie trailers or TV clips.
Planning projects is something that a lot of people struggle with. We prefer to jump straight into creative endeavours. A lot of the planning methods that students are used to, such as spider diagrams and beginning-middle-end structuring don’t fuel their imagination. They bring back memories of struggling to write stories in English class. The great thing about lookbooks is that you can point to big time directors who used them to create their films. Often, these lookbooks are published and are available online. When students see that this is a tool used by the pros, they will respect it and want to emulate them.
Lookbooks can be part of teaching your students how to pitch their projects. Modern pitching is less about “being good in the room” – today, pitches are far more multimedia-based, where the image is king. Teaching your class about the foundations of pitching will follow them all the way to their first professional projects. Your students will remember the first time someone guided their thoughts into structured planning, the time when they stood in front of their class a little nervous but excited, and prospered.
- Describe the concept of a lookbook and show your students an example of what one might contain. Point out how real working directors use this process to address any worries that this is just another grade-school-level planning method.
- Set your class the task of creating a lookbook from scratch or deconstructing one of their favourite films into a series of images, moods, colours, and so on. This can be done in class or for homework – as single or group work.
- Have students upload their work to a shared space and encourage feedback from everyone. Perhaps explain the concept of a criticism sandwich – positive feedback, constructive feedback, positive feedback.
- Finally, use this exercise as part of the planning, and creating, of structured short films.
Research by the British Film Industry looked at over 1,000 UK films in the past decade to research the representation of black actors. They found that the amount of films with black actors had (unfortunately) stayed relatively the same. Discrimination at the top of the industry is an open secret – from the same study, 59% of UK films produced in the last 10 years contained zero black actors in lead or named roles. David Oyelowo, star of Selma (2014), recently said that he had moved to L.A. due to the lack of opportunity in the UK.
Many believe that discrimination should be tackled in the classroom and that education is the route towards inclusivity. This way, the decision makers of tomorrow are aware of the issue and are in a position to change it. When the problem is this clear (BFI also found that only four black actors are listed in the UK’s 100 most prolific actors) the industry needs people working at every level to battle against it.
BFI creative director Heather Stewart said: “The number of lead roles for black actors has not really changed over 10 years and the types of films in which they have had leading roles suggests stereotyping.” She added that “Diversity is one of the biggest issues facing film – audiences want to see the world in which we live reflected back at them.”
Luckily for us we still have the indie film scene, which began tackling all forms of discrimination decades ago. Campbell X, a powerhouse of British queer cinema, said: “Films that show black people as complex, layered and authentic are being made right now by indie filmmakers who are black. Just because they are not on mainstream TV or cinemas doesn’t mean they do not exist!”
When media events like the “whitewashed” Oscars are on the news, this can be a great time to bring up the topic of discrimination in British classrooms. Younger generations have always been more progressive, and the opportunity to explore this sensitive subject in a safe environment can guide young minds towards thinking that discrimination is a real issue – one that has often had to be battled by creativity alone.
Pointing to the watershed moments in film history can be a way to avoid the doom and gloom of current-day politics. There is a lot to be learnt from milestones such as the first interracial kiss on television (Star Trek: The Original Series – Plato’s Stepchildren. 1968) all the way up to Laverne Cox’s breakout success as a transwoman of colour in Orange Is the New Black (2013).
However you choose to interpret the misgivings about the British film industry and its treatment of people of colour, know that the future is bright. Never before has there been such awareness of social issues or high levels of investment into discrimination-aware cinema. If you have any doubts about our collective future see: The Butler (2013) and the who’s who of black entrepreneurs who rallied behind it, or the revolutionary movement of Black Lives Matter.
Instead of marking, the protagonist in this short but painfully honest satire from one of the cards at the Daily Mash says it all. Rather than spend the week marking and catching up on sleep, he (because it’s bound to be a he, right?) instead takes every opportunity night after night to hit the town with mates… because without school in the morning he can.
Enjoy for light relief, NOT inspiration!
