HIGH SCHOOL VIDEO PRODUCTION: HOW WE MADE THIS ORIGINAL COMEDY VIDEO.
This 2:46 video at the top of this page is an example of my days as a high school video production teacher.
The video is original comedy created by my class of second-year students back when I taught video in the town of Fairview, TN. Go Yellow Jackets!
The subject of the video is one foremost on that age-group’s mind. LOVE!
The assignment was simply to create something for Valentine’s Day. From that, their minds whirred until they came up with this video of the intense, but short-lived romance between Betty Bonehead and Reginald Hinkersplit.
To help you come up with ideas for your own videos, I’m going to explain the process they went through, plus comment on both the positive and negative outcomes of their efforts. Learning to look critically at the work of others is a great way for you to grow as a video maker.
PRE PRODUCTION PROCESS FOR CREATING THIS VIDEO
First, I had them brainstorm story lines. “Stories” are often best borrowed from real life, since life really is just one big complicated story!
So we sat around chatting about the topic of dating, sharing stories from personal knowledge. We also brought up fantasies, both positive and negative. What was their biggest fear about going on a date?
After sharing real and imagined stories, it was obvious which ones were the most funny, interesting and unusual. The fantasy and fear stories were certainly wilder. Video has to be wilder than life too or it gets boring so we wanted to come up with something reasonably plausible, but still fun and realistic enough for other people to care about, relate to and watch.
Embarrassment was definitely one of the recurring themes. Since there are ten zillion ways to get embarrassed on a date, we knew that would resonate with the audience. Being the fuddy-duddy teacher, I had to remind them that most viewers DO NOT want to see something like puking, so I told them to come up with a toned-down alternative to that embarrassing event!
The idea for getting jalapeno pepper juice in the eye was put forth as something that would still be embarrassing but not nearly as gross. OK. Now we had the event, but an event by itself does not make a full fledged story.
In addition to being embarrassing, I suggested we make it the basis of a total misunderstanding, and hence the conflict of the story. Stories are built upon incidents which lead to the characters reacting, which then leads to the next incident. Conflict is essential for any story and often comes about when people disagree and see things only from their own perspective.
So we discussed different reactions to the guy getting the stinging pepper juice in his eye. Their immediate reaction was to think the girl could be sympathetic and say, “Oh honey, I am so sorry you’re hurt let me take care of you.” I pointed out that reaction would not really lead to any conflict. That reaction would lead to their romance blossoming, which was not the direction they wanted the story to go. So they thought harder and decided the girl needed to take his behavior personally and become offended.
What kind of girl would do that? Smart young adults that they were, they recognized that any gal who would take it personally when her date suffered eye burn was hopelessly narcissistic and probably even stupid. Betty Bonehead was born! (Played by Sarah, who was very sweet and smart.)
Betty’s character determined what Sarah wore and what kind of background we made for her interview shot. Her character also determined the word choice and train of thought used in writing her dialogue. Once you have character down, writing the script becomes easy because you can just imagine what such a person would say.
Story conflict is enabled more easily if you have characters who contrast each other. As a contrast to Betty, the kids decided the male on the date would be a really nice guy. The innocent victim of circumstance. The starry-eyed lover who was NEVER going to figure out why the Queen of Hearts is so fickle! Reginald Hickersplit seemed like an appropriate name. (Played by Mark.)
Then, to round out the story, they decided to create a villain who takes advantage at the victim’s expense! Conveniently, they decided to make the villain the waiter at the restaurant where are two lovebirds were cooing. (Played by Cody.)
With the basic story and all three characters formed, the next step was to write a script that filled in all the details. The details include the show format, precisely what video will be shot and where it will be shot.
DECIDING ON THE SHOW FORMAT
There are an infinite number of ways to tell a story on video. I talk a lot about storytelling elements for video. Producing a video is basically a process of gathering all the storytelling elements you want to use. What video, what audio?
Format, or the basic structure of the finished video, helps you make those decisions. For the sake of visual variety, we decided on a format of cutting back and forth between live action of the date and interviews with the characters’ perspective after the date was over. That was clearly going to be a more efficient way to tell the story than just live action of the date.
This meant we needed to shoot interviews with the two main characters and the actual date. We shot the interviews in the studio where we had full and easy control of the lighting, sound, and so forth. We shot the restaurant scene at the local pizza parlor that was owned by a friend of a friend. This of course was the easiest way to get a realistic-looking location.
