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Getting Your Kids Into Moviemaking


In this column I have spent much effort talking about the effects of media on children, so this time I want to look at the effects of children on media! Specifically, how you can get your kids away from the television and instead encouraging them to make their own movies and TV shows.


If it sounds way too complicated and time consuming, you may be surprised. All you need is an idea, some very basic video equipment, and a modest computer. Of course, if you wish to spend more money, you can explore high definition video, stereo sound and many other "high end" options. But my point within this article is to simply get you started.


Recently I spoke with kid movie-making expert Shelly Frost from Make-A-Movie Studios. She offers services in the San Francisco Bay area where she will come to a kids birthday party and film a movie in an hour and a half. Admittedly, she says, that efficiency comes after nine years of experience.


However, Shelly says families and friends can create a short 10 to 15 minute movie within one day of filming. After that, assembling and refining the movie can keep an aspiring editor busy for yet another day or two.


"For every hour of footage that you shoot, there's about three hours of editing time," explains Shelly, adding there are many benefits to sitting in front of the computer creating a movie versus playing games. "Editing video footage is a highly creative process because you are making millions of decisions and it's all off the top of your own head. It's creating and building something that's all your own."


As for equipment, if you check around your home there's a good chance you have a camera that's able to shoot motion video. If you don't have a dedicated video camera (some of these take tapes, while newer ones record to an internal hard disk or a removable memory card) you likely have a still camera. Virtually every point and shoot still camera has a video mode -- and some of the newer ones offer surprisingly good video quality. If you have an SLR digital camera (the type with a removable lens) you may be out of luck, unless your SLR was purchased within the last couple of years. If that's the case, the newest SLRs are able to shoot video footage that is on par with some professional film cameras.


Ironically, while the picture is the more technically complex part of the equation, getting good sound is often more challenging. Virtually every camera that shoots video is equipped with a built in microphone. These may work adequately for close-up shots, or single person setups, but if your subject is farther away from the camera or if you are filming where there is noise from traffic or wind you may need to find a way to use an external microphone. Most dedicated video cameras offer a plug to attach a microphone that is on a cord. If you can do this, I highly recommend it. This will allow someone to hold the microphone and point it directly at your actors. It also minimizes any noise coming from the camera and provides one more very important job for yet another eager crewmember. If you don't have a microphone (few people do) you can purchase one at a store that specializes in photography and video. Better yet, rent one from an audio/visual supply depot or large music store. In my area, I can rent a professional "shotgun" microphone (a long, thin microphone that's great for picking up sound from far away) for about $10 a day. Take your camera with you so you make sure you have the necessary adapter to plug it in.


Editing, mentioned earlier, is perhaps the most technically challenging aspect. However, recent developments in consumer editing software makes the process of removing bad takes and assembling together a finished project easier than it used to be. Apple Mac computers are especially adept at this as they all include software called iMovie that is particularly easy to use. Windows Movie Maker, while not quite as simple or capable as iMovie, is also including on most Microsoft PC computers. You can also purchase other editing software, like Adobe Premiere Elements.


Of course there are many other areas where you can keep kids busy. A script is the best place to start your project, but is often the step of the movie making process kids hate the most. Suggesting they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard may return a incredulous look with a comment similar to, "It's summer, and we have to write!?"


Shelly, who sells scripts ready-to-go at her website, says a good place to get some easy script ideas is the storybook shelf in your home. "Many of your kids' picture books might make a great storyline to base a movie on," says Shelly, adding any books your children are reading can make a good movie script by simply adapting and using limited lines of dialogue. "Also check your local newspaper. What stories jump out at you? Maybe something funny happened in your hometown that could be re-enacted," she suggests.


Depending on the nature of your movie, you may need costumes, props and simple sets. Check used clothing and furniture stores in your area for some of these items at low prices. When it comes to sets, see if you can find a suitable filming location where the set is already created for you.


Finally, don't forget the big premiere party! Shelly says this first showing of the film can become a neighborhood event.


"Imagine a neighborhood of kids who have put together their movie. If it's summertime, they may want to premiere it at an outdoor neighborhood party," says Shelly -- who encourages parents and kids to think even bigger and better. "They may want to make it a fundraiser. They could do ticket sales and donate it to a cause, which provides an opportunity for kids to be altruistic with their created movie."


With these ideas in hand, getting your children into the moviemaking business may provide a terrific way to keep them busy doing something fun while socializing with friends. Just don't tell them they are learning -- that's a bad word during summer vacation!


Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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