Mobile Storytelling and Documentary Filmmaking

Documentary Australia Foundation (DAF) is Australia’s only independent, non-profit initiative bringing philanthropists and filmmakers together to create social change. Storytelling has an undeniable power to engage empathy, raise awareness, and inspire action in social change initiatives, and as such commands a growing interest from the philanthropic sector. By forging new pathways to audiences through collaborations with the social sector, DAF amplifies the profile and impact of community-focused issues through documentary.

One priority at the moment is learning more about making interesting documentaries using mobile phones. Most people have a smartphone in their pocket so guiding students or teachers to use mobile devices effectively makes good pedagogical sense. Increasingly, journalists, photographers, documentary and feature filmmakers are using phones and tablets for the entire creative process, especially when cost is a major consideration.

It is essential to consider the creative, technical and organisation skills needed for the craft of visual storytelling at school. Employing workflows that assist produce a final product and practically work for teachers/students is extremely important. Of course, the technology is not the most important thing but having a clear idea of how one can maximise the quality plus work efficiently is crucial.

There are a number of reasons I am keen to gain skills in this area including:

  • supporting students to creatively use smartphones to tell stories
  • an enthusiasm to practically assist teachers/students to tell stories about their citizen science projects
  • being able to travel light without heavy DSLRs and lenses
  • making a documentary about my trip to the USA next month

Recently I met with Katie Barry and Dr Mitzi Goldman of Documentary Australia Foundation to see how we could collaborate. DAF are formulating a 16-hour teacher training program covering the following areas that will be trialled at school:

  • Introduction to telling stories with image & sound
  • How documentary fits across curriculum areas
  • Designing lessons to fit the environment
  • Creative Process – Introductory techniques: storytelling, put visual language into practice research
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Overview of technology
  • Mapping documentary to the syllabus
  • Scenes, sequences & shots
  • Documentary Styles
  • Keeping production connected to the school syllabus
  • Covering a Scene & Point of View; Finding Your Voice
  • Analysing documentaries; Editing concepts, examples & techniques
  • Ethics & sensitivities
  • The production & post-production process
  • Music, sound & more editing techniques
  • Practical techniques with limited resources
  • Existing resources: how to find them and use them creatively
  • Animation toolkits
  • Team building vs working alone
  • Using filmmaking as a tool for a learner-centred approach
  • Process vs end product – polishing & presenting
  • Piracy & copyright – create your own, don’t rip it off
  • Privacy, ethics and duty of care
  • Creating lesson plans and programs for the classroom

There will be opportunities for teachers to do this course later in the year so stay tuned.

Some Gear*

I like the idea of traveling light for my own work as well as having tools that will assist students in class. Of course, they can just use their smartphone but having a few tools, like lenses, so we can discuss how this assists storytelling and tripods, to stabilise the imagery can make a large difference. Simple editing tools are important so students and teachers do not get lost in sophisticated software programs and can concentrate on telling the story. Decent audio will also assist the quality.

I have always believed that giving students an opportunity to play a role – scientist, filmmaker, critic – goes a long way to assist them in producing a product and makes learning authentic. Quite often a few props make it seem more real and assist with flow. Some of these tools are relatively inexpensive and could be effectively used by the teacher and students for class.

Companies like Olloclip and iOgrapher produce lenses, cases and accessories that allow an ‘iPhoneographer’ to have more control over the images crafted for either video work or still photography. I have been experimenting with this gear and in coming months will post what I have been making, culminating in some short documentaries.


flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Some tools for being mobile but still able to make quality videos that may interest you include:

I have used some of the above products for iPhoneography previously rather than making videos. I had a phase of attaching lenses to my iPhone 4S to capture some impressive scenes while travelling and Joby Gorillapods are old favourites. This is a favourite iPhone effort from Japan in 2012 (with an Olloclip wide-angle lens a very large structure could be captured). Telephoto and wide-angle lenses really assist storytelling if used thoughtfully. Students understand what a close-up is for or why the director chooses a wide-angle for an establishing scene. Macro and fisheye lenses may have a place in the narrative too.


flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Video

These videos will give you a better idea of what the tools can do and which may be right for you. Olloclip Studio is a very portable product that I am experimenting with at the moment that allows one great flexibility. Here is the promotional video.

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I am really loving the iOgrapher filmmaking case grip in comparison with the Olloclip Studio which is too small for my hands. This video really gives you a complete overview of their case and lenses. NB You can buy the cases for iPads too.

 

The RØDE VideoMic Pro just lifts the quality of the finished audio, especially if there is background noise.

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I am hoping that Adobe Premier Clip will become part of student workflow wherever possible.

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How do you approach mobile filmmaking with students?

*** NB The Olloclip lenses do not fit over screen protectors of any ilk.

*Thanks

A big hat tip to @Documentally for his assistance with evaluating apps and gear. I recommend you check out his site and newsletter.

 

Featured image: flickr photo by Darcy Moore https://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/25963798352 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

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