Everyone has their favourite classic Christmas movie whether it’s Elf, Home Alone or something more traditional like It’s a wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. For budding screenwriters and filmmakers, holiday movies can be the perfect script writing opportunity because budgets can be kept fairly low without compromising on quality. This, in part is because it’s about the underlying message and festive feel that holiday movies emote rather than big expensive car chases or explosions (although you could add these too.) With many platforms such as Lifetime or Hallmark in the US commissioning their original Christmas movies to draw in their audiences and keep them coming back during the festive season, we wonder why this is and what’s the appeal?
Generally, holiday movies work by tittering (the word is teetering) the audience on the edge between love-driven and fear-driven frames of mind, so we have a look at the winning ingredients that you can develop into seasonal teaching exercises that tend to drive a Christmas classic movie into success:
1. Family Values
Most families will watch classic Christmas movies together but, especially in recent times, families come in all shapes and sizes which means you need to be more widely relatable. Choose a family archetype and explore all the dynamics of this, for example the impact of divorced parents, widowed parents and families or even orphaned children. Using different family values will help you relate to the audience and strike a nerve with many.
2. The Cliché
While it might make the screenwriter yawn, a cliché is a must in a Christmas movie and helps to keep it light-hearted cinema that we all know and love. Whether it’s the stroppy teenager or the weird guy at the corner (who always turns out to be the big FC – Father Christmas? Not sure if everyone would get ‘the Big FC’ especially as he’s also known as Santa Claus…) an audience enjoys the familiar and often the clichés are what makes it the most memorable.
3. Christmas Feeling
Décor and atmosphere can make or break a Christmas movie. If you aren’t setting your Christmas movie during the festival season or featuring some sort of snow, tree, fairy lights or tinsel, you’re doing something wrong! Although contested, Die Hard, Trading Places and Lethal Weapon are still considered Christmas movies to some because they are set around Christmas time and have the traditional “good over evil triumphing” themes.
4. Appealing Childhood
For adults, the appeal of Christmas movies is being able to relive the magic of Christmas, whether that’s the feeling of family traditions that are passed down or undertones of nostalgia that appear in the story. Include magical elements like folklore and phrases that adults will have been told as children when telling the story to transport them back to that frame of mind.
5. The Big Bad
Overcoming obvious conflict is key, it doesn’t have to be shrouded in mystery or blindside the audience. In a Christmas movie, you are highlighting the “big bad” of the story and going on a journey to watch the characters overcome this, sometimes it goes off without a hitch and sometimes it doesn’t but audiences need to know who to root for. This could be tangible like Kevin protecting the house from burglars in Home Alone or Scrooge overcoming himself and changing for the better in A Christmas Carol. Either way the bad guy is obvious.
A Christmas movie can be an excellent project for screenwriters to sink into during the festive season and as you can see, they take a bit more consideration and planning than you might initially realise. For more seasonal inspiration, try these training exercises with your learners!
Alfred Hitchcock’s filmmaking techniques are just as relevant today in the age of Virtual Reality as they were prior to these technological advances. Although he was wrong when he guessed that the virtual reality elements wouldn’t be possible until the year 3000, he believed that eventually audiences could be transformed into characters and experiencing entertainment for themselves as if they were there, which is exactly what is developing in the VR filmmaking industry today. His progressive style combined with respect for the audience’s experience meant that he was ahead of his time and using the beginning elements that would develop into the 360 video viewing experiences that filmmakers have access to now.
He first dipped his toe into the VR filmmaking experience with his 3D adapted stage play called “Dial M for Murder” in 1954 but without falling prey to the artificiality of having items “leap” out to the audience. Instead he used the technology to draw in the audience and make them feel present in the moment and more committed to it, therefore enhancing the experience. Alfred Hitchcock was a filmmaking legend with a long and adaptive career and some of his filmmaking tips that you should consider when adapting to VR filmmaking include:
Develop the Story
Hitchcock was a firm believer in making a situation realistic and preserving the experience rather than compromising it just to do something specific with technology. For example, don’t create elements for the sake of having something floating out of the screen and if something doesn’t make sense don’t create a “rollercoaster sequence” or jump scare when the subject turns around in the 360 viewing if it doesn’t make sense. While you want to look for opportunities to enhance your filmmaking through virtual reality, first work with the story and develop it organically, you should be able to integrate it into the medium you are using rather than change it to suit.
