The US midTerm elections are 18 months away, and as long as nuclear war doesn’t break out before then, then just like you, we’ll continue biting nails and praying that the Donald continues to be at least partially contained…
In the meantime, we can highly recommend healthy doses of cinematic diversions to relieve the tension…. As if by perfectly-timed magic (or the fact that some gems take longer to come to our notice) the Guardian newspaper went and and quizzed some of the UK’s funniest and finest living comedians for THEIR nominations of great comedic masterpieces.
Luckily, the inclusion of Borat, Best in Show and Life of Brian make up for a noticeable lack of Withnail and I. Any Best Of List worth reading wouldn’t be complete without someone feeling unrecognised and ending up having an argument about it.
There are almost too many gems here to count. So, let’s laugh ourselves to November 2018, it’ll beat crying.
Smartphones make snapping quick pictures and shooting quick films easy. But what about shooting good films? How is it possible to get the very best out of the relatively limited software on offer by Apple and Android phones? We’ve put together this brief overview of some smartphone filmmaking tips to help you shoot the best films you possibly can.
Specialist apps can give you far more control over your pictures and videos
The camera on an iPhone isn’t half bad considering the phone’s small size. But the app that comes included with iPhones that determine the control you have over your shot isn’t so great. You can’t manually adjust focus or contrast, for a start. This really puts a damper on your efforts if you want to make beautiful films with just an iPhone.
But with a whole host of professional grade apps, you can completely transform your film to the point where people might not even realise it was filmed on a smartphone. Cinescope, for instance, can be used to shoot in any aspect ratio you like. Adobe Premiere Clip gives you the ability to edit films on your phone. And Filmic Pro can adjust lighting, contrast, and colour. With apps like these, smartphone filmmaking is easier than ever.
Tripods and mounts can help you get a steady shot
Hardware is just as important as software, and not much more expensive either. With a cheap, basic tripod or handheld mount you can turn your smartphone films into steady shots. It’s almost a tradition now that anything filmed on a smartphone is 1) in portrait, and 2) filmed so shakily that it’s reminiscent of Blair Witch Project-style found footage. Even if you do your best to keep your camera still, you can always tell it was filmed by hand.
Some full height tripods are designed to fit both cameras and smartphones, and the very basic entries can be found on eBay or Amazon for two or three pounds- so you won’t be breaking into the piggy bank. But for such a small investment, they can help your filmmaking come on leaps and bounds.
All the rules of composition still apply
Just because you’re filming on a smartphone, that doesn’t change what makes a good shot good, and a bad shot bad. Even when using the smartphone filmmaking tips above, bear in mind that fancy equipment and some cheap apps can’t replace the basic skills and knowledge of filmmaking.
The rule of thirds, for instance still applies whether you’re filmmaking on a £10,000 camcorder or a smartphone. The 180 degree rule still applies, and lighting and angle are still just as important as they always have been. It’s these skills in combination with the equipment above that can help you make standout films on just an iPhone or Android.
Google aren’t satisfied with owning (and monitoring!) half the world. Google Classroom is one of their latest ventures, and it’s their first stab at e-learning and mobile learning software. It’s a decent first attempt, but we think there’s a really important thing they get wrong. The basis of any amazing VLE has to be education, education, education: but true to form, Google’s Classroom is designed with advertisers in mind just as much as students. Read on to find out exactly what we mean.
What do Google get right?
The very many tools that Google offer are popular for a reason. Typically, they bring out the best of new technological advances, and add their own twist. Take Google Drive: it was introduced in 2012, right at the beginning of the cloud revolution, and it cemented its place in the market both because of the omnipresence of Google- everyone has a Gmail account- and because of its genuine functionality. As of 2017, Google Drive holds over two trillion files and has 800 million active users.
Google’s Classroom is their attempt to force their way into the emerging VLE market. It has many of the features commonly found in virtual learning environment software, and offers the same sorts of benefits: it saves time and paper, organises classwork in one place, and enables quick and easy communication with students. The other Google Classroom pros are its simplicity- it’s very easy to navigate- and its compatibility with Google’s other apps. Apart from that, it’s all par for the course for e-learning software.
Google Classroom vs other VLEs is therefore not much more than a personal choice. Perhaps you like the idea of your students finding it easy to use because of its compatibility with many of Google’s apps for Android and iPhone. Perhaps that doesn’t appeal to you. But where Google’s Classroom succeeds as an effective VLE, it fails because of Google’s insistence on pandering to its advertisers.