Inevitably, this year has seen the release of some increasingly refined and powerful technology for our hands and pockets. The main players in the smartphone market: Samsung, LG and Apple, along with HTC and a reinvigorated Google have all again had to raise their games with the latest round of released flagship 2016 models. However, rather than dwell too much on Samsung’s Galaxy S7, Apple’s iPhone 7 or LG’s innovative G5 modular models – all of them amazing examples of cutting edge devices overflowing with features technical wizardry, there are 2 interesting trends that are potentially far more interesting from your average student’s perspective.
What is perhaps most striking is how the market is truly maturing with fewer ‘breakthrough’ features than in previous years. Retina displays, fingerprint reading, GPS… these features were all major breakthroughs in their time over the last decade, but we haven’t seen anything to the same leap-forward novelty for a couple of years now. On the cutting-edge technical front, progress seems to be far more iterative than major leap any more.
Instead, what is really remarkable in 2016 is how what was considered absolute cutting edge only couple of years ago is now available on some extremely affordable devices, putting super high-spec devices within reach of huge swathes of the population, including most of your students.. The implications for your students soon having sub-£100 high-spec’d supercomputers in their pockets are far-reaching and exciting. Samsung’s Galaxy J5 is a great example of this leap in accessibility. With 1.5GB of RAM, a 1280×720 screen, 13 Megapixel camera and huge battery life (beating the Galaxy S7 in fact), the fact that this highly capable phone is available SIM-free for £140 is astounding.
What high-spec smartphones affordable to everyone means there will soon be no students without access to their own personal super-computer and the implications of what this has the potential to do for education is enormous and arriving now.
The way your classroom has been gently invaded in the last 5 years by iPads, whiteboard screens and digital cameras is evidence that a revolution is in the making…
Many of the technologies are falling into place, but revolutions are never gentle, nor are they single-geared. The trick now for ALL teachers, especially those who already feel they’re behind in the digital stampede, to look at this objectively, rather than with fright, and make a plan.
The first rule of action should be not to fight the tide, and question those moves in your school to limit or block the use of technology en masse. It’s here already, and with smartphones, its formed the behaviour and world views of the digital natives we’re teaching and may be ourselves. For many education professionals though, the digital world is baffling and foreign. Even for the least technically enthusiastic, the good news is: there is less to have to learn to start than ever, the one-machine-per-student scenario has arrived, and you are about to discover a knowledge-rich, secure and private, easy-to-use set of tools to supplement the way you already work and make it a lot easier. Embracing the change has limitless benefits to how thoroughly you can help you students now learn.
The next step in recognising how digital advances are going to help your teaching and students is to take a look at your own school’s situation. Some pointers to objectively investigate your preparedness and digital adaptability are as follows:
- What support is available to teachers for new tech? This can include websites, search and product support – once you know help is just a touch away, you won’t get stuck.
- How well are teachers being trained to use new technology? What are the best ways to learn to use new platforms or packages – online tutorials and learning with your students is the most successful mix
- How student-centred is our approach? As students will quite probably be more comfortable with the technology than a school’s faculty, the best approach is to introduce new tools which everyone, especially students, has access to.
What the technology revolution is ultimately offering are new opportunities for invention — doing new things in new ways. Change is the order of the day in our students’ 21st-century lives. It ought to be the order of the day in their schools as well, and the freedom to experiment with new tools and platforms locally and to report back on what’s working will be essential to our schools making the most of what’s in store for them and their students.
Some doubters will worry that, with all this experimentation, our children’s education will be hurt. “When will we have time for the curriculum” they might ask, “and for all the standardized testing being mandated?” If we can offer our students the tools which allow them each to explore learning materials at their own pace, and encourage them through flipped classroom self-directed learning approaches to take curriculums into their own hands (and pockets), the benefits will be huge. Students will be empowered to rip through standard curriculums in half the time it now takes and with higher test scores for all. Its time to embrace the digital change that has the potential to help your students endlessly.
