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Anatomy of a Media Arts Lesson: Elements of Production

Anatomy of a Media Arts Lesson: Elements of Production

Posted by: San Francisco Film Society

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The key to a successful production is paying thorough attention to the pre-production process. Educators and students alike should enter the production phase with a clearly conceived project and plan of action for what needs to happen during each session in order to compile the necessary footage in the time allotted.

While each production schedule is unique, it can be helpful to break up the production phase into three smaller phases:

  • Principal photography. During principal photography, students will shoot the primary scenes, interviews, or events they will use for their project. Students should attempt to capture everything that they need, to the best of their ability, during this phase of production (especially with interviewees, actors, or locations they will not be able to work with again).
  • B-roll and coverage. Students may think they have everything they need by simply filming the basic components of their project ideas, but they will also need establishing shots, footage that can be used underneath voiceovers, etc. B-roll is the additional imagery to support your principal photography. Students should have a basic sense of what they need for b-roll from early storyboarding exercises. Coverage means shooting each scene from various angles (and distances) so that students have options to work with during post-production.
  • Pick-Ups. A filmmaker rarely captures everything they need on the first go-round. Students will need to shoot additional scenes or shots to accompany what has already been captured during principal photography. This time can also be used to secure last minute b-roll or coverage that wasn’t captured during principal photography.
One of the trickier parts of the production process is that there are many elements to consider every time the students turn on the camera. It helps to practice first, so students understand the role and importance of each of these elements. It is also important to have a clear checklist and/or workflow in place so students can keep track of all the variables.

Students should be prepared to deal with the following:

  • Equipment prep: Students make sure equipment is in working order (turn everything on, test batteries, and check available space on tapes or memory cards).
  • Camera-set up: Students set and position camera according to the project settings and shot list that they have determined in the pre-production process (see the Camera Settings and Elements of Pre-Production tutorials for more information).
  • Sound recording: Students make sure microphones are correctly set up and tested (do a “sound check” to make sure that the sound operator can hear the actors or film subjects clearly).
  • Lighting (when applicable): Students make sure light sources are adequate to produce the desired effect.
  • Cinematography: Students experiment with and then utilize different types of shots, framing, angles, and camera movement.
  • On-camera: Students rehearse and then perform several takes for narrative projects and practice and then conduct interviews for documentary projects. The student who is acting as director should make sure that the necessary footage is captured before moving on to the next shot.
  • Coverage/B-roll: Students shoot multiple takes of the same scene from different perspectives in preparation for the editing process.
  • Documentation: Students appropriately document the process (through still photography, shot list, collecting releases, etc.). See the Model Release Form and Working With Human Subjects tutorial for more information.
  • File Management: Make sure that students keep track of their footage. If they are shooting to tape, they must label their tapes and store them in a safe location. If students are working with digital file formats, they must transfer their footage to a secure location on a hard drive and label their folders with the project name and shoot date. BEFORE DELETING ANYTHING, DOUBLE CHECK THAT YOUR FILES ARE SECURE. Lost film footage is a common classroom tragedy. 

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