What do Google get wrong?
The problem is that like many of Google’s offerings, their focus isn’t always on providing a great service to you, but providing a great service to their advertisers. Remember, everything that you Google search is collected, collated and sold to advertisers so that they can better market their products. The websites you find through Google search, or visit on Google Chrome, are similarly analysed.
This is where Google’s Classroom falls down. Google make almost all of their profits from their Google Adsense service, so it’s no surprise that they want to monetise as many of their offerings as possible. But this really is fundamentally incompatible with e-learning software, which should always be for- well, learning, not marketing. Put simply, the monetisation of Google’s Classroom is a step in the wrong direction.
No, brand isn’t a dirty word in many authentic artists minds, and to create branded content isn’t selling out. Well, maybe strictly speaking it can be, but it doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your dearly-held creativity on an altar of cold hard cash. If you have some skills and you know how to make short films, it’s perfectly possible to create branded content that genuinely reaches out and connects with your audience, and provides much-needed funds throughout your career.
Filming branded content with genuine creativity is possible
First things first, just because you’re filming branded content, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be creatively honest and even deserve artistic merit. Take Prada’s Castello Cavalcanti for example. This particular short film was written by none other than Wes Anderson and produced by Roman Coppola. It’s eight minutes long, but doesn’t contain a single reference to Prada, apart from the jacket worn by the main character. Other than that, the film is a typical Wes Anderson story about an Italian racing driver who crashes by coincidence in the hometown of his ancestors. It’s a story, not an advert.
And believe it or not, but 2017 marked the second year of the Brand Film Festival, which was held in New York on May the 4th. Its purpose is to showcase the very best of the year’s branded content films. They even hold open discussion groups on topics like: ‘Ways to Deliver Compelling Content within Your Branded Film’, and ‘Providing the Perfect Pitch for Your Branded Film’. These questions are at the heart of real concerns for professional and amateur filmmakers, so the Brand Film Festival isn’t a cynical marketing gimmick.
So, take it from us, you aren’t the only one out there wondering if branded content can be anything more than subtle advertising. But if you’re to believe the Brand Film Festival, it certainly can.
Using branded content eases money worries
Filmmaking is a difficult industry to break into. Not only is there not a clear career path to the ‘top’- whatever the ‘top’ of filmmaking is anyway- but amateur and student filmmakers are ten a penny. In such a crowded competitive atmosphere, there’s not much room to turn down a paid opportunity to further your creative career, and earn money doing it.
Making branded content, however, can be a great exercise in how to make short films on a low budget. It gives you the opportunity to do what you love. And if you approach it with an open mind, it’s even possible to put your heart and soul into it just like you would with your own content. But best of all, it beats working as a cameraman by far, and can be a fantastic addition to your CV. What’s not to love about that?
If anything, during the past twenty years, teachers have tried and failed to stop pupils bringing their phones to school, but the tech tide is turning. Even early years classrooms are kitted out with laptops and tablets for toddlers. Not long ago, schools started providing pupils with laptops and tablets they could take home; now pupils can bring their own to school. So how can we maximise the benefits of Bring Your Own Device’ education?
Reduce distraction, improve focus
The risk of using laptops or tablets in class- whether they were brought in by the student or provided by the school- is how much of a distraction they can prove to be. The internet is full of wonders like YouTube, Facebook and Reddit that are time-sinks for students and professionals alike. Before you introduce BYOD in classrooms, make sure that you’re prepared for this by blocking access to certain websites or Apps that are more trouble in the classroom than they’re worth. Yes- even if it means that you can’t go on Facebook during class! We know full well that you do…
Make your classes interactive and media-driven
If your school is truly intent on making BYOD a success, one way of taking advantage of this is to move away from old fashioned lectures and tests. BYOD in schools gives you the opportunity to tailor your classes to every student by making them interactive and media driven, so that they can follow along and learn at their own pace. For younger children, media in class can help their imaginations run riot, and it keeps older children engaged through self-managed learning too. Using a VLE, Prezi or similar is a great way to achieve this and avoid a ‘one speed fits all’ approach.
Encourage pupils to do their own research
With the whole Web at their fingertips, you can set your pupils assignments in class that they can research for themselves. Not only does this teach learners to study and research on their own, which is great preparation for higher education, but it gives them the opportunity to personalise their learning. Let’s say that as a History teacher, you ask each pupil to research something interesting about the Roman Empire: maybe one thinks that gladiators were cool (and they were!), but maybe another is more interested in the frankly excessive Roman pantheon of gods. BYOD can let each pupil learn about what they want individually and then share with rest of the group.
