Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Teaching Film: Don't Let Ambition Stand in the Way of Pedagogy

Tonight was the short film class I'm teaching. I've never really taught a class before, and teaching is itself a learning experience. I allowed the class to select an overly ambitious script, because I felt a class of overachievers deserved it. They are all motivated to finish, but I can see that it's stressing them out (and then that stress has led to my getting openly ticked off on one occasion, which didn't help). Unfortunate scheduling has led to the class corresponding with a time when several students (plus myself) are in the height of production crunch in our real jobs, so that's not helping either. It's hindering me from doing the level of preparation between classes that an ambitious project like this requires -- but then again, if I did the kind of preparation I'm thinking of (such as shot breakdowns, and some rewrites to deal with reigning in some things) I'd basically be co-Directing. The idea was to have someone in the class Direct. Perhaps that was a bad idea, but more likely that being a new teacher I just botched the implementation.

The class was structured as a "give them a minimum of lectures and then throw them into the fire" kind of class, which is popular at film schools these days. However, I think the script was too ambitious (I lobbied for them to do a weekend shoot, but not enough people could / wanted to -- and I failed as a teacher in that I didn't immediately require a rewrite to shorten and constrain the scenario). In the future, I'll probably restrict the length and number of characters in the script, do a minimal shot breakdown myself, and include enough time in the class for me to give a 15-30 minute pedagogical lecture at the beginning of each shoot day. I think I also need to have much more detailed examples for all materials (breakdown sheets, camera reports, etc.) available. The suggestion that there also be an hour of follow-up lecture, Q&A and "dailies" is also good. I'm inclined to suggest that we have a "30 second storytelling" class, as well as an equipment and setiquette class, as prerequisites for this class in the future. This way, people can come more prepared to actually make a real short film, which is what the class description promises.

For the future (provided anyone would even want me to teach this class again in the future), I'm keen to have comments in the comments section from any of you who have taught (especially taught film production) on what you think a good balance is between learning by doing (including failing at doing) a more realistic project, versus constrained, carefully instructed "toy" projects.


Seth Hanisek said...

I teach Document template development for my company's document software, so I have indirect experience with which I I may be able to enlighten you.

I find there needs to be some initial "toy project" work to teach basic concepts. For me those would be things like variables, conditions, computations, insert statements, etc. For you this may be blocking, lighting, scheduling, etc. (I have no idea what is taught in a film class). Long term learning happens through the "real" projects, which lend overarching context to the underlying concepts. The important thing is not to overlook an opportunity to teach ("What happened here is that we spent too much time on this costume, and not enough making sure we could get it all in the shot.").

Also, write a lesson plan. Figure out what you want everyone to have learned by the end of the class, and focus on that goal.