Follow Real Time
The 360 views of virtual reality can ground the audience and create an atmosphere of suspense or drama in the moment so it is important to savour it. The difference with virtual reality is the tone and depth you can get across rather than short, quick shots you use in traditional filmmaking so you should use your time wisely, aiming to use real-time speed in scenes and adapting the long take, something that Alfred Hitchcock was very fond of.
Virtual reality viewing can be ruined with unrealistic music with no source as it can pull the audience away from the moment, so you might want to avoid this. Hitchcock noted this in his own filmmaking and instead looked for ways to incorporate realistic sounds from the scene or use the silence itself for impact and effect to avoid the subconscious questions of the audience that are raised by artificial sounds placed unnecessarily.
Use the Subjective Camera
Everyone’s first response for using virtual reality effectively is: turn the audience into a character and shoot everything from their point of view but this creates the opposite effect and creates a detachment between this character and the rest. By not exploring this character you are creating this third-party detachment that usually doesn’t succeed and Hitchcock believed that mastering subjective shooting can allow you to turn the audience into a voyeur instead. Doing this makes characters more relatable and only enhances the virtual reality by adding extra depth and layers.
Although virtual reality is far from the “mass hypnotism” that Hitchcock dreamed of, his enjoyment of the viewing experience and skill in creating films should not be ignored, particularly when working with virtual reality that so closely works with these ideals.
Most people get a little excited by the Winter holidays approaching and get into the spirit by decorating a Christmas tree, sticking a wreath on the front door, and heading out for a bout of present shopping…
A small minority get really excited though. We mean REALLY EXCITED.
The Halliwell family of Fairfield, Connecticut take things to a whole other level by annually decorating their house with over 350,000 bulbs and a variety of Christmas figures and scenes.
Hats off to them for drawing 30,000 visitors a year, but probably NOT the approach you’ll take to lighting your next set, right?
Regardless of your kitsch tolerance, try to enjoy the spectacle… and be thankful a) this doesn’t last all year round, and b) you don’t live next door to the Halliwells.
With increasing and ever-evolving technology in the classroom, it stands to reason that our teaching techniques would also improve and adapt alongside. Blended learning is the notion of integrating traditional classroom teaching with digital elements, commonly involving a virtual learning platform that both teachers and students can access to offer different mediums for learning. In theory, this is an incredible opportunity for teachers to innovate and use different media, methods and programs to teach but it is also a breeding ground for complacency when simply moving the same techniques from paper to digital.
Blended learning should be much more than this and can not only enhance learning in the classroom but mobile learning as well, particularly when you have platforms such as Google that are easily recognisable but with privacy concerns. That doesn’t mean you have to opt for a Google education platform like Classroom, you can consider other VLE providers instead as long as how you use them is different. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that just because you are using technology to teach, that you’re being innovative. If you’re simply uploading the worksheets and having students fill them out online, you are simply upgrading your platform rather than your teaching style.
Being more engaging and motivational (among other things) are key elements to virtual learning environment success so here are some ways you can ensure that you are using digital teaching to its full potential.
How To Innovate With Digital Learning
Give Students Authority – Students who have more control over their learning process are more likely to both enjoy and adapt it to suit their needs. Digital learning gives the opportunity for around the clock access and can allow them to adapt the pace or topic to suit their needs so give them the freedom to explore this.
Use Different Mediums – From audio soundbites and books to videos and games, use various digital mediums to make the content more engaging and mix it up. You could create QR game treasure hunts to integrate real-world and digital content which will motivate students.
Be Adaptive – Teachers have access to real-time feedback with digital teaching and these analytics can be more representative of interest than students so use this to your advantage and adapt teaching methods to suit. If students are engaging more with videos then develop the content to align this way, alternatively if you can see them avoiding areas online, try to offer more help and instruction to make it more interesting.
Make More of You – Screencasting, for example, can allow you to create a walk-through or video to help those who learn at different paces. The students who just need the instructions once or prefer to replay instructions can use the screencast to answer their own questions, while you have the freedom and time to help those who are struggling and give them one-to-one help.
Digital learning is only as useful as the teachers who wield it to their full potential and without exploring all of its opportunities, it is going to be no different than the pen and paper approach. Hopefully this brief introduction has convinced you why blended learning is an innovative way to engage students, evolve how learning takes place and make the classroom exciting again.