GekkoGum is an all-purpose adhesive designed especially for filmmakers. It can be used to stick a GoPro or even a phone to almost any surface, and is surprisingly strong considering how it just looks like Blu Tac. It’s called GekkoGum because- supposedly- it bonds to surfaces tighter than a gecko’s foot pads.
This one really is hot off the presses– it’s only recently been Kickstarted. But when it hits the market, it won’t cost that much more than £15, so it’s great for learners on a budget.
Joby’s GripTight Stands
For filmmakers who want something a little more stable, and maybe a little less sticky, Joby’s GripTight stands are perfect. These little stands are beautifully reminiscent of the strange tripod-walkers from War of the Worlds, but they’re bite sized so far less threatening.
The great thing about these little stands is that they are so cheap for the functionality you get, at just £20 or even less! They fit almost any phone with the adjustable mount, and can sit on any surface with their adjustable legs. For students working with a virtual film teaching app, it’s perfect for learning on the go and framing professional-looking shots with just an iPhone or Android phone.
The ‘Golden Hour’ App
For anyone who doesn’t know, the ‘golden hour’ comes twice a day. It tells you exactly when to get out and shoot photos and film at the perfect time for beautiful lighting. Again, this is perfect for students learning through a virtual film teaching app, since it means they can completely organise shoots with their phones. I wish we could have had tools like these that back when I was enroled at filmschool…
Adobe Premiere Clip
Did you think that GripTight stands were cheap? Well Adobe Premiere Clip is a free video editing app with loads of the functionality that Adobe offer on more powerful PC versions of the software. It’s perfect if you need to teach online filmmaking, because it’s available to everybody. It’s the perfect playground, and you can start editing with it for free!
Students can then upload their creations to Adobe’s CreativeCloud, and carry on their work on Adobe’s flagship PC software
Hague PS2 Phone Steadymount
If you want to kick it up a gear, you can make your creations look completely professional with just a cheap steady mount. These have been common in the industry for years, but with the advent of smartphones and (relatively) cheap DSLRs, even amateur filmmakers can make use of them!
The Hague PS2 Phone Steadymount comes with handles on each side, so that your films won’t have any of the jitters that you get with handholding your phone. This is a basic entry, so it only clocks in at £24; but there are plenty out there that automatically stabilise themselves, although they can run into the thousands.
Quinn Shephard is a remarkable filmmaker. But she’s only made one film.
At the age of just 15, Quinn- still a high school student- started work on what would become her first (and so far, only) project, Blame. She got the idea after starring in a stage adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at school, and decided to update the story for the modern day (think Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film, Romeo and Juliet). Before this, Quinn was something of a child star: she appeared in the 2001 French film, Harrison’s Flowers at five years old, starred in Unaccompanied Minors at eleven and had guest spots on Law and Order and Made in Jersey.
In Blame, Shephard stars as Abigail Grey, a student returning to high school after a mysterious incident a year earlier. Once back, she quickly forms a bond- too strong a bond- with her drama teacher, played by Chris Messina. But her rival, Melissa (Nadia Alexander), is full of hatred, or perhaps jealousy, which could persuade her to reveal Abigail’s secret.
We won’t spoil the rest of the film for you, but the screenplay was nominated as a finalist for the Sundance Film Festival Screenwriters Lab, and won Shephard the Rising Star Award at the 2015 Garden State Film Festival. So it’s good. And hopefully it’s just the first step in Quinn’s career as a filmmaker, not just an actress.
What’s so great about Quinn’s work?
What’s remarkable is that Blame was filmed in just nineteen days. Of course, the film was shot on a relatively tight budget, so everything had to be meticulously planned and designed beforehand, with no time for creative clashes on set! Quinn planned the filmmaking process from top to bottom long before she had to film, including everything from set positions to lighting and makeup. She described it as a monumental task, especially considering it was her first ever professional shoot.
For anybody wanting to replicate that process, things have become a lot easier in the last few years. There are a multitude of tools online, and filmmaking apps for both iPhone and Android that make the processes of planning, filming and editing a cinch. But even the best laid plans go wrong, so don’t expect to get everything right first time like Quinn Shephard did!
Most impressive is how relatable the film is. The story is set in an American high school, but everybody can understand how Abigail is feeling: walking a social tightrope, and not knowing who you can trust! Having made such a relatable movie, it’s particularly impressive that she didn’t go to film school, or even get online film teaching to get herself where she is today. Considering the fact that Shephard has no formal filmmaking training, her achievement shines all the brighter.
