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What's in a Story--A Short Story/Film Unit

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Keywords: Flip Video, short film, short story, script writing, English
Subject(s): Video, Technology, Writing, Animation, Reading, English/Language Arts, Drama
Grades 5 through 12
School: Kannapolis Middle School, Kannapolis, NC
Planned By: Karen Braswell
Original Author: Susan Maynor, Saint Louis
1. Students read and discuss a variety of short stories. Depending on grade level and school curriculum will depend on titles. In middle school, students may read Langston Hughes or Jack London. In high school, students may tackle Poe or Bradbury.
2. Students are taught to look at structure and style of short story (this carries over to short film)--few characters, distinct beginning/middle/end, typically one specific event or action unlike novels, one character quest, point of view, conflict/resolution. In order to begin the understanding of visual storytelling, students will storyboard one of the short stories read. This skill will be used again in their own production.
3. Students then explore the genre of short film--using both festival winners and other examples (i.e., Cannes, Sundance) Structure is examined and analyzed. Typically, short film is defined as under 30 minutes--for this unit, time will limited to no less than three minutes and no greater than 8 due to breadth and depth of project.
4. Students are taught simple shot techniques for good storytelling--field of view, angles, camera movement. Students also examine simple editing techniques such as cuts and dissolves to better help them plan out their short film.
5. Pre-production: Students form groups and choose genres (based on ones the students know--best is mystery, drama). Students will: outline a story, create set/prop lists, draft storyboard (including FOV, angles, movement, and action), draft a script, plan locations. For each group, it is important to have at least one strong writer. Mini-lessons from the teacher will include script structure.
6. Once pre-production is complete, students engage in production. Most of the shooting will happen on their own time (high school). For middle school, this might work best with a couple after school shoots.
7. Once footage has been shot, students engage with a quick workshop on the editing software that comes with the Flip. In addition, review of editing techniques for storytelling and instruction of titles and credits should occur. Students will learn about copyright free music and explore the various sites available. In addition, if students are familiar with Garage Band--they may compose their own.
8. Students then tackle post-production with editing and reshoots, if necessary.
9. Students will engage with conferences--both teacher and peer--once a rough cut is complete.
10. Students finish their films and export.
11. For viewing, it is fun to create a film festival environment--if doing that, plan ahead with categories for awards, etc.
Materials: Mobile Labs, Video Tools