If you want to know how to become a good cinematographer you need to prepare to combine two essential elements; the how you shoot and the why because these two areas combine to connect viewers to film and footage, making it relatable. Filmmaking tips will generally guide you to focus on the “how” by looking at physical shots, equipment such as using a tripod to up your cinematography techniques or the camera itself and its functions, such as changing the camera filtration settings. While these are useful, they are only half of a whole and we are looking at the other side of cinematography tips that will help you balance these aspects to capture great footage, even if you’re a student or starting out.
Remember Your Message – It’s easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of camera work when you’re shooting or planning but you need to always remember why you are filming and the message you’re trying to convey. It’s also important to convey this to the director, actors or other members of the team so they can work towards this with you because the message may impact the way you and others perceive a scene.
Use Your Unique Voice – The one element you can always rely on to help you stand out is your perspective. This is because it is unique, after all, the only one with your view on things is you so even if you have the same idea as others, you can make an entirely different film by using your own perspective. Showcase why the message is so important to you and this truth will often help you relate to the audience.
Be Brave – Some filmmaking tips will guide you towards focusing only on what you know but the truth couldn’t be more different! Try new cinematography techniques and blend them together, mixing up different shots, remaining organic but also trying different angles and using everything at your disposal. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
Research is Key – From lighting, costumes, background, technology and even language, it is important to research your themes and ideas before trying to get them out and start filming and the more prepared you are, the more effectively you can use your time. The best piece of advice any seasoned filmmaker will give is always research, right down to the specifics of the shot because the more pre-planning you do, the less you will need to fix in post (which will only go so far.)
Creative Blocking – Use space in the scene to convey meaning and your message, loop in the actors and director so that you can shape the scene and be aware of how movement will evolve what is happening. Blocking can be very effective and using the space in certain ways can change the atmosphere of the scene entirely.
As you can see from these cinematography tips, there is so much more to filmmaking than camera settings. It’s vital that you’re clear about exactly what you want to achieve, even if you aren’t initially sure how to make it work. This will shape your process going forward and critically affect the quality of your footage and final film.
Its no secret here at Quickclass, we’re a digitally saavy bunch, constantly searching for and developing tools and features to improve the lives of educators and accelerating their learners’ mastery of their subjects.
This doesn’t mean to say that we don’t recognise the importance of ‘pre-digital’ skills like writing, building sets or performing… all of which have existed for thousands of years before the advent of the digital gadgetry that’s pervaded our modern lives.
In fact filmmaking, from its earliest days, has always been a necessary marriage between the very latest technology of the day and skills that came from theatre and more traditional trades stretching to the dawn of civilisation.
One skill that can not be overstated in importance on a practical level is the ability to tie a KNOT! Yeap, that’s right, the skill to manipulate ropes in ways that can bind remote objects, support bulky weights, hold things in place or host things into the air are ESSENTIAL on any filmset of minimal sophistication.
The gurus at Premium Beat filmmaking site have taken the mystery and complexity out of 4 essential and extremely useful knot configurations for our viewing and learning pleasure. From the Bowline, to the Trucker’s Hitch, via the Clove Hitch and the Double Sheet Bend, the four knots you have to know are not only described for their individual uses, but are demonstrated for you to easily copy and learn them yourself!
So, arm yourself with millenia-old technology that can do just as much to enhance your set craft as knowing how to operate a camera or direct an actor’s performance. Solid knot skills will definitely spill from filmmaking into many unexpected other areas of your life, so learn something new on Premium Beat’s excellent tutorial below!
There are a few things you should be considering when it comes to online safety and privacy. VLE’s are great, and we know that when students use them effectively, they can achieve remarkable results (read about the correlation between VLE use and performance here). However, when yo’re thinking of using virtual learning environment software and services, you need to ensure your students’ safety. Think about the following when discovering and making full use of digital content and consider making your students aware of the issues.
There are three facets to digital citizenship; safety, literacy and responsibility.
However, this is not the case with all learning platforms. You need to know what you’re signing up to when you register your information on sites and apps. Look at the agreement you’re making and what they’re going to require from you. Read through the agreement rather than blindly clicking on the agree button. You might realise these platforms are after more of your personal information than first thought. Students need to take overall responsibility for their online safety, but to do so, they need to understand what this means, and that’s where digital citizenship in schools comes in. As their teacher, inviting them to use a particular platform they would not have known about without you also puts the onus on you to make the right choices on their behalf.
Keeping your information secure is important. Passwords come into their own when it comes to keeping information safe. Vary your passwords; don’t use the same one to access everything, as once someone gets hold of that password, they can access all of your information. Uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters should all feature in a strong password. Digital privacy in education is more important now than it ever has been, and solid passwords are an essential first step.
