It’s the festive season and students are starting to relax for the holidays. Now is a great time to set them a challenging exercise to keep them creatively producing all the way through to spring term. Christmas brings us a unique opportunity to reflect on life. We’re seeing relatives we haven’t seen all year, writing up wish lists, and doing our gift shopping. From the first Christmas advert all the way up to Boxing Day, Christmas presents us with a set structure.
Structure drives everything – video games, books, good and bad films. It’s inescapable but often difficult for students to come up with on their own. Setting your class the task of creating a Christmas documentary allows them to get creative with a set structure. The arc of the festive season becomes ingrained in us as we grow up. The story seeds are ripe for the picking. Will brothers and sisters get the gift they want? Will relatives get too drunk at the dinner table? How about snow – will it be a white Christmas? These are all things that a student can document in a short film. They are scenes that snap together. When there are things to unwrap, there’s inherent tension. It’s also a great time of year to practise interviews as most people aren’t swamped with work.
Screening some documentaries in class can help everyone understand what they’re trying to do. Finding scenes that are intercut with relevant one-on-one interviews are the right skill level for early filmmakers to emulate. Having everyone start the planning stage while they’re still at school will help ease them into the project. They might want to highlight things to look out for. Perhaps their brother has always wanted a Playstation – and will Santa bring it? Drawing up a list of characters (or family members) can help spark their imaginations. Who has an interesting story to tell?
You may want to introduce your class to B-roll footage. Falling snow, busy shoppers, or public decorations are great for setting the mood. Establishing shots shouldn’t require much travel as almost all of the documentary can be filmed inside of the home. The fixed structure of Christmas means that editing shouldn’t become overwhelming. Advanced techniques – such as voice over narration, video effects, and sound editing – are up to the skill level of your class.
- Ask your class how they would define a documentary. Screen excerpts from chosen documentaries that include techniques that you’d like your class to consider emulating.
- Explain the basics of structure. Talk your students through how they can follow a story strand from the beginning of the holidays all through to the New Year.
- Introduce the aspects that complete a documentary. Such as: establishing shots, B-roll footage, text overlays, intercut scenes.
- Remind students to backup their work because one day they will enjoy looking back on their films!