Shot/reverse shot is as basic as it gets. It’s probably one of the best recognised shots of all, and it’s included in every textbook and virtual film teaching app right towards the top of the list. It’s a filmmaking technique where one of the characters is shown looking at another character. More often than not, we can see the back of their head, and shoulders. The shot is then ‘reversed’, so that we can see from the second character’s point of view instead.
This is not the most thrilling or innovative shot out there. But it’s very easy to pull off, and have it look professional… So it’s perfect for beginners. It’s used to almost-literally get inside the character’s head, and see what they’re seeing. Shot/reverse shot can be achieved in either one take or two, if you have two cameras to hand; either way, the shots are edited together afterwards, remembering not to break the ‘180 rule’.
The Dreaded Zoom Shot
Zoom shots are cool. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise- a friend, a mentor, or a loved one- they are wrong, and should feel bad. Zoom shots are a brilliant way of lacing a shot with emotion, positive or negative. Zooming in slowly creates tension. Zooming in very close (like an Italian shot) can make the viewer feel close to the character, or uncomfortably close, if it’s an antagonist. Zooming in and tilting up (the Ridley Scott zoom shot) makes a character appear dominating.
Or, if you want to move in the opposite direction, zooming out to a wide shot gives a sense of a wide open, empty space. This will make a character seem lost or alone. Considering the fact that wide shots create such a vast range of responses, it’s a shame that they’ve fallen out of style.
The best thing about zoom shots is that they can be done in post-production using editing software or online filmmaking apps. Bear in mind, though, that professionals have professional equipment, so their zoom shots will look better than anything filmed on an iPhone or DSLR.
A two shot is what you probably imagine it is: a shot of two people. But that’s all that’s predefined. They can be close together, far apart, facing each other or not. This allows a great variety of creative ideas to all be captured using one kind of shot.
For instance, a two shot is fantastic for establishing the emotional reaction of two different subjects, at the same time. This can show the range of the characters’ emotions, where one might be happy and one might be sad. It’s also a great way of showing conflict with an ‘American’ style two shot, where the two characters face each other in profile. A three shot is the same kind of filmmaking tool, except with three characters instead of two.
Picture a student working on some quadratic equations in class. Now, it would be easy (and definitely very tempting) for them to simply look up the answer on the internet. Imagine that they do, and they get full marks for their assignment: well, what have they gained? Nothing. A more old-fashioned example might be using a calculator instead of figuring it out for yourself.
What teachers provide is understanding. By far the most important thing in Maths is to understand the underlying mechanism of a formula or function, and this is where a human teacher runs rings around a computer. When you don’t understand something, it’s difficult to put it into words, so teachers are often faced with questions like: ‘But why does… This… Do… That… Instead of… I don’t know!’
A teacher might understand that pupil’s struggle, but Siri definitely wouldn’t. A virtual learning environment is useless without a teacher to guide pupils through it.
Teachers play a guiding role
Everybody knows you can find almost any answer to any question on the internet. But sites like Wikipedia are a great example of how, sometimes, untruths and errors can be presented as fact. Perhaps even more importantly, the internet is so full of information that it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and understand what we need to know and what isn’t so important.
We need teachers to guide pupils to understand how to use sources, and how to tell something useful from something less relevant. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to get lost in white noise.
Teaching is more than just informing pupils of facts
In the olden-days, pupils used to learn by rote. Slowly but surely over the last thirty or forty years, we concluded that that was suboptimal approach. But in a classroom without teachers, we put ourselves at risk of falling back on an inhuman, learning-by-numbers system of learning.
Teaching is more than learning facts, and teachers are more than teachers: they’re people. Take teachers out of the classroom and we lose the human side of learning. Almost everyone has great memories of school: old friends, fun times and inspiring teachers. Who would want to take that away?
Director Seoro Oh from South Korea beautifully captures and takes to a new level the struggle to stay awake that many of us have suffered in our time, and have watched students in our classes struggle with as well… or maybe not!
Beyond the wonderfully imaginative ways fatigue is animated and brought so cleverly to life – enough to inspire any young animator… we DO have to ask why the class in this film is so traditional? Haven’t they heard of the flipped classroom and filling class time with group work? Hopefully this short acts as a double inspiration for how we can avoid creating the circumstances for students to ever fall asleep in our classrooms at all?!?!