Don’t trust everything you see online. Be sensible and learn to recognise when you are consuming false information, or heading to an unsecure site. Be wary and vigilant when navigating through the online world. Not every site is a good site, and if you think something isn’t quite right, then it probably isn’t. Know what you’re looking for from a service and feel safe using it. But, does that mean we should only use services we have already heard of? Not necessarily – as you could be missing out on great learning opportunities. Check out our take on Considering Non-Google Education Platforms to see what we mean.
Tips on evaluating an online service in terms of student protection:
As a teacher selecting an online service for your students to use, you have the responsibility of keeping them as safe as you can. But how do you select Virtual learning environment platforms with safety in mind? Ask these questions when considering Virtual Learning Environments for schools – they’ll help you make an informed decision. If you are answering “yes” to most of these questions; you might want to consider an alternative service.
- Does it collect information that could personally identify a student?
- Does it share information with 3rd parties?
- If you discontinue use, will student information be retained?
- Are targeted advertisements served to users?
- Are they unclear about data security processes?
- Are there any reviews online that raise red flags about the service?
It is an often-shared ‘fact’ that modern smartphones have more computational power than NASA did when they landed a man on the moon. This is clear from Moore’s law: that computational density doubles every two years. This relentless, radical change has affected all aspects of society, including the role of filmmakers (we’re already seeing the slow decline in practical effects).
Technological advances ranging from Machine Learning to Computational Photography, are poised to revolutionise filmmaking. We’ve already witnessed this in past revolutions spawned from new technology in the film industry, ranging from 3D cameras to CGI. Currently, the future points to Computational Photography (CP) (creating a single photo by integrating multiple images) and to machine learning techniques called “Generative Adversarial Networks” (GAN). Perhaps we will soon discover a new form of filmmaking that equally balances photography and digital image creation, which some are labelling “Computational Filmmaking”.
How does this differ from ‘ordinary’ filmmaking? Simply put, in ordinary filmmaking there’s always one phase for live-action photographed and another distinct phase for digital effects. In the Computational Filmmaking all of this happens at once, on the fly as it were.
So over time how has technology changed the film industry and where are we…
The iPhone has been able to do CP with its HDR camera function for a while now. With the iPhone 7, Apple also added a second camera that can be used for optical zoom and for a Computational Photography technique called “Portrait Mode”. This simulates, in some way, having a larger sensor and a bigger, more expensive lens, hence allowing the iPhone to do what your DSLR does, but with much less hardware!
In the foreseeable future:
At Adobe MAX 2016, they unveiled ‘SkyReplace’ – in a technology demonstration that showed just how many post-production jobs could be replaced by AI. Sky replacement is nothing particularly new, it’s been done by artists on every single print ad, film, commercial and TV show you’ve ever seen, and for a long time, frame by frame, by hand. SkyReplace is poised to automate this usually manual job through Machine Learning.
In the unforeseeable future:
GAN (Generative Adversarial Networks) is a statistical probability model that can generate realistic looking images – sounds amazing right?
This means you show a neural network millions of images of a tree, and then it can recognize a tree when it sees one, but more interestingly, it can generate original tree images all on its own – let that sink in – original images. This is still in early days, so the images are small, but as Moore’s law has shown, it’s only a matter of time before this becomes powerful new software and widely available. How long until a photorealistic image can be generated just by typing a sentence, or by writing a script?
Adobe’s ‘Voco’ and DeepMind’s ‘WaveNet’ are both ‘neural network’ systems that use text and audio samples (just like GAN uses images) to produce speech indistinguishable from actual human voices. One possible application to filmmakers might be that the software could compose its own, original music!
Dubbed ‘Photoshop for audio’, whilst this is still a demo, it will likely be available to consumers soon. Maybe you’ll be able to use Morgan Freeman or David Attenborough to narrate your own movies.
In the near future, filmmakers might be able to tell their computers what they want their movie to look like, what mood it seeks to portray, and the plot. The computer, using all the newest CP and GAN technology, will generate a watchable result.
The real world that cameras are capturing will begin to be merely a starting point – soon computational filmmaking could really revolutionise the way we think about and approach film and the whole creative process.
Virtual learning environments are becoming more widely used. They are excellent at combatting a huge number of challenges faced in the sphere of learning; such as larger student populations and reduced budgets. But, learners sometimes find it easy to lose motivation in a Virtual Learning Environment. It’s not difficult to lose motivation in a traditional classroom if you aren’t interested in the subject, and even easier to let your motivation slip when no one is standing over your shoulder ensuring you do the work.