Site Educational Technology and Mobile Learning produced this killer list of skills which are worth checking out just to see if there are any you’re not already a seasoned practitioner of. The article is full of resources to help you further develop any areas you’re unfamiliar with and had been wanting to get started in anyway… we recommend you check it out now!
In this exercise, ask your students rank the following skills by the relative importance each has to bring to a career in media making. Try then to come up with an overall order for the group – leading to an open discussion about the relative importance of each skill.
- capturing video footage
- planning a shoot scheduling
- working with actors
- sharing films on social media
- writing scripts
- editing video and sound footage
- using advanced special effects tools
Never the sole reason to teach or learn filmmaking, it’s nevertheless worth remembering that a proportion of students WILL strive for a career in media making well beyond the foundation or development you are offering them. Great teachers can be one of the main inspirations for future media professionals, so its best you arm yourself with truths about the industry, how competitive it is to enter… but also how there are a myriad of ways to break in. The essential thing is to give your keenest students the balanced encouragement they’ll look back from future media careers with gratitude that your advice was a major step up to where they’ll be.
First of the questions you might have to field in today’s materialistic world is whether its possible to make a living doing something you really love like filmmaking? The answer is, of course it IS, although if job security or retiring to the Bahamas at 53 interest you above the need to somehow express ourselves artistically in what you do, then there are other career choices out there… Many media makers find it takes years of struggle to find their exact niche in the industry, and reputations and proof of an artistic voice and vision often take years to develop and the majority may never be fully appreciated or recognised for their talents… its often a tough gig, but infinitely rewarding for those who choose and make it.
After sustainability and realism as a career choice, the next question deals with what exactly are the positions on offer? Its a great idea to be able to reel off a few to give a flavour of how existing parts of the industry are structured – but also emphasising that in 5-10 years there will likely be media roles that we can’t even anticipate now. Who would have predicted the rise of the YouTube star or GoPro extreme sport footage freelancer? Each year the industry evolves and recreates parts of itself, inventing and bestowing upon the world another new format or way to tell great stories in innovative ways – and with that comes a varied and growing range of positions and possibilities in media making careers.
While ‘YouTuber’ or ‘Go-Proer’ are new and alluring possibilities… there are dozens if not hundreds of more established and already essential roles in media making which are worth mentioning in those career-orientated discussions. Here’s a rundown of better known and common existing roles in most productions. Structure will vary between a typical cinema production described below and TV, advertising and online work – but most positions make at least part of someone’s range of responsibilities in these various sub-categories. It’s as important to consider the PROCESS as it is the individual roles contributing to the overall production.
A producer can wear many hats, as a writer, an investor, an idea person, a manager, or all of these things rolled into one. During pre-production, the producer reads scripts and has writers, directors, and agents to pitch ideas.
The executive producer manages the Production Group, responsible for every single aspect of filmmaking: pre-production, production, and post-production.
Directors oversee the film’s artistic vision. They often have no financial stake in their films, unless they’re also a producer. Directors work very closely with the producers during pre-production to decide the best way to visually represent the script. Directors are in charge of a crew that is usually made up of cinematographers, art directors, cameramen, casting directors and sometimes even actors. The director also has the final say on the finished work, even over the producer. Directors work with actors to help them deliver their best performances and ensure those fit the overall vision. The director also works with their cinematographer or DOP (Director of Photography) to ensure everything is being faithfully and artistically recorded.
Highly valued (and often highly-rewarded) screenwriters can become involved with a film project by writing a script and shop it around to agents and producers. In some cases, screenwriters will be hired later in the process, after a producer or director has developed an idea. Screenwriting is a notoriously difficult field to get into.
Film and video editors perform one of the most important jobs in production. A director may shoot hundreds of hours of film to then be edited down to a 90 minutes. Good editors help will pick out scenes and shots that best tell the story according to the director’s specific vision.
Early conversations with the keenest students can direct them towards fantastically varied and creative careers in media making, and the earlier an insight into what makes the industry tick, the better!