The soundbites for the interviews were written out precisely because they were used at the main driver of the “real” story. The chit-chat on the date was ad-lib and written out as instructions to flirt and act overly lovey-dovey to the point of silliness. The dialogue (of lesser importance to the storyline) was ad-libbed for the sake of ease and expediency. Ad-libbing can be so much faster and sometimes lead to great creativity. Hammering out a word-for-word script by committee leads to time-consuming arguments. I mean discussions.
Problem is, ad-libbing leads to wandering stories that never make the point. So we combined the two methods.
THE VIDEO PRODUCTION PHASE
After all this brainstorming and planning, they did the actual videotaping. Both of the interviews were professionally lit with four-point lighting, which is a variation of triangle lighting with one more added for background enhancement. The lighting on the interviews is exquisite. Only real flaw is they did not come up with anything good for Regie’s background so we used the inappropriate flower. Oh well, no video is perfect.
The pizza parlor was hard to light and it shows. There was no real way to get away from the windows behind them because of the layout of the room. It took tons of front light to combat the backlight from the windows. It was one of those environments that just sucks the light up no matter how much you seem to pour at it. The shadows are terrible because we had to pour so much direct light on the scene to combat the windows.
If we had more time, the solution for this would have been to add neutral density gel to the outside of the windows.
Getting decent audio when all three characters were on screen was hard because we only had the capacity for two mics! Plus, they were wired lavalier mics. Remember this is a small town school system and we just did not have much equipment. I was always grateful for what we did have! High school video production is not Hollywood.
It was impossible to hide the cords on the wide shot. So we used a boom mic for those shots and had the kids SHOUT REAL LOUD! It worked ok, but the line “Dump the zero and go with the hero!” said by the waiter when he’s running off with the chick is not heard well. That was a pivotal line! Cody had to make sure to face the boom microphone when he said the line. Look closely. His movement is a bit awkward there because he can not run away with the girl and face the mic at the same time!
Here again, if we had more time, overdubbing the line by recording it in a better environment would have been the solution.
POST-PRODUCTION VIDEO EDITING TRICKS
The students edited this video using Final Cut Pro. Post-production enhancements included making the date video black and white but keeping the soundbite video in color. This contrast is a fairly common technique dating back to the Wizard of Oz. (They actually did it because the tight wad bean counters were screaming about budget.) The video is turned black and white using the desaturation filter in FCP, saturation referring to chroma (color) saturation.
The date video was also enhanced with a soft focus look that theoretically makes the video look more like film. This is done with a composite effect. The exact same shot is duplicated and put on video lines 1 and 2 in the timeline. Both are made B&W. The bottom line is given a Gaussian blur filter that takes it slightly out of focus. The top line has the contrast blown out. When you composite the two video lines gives the final effect.
WHAT THEY DID RIGHT
First off, they got the dang thing done. We used to have a saying at the TV station where I worked, “It’s better than good, it’s DONE!”
Oh, so true!
In order to get it done in the time allotted, the students had to be eliminate some of their ideas. At first they wanted to do several other stories like the one above with different characters and story lines. Well, creating that much video proved to be too much. Just like most of us have eyes bigger than our tummies at Thanksgiving, many novice video producers have unrealistic expectations about the length of time needed to make a professional quality video.
For their level of expertise, I think this video has many positive points. The writing, lighting, staging, directing and editing all have significant merit. Some of the acting is good and some is not. Sarah was just too sweet of a girl to act that narcissistic. She kept giggling when she was supposed to be getting huffy but we all forgave her because we loved her so much.
Mark’s writhing-on-the-floor performance was a tad over dramatic perhaps, but awfully funny. This is the same boy who once purposely lit his hair on fire with one of our tungsten lamps during class. Oh, the joys of teenagers. 🙂
WHAT THEY DID WRONG
Personally, I think most everything is top notch except for one killer.
THE PACING. It is way too SLOW.
Movies and videos always move much faster than real life. They have to, otherwise they get boring. This video moves more like real life. The pacing of the dialogue, the pauses and hesitations happen every day and no one notices. Do the same thing on video and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Reality is just too slow for video!
What’s your opinion? As you watch, what do you think works? What doesn’t work? What would you have done differently? Contemplating the work of others is a good way to grow as a video maker because you can learn from their experiences.
Let me share one more common saying with video making: “You’re never DONE with a video, you just stop working on it!”
Another truism! This video has been in the can for several years, and I sure do not have time to fix its flaws.
It’s always helpful to critique and learn from past videos, but from a practical standpoint, it’s a wrap!
I enjoyed my days as a high school video production teacher. I think video making is an awesome thing for kids to be able to learn. I was also able to teach a summer school program with elementary school students. Here is a post on the many benefits of school based video production classes.
Thanks for reading VPT.
Internet Video Gal