So, how do you motivate students to keep engaging with the subject, when they’re behind a screen? Students can be excellent at hiding their lack of motivation and engagement, and you need to be on top of your game to recognise when things are slipping. It’s far less trouble to keep them engaged in the first place than it is to try and motivate them once they’ve lost their drive. So, how do we ensure they’re getting the most from their learning, and you’re getting the most from them?
Engagement equals motivation
It’s human nature to be lazy, why waste energy? People want to do things using as little energy as possible, so if we can get away with not attending something, not paying attention or letting others do the work for us, often we will. This behaviour becomes extremely noticeable in a VLE for students. Teachers will see that some students will slow down their use of the Virtual Learning Environment software as time goes on; this is them losing motivation and their engagement levels slipping. There’s a direct correlation between the success of students and their VLE use (which you can read about here) so we know it’s imperative that we keep students engaged with their learning. However, we also know, that accessing a VLE for learners 100 times or 100,000 times, doesn’t necessarily make for greater success. Surprising eh? Take a look at our article to read more about this.
It’s all well and good appreciating this challenge, but even better knowing how to combat this as a teacher. Here are some pointers.
- Communicate with your students. Keep in touch, however that may be. Talk to them through a messaging centre, arrange 1-to-1 time or ask direct questions in a group discussion. The second students feel forgotten about, they start to disengage.
- Set expectations. If we know what is expected of us, it’s a lot easier to apply yourself to those expectations. The flexibility a VLE can provide is one of the top benefits, but it’s also one of the most dangerous. Letting your students know what you need from them in terms of participation from the get-go, will help you down the line.
- Set goals. Working with each individual to set goals for progress gives your students the opportunity to take ownership of their learning. If they’re accountable for their progress, you will start to notice them sticking to their goals more rigidly.
- Monitor progress. Don’t stop monitoring and reviewing your students. There is always room for improvement, and reviewing results on a regular basis will help you recognise when things are slipping.
- Peer collaboration. Set tasks where your students need to evaluate content from a group discussion. This reduces the temptation to log in to the VLE, show your face and then stop paying attention.
As Brian Tyler says, “your best work is only your best work, if works with the film”. Filmmaking is a collaborative creative process and the end goal can only be achieved when everyone works together. The creative process never stops, and for Brian, a project never finishes, it simply comes to an end when they run out of time. This is a lesson for us all; Brian is constantly building on what he has and striving to improve his pieces of music. For him, the work that goes out to the public is just a “snapshot” of the idea at the point he ran out of time. Don’t be afraid to change things as you go along as a director, don’t be afraid to allow your work to evolve. A piece of music can catch you off guard, and a piece that was meant to be drumming along in the background, can soon become the title music for the opening sequence. Allow your creativity to run free.
We know a musical score can make a film, but the film also makes the musical score. The film leads the way and influences composers work. As with any creative, they go through a process, just like if you’re directing a film or designing a set. Beginning by coming up with the central themes of the music he’s setting out to write, Brian normally starts at the piano. He maps out the themes of the piece he’s going to create; taking influence from the film. Brian discusses the relevance of knowing about the filmmaking process (take a look at our article on the 3 phases of filmmaking). Filmmaking tips and techniques are not just for the camera man. The more you know about the filming process, camera angles, lighting and editing, the easier it is to capture the essence of the film in the music.
As a director, if you’re asking someone to create a piece of music for your film – you need to involve them in your creative process and allow them to be part of your vision. Leaving them in the dark isn’t going to help them shed light on your film with a beautiful musical score. One of our top filmmaking tips for students has got to be to communicate. Communicating with the team around you will make your vision many times easier to achieve.
The director is the main man (or woman), and every director is going to enjoy different types of music. A film composer has to understand the different genres because all the filmmaking tips in the world won’t help someone who doesn’t know their genres. But equally, remember that your favourite piece of music might not be the best piece of music for your film. A composer needs to be central to the creative process and understand the director’s wants and needs, before they can really engage with the piece of music they’re creating. As a director, think about what a composer might need to know. Every composer will be different, just like every director will be different. You need to become a collaborative force, so together you can create something meaningful. With the right team around you, turning your filmmaking dreams into a reality is one step closer. Give this article about turning filmmaking dreams into reality a read to see what else goes into it.
To see Brian Tyler describing and explaining the above philosphy and approaches in his own words, check out this micro-documentary.