My son Ryan, age 11, had a school assignment to do a book report in the form of a commercial for the book. There were a variety of constraints, including on the length (35 to 45 seconds) and the content (include a brief synopsis, appeal to 6th graders). He had the option of either acting it out in front of the class or creating a video and sharing it with the class. Of course, with a father trying to break into the film industry, it would have been a crime to not do it as a video.
So he gave it some thought for a week or two, and came up with what I thought was a pretty good idea. Namely, show someone who just can’t put the book down, no matter what else he is trying to do at the same time. Then he worked out a bunch of specific examples, including a few that were a little beyond the small crew (him, me, and his 8 year old sister) and zero dollar budget. And he wrote up a little voice over narration.
Today we went about shooting it. My kids have been on a film set with me often enough to know the ropes and the positions, even for a micro crew like ours. I acted as director of photography, giving some advice on framing and camera movement, and generally handling the camera and the lighting, but waiting for him to call the shots. Megan acted as first assistant director, keeping things moving along. At 8, she is already remarkably good at that. Shot in the morning, edited and sound designed in the afternoon, here is what we came up with.
Normal fathers pass the football around with their kids. But I think this is much more fun.
One thing I think Ryan really took away from the experience was how important sound design is. We spent much more time layering in sounds than we did in film editing, and used no production sound at all. With some good ambience, foley, and effects, it really helps to convey things that you never have to even show. Plus, good sound just makes a thing like this feel polished.
On my end, I wanted to play a little with camera movement, rather than relying on cuts all the time. In each of the little segments, we were trying to reveal the book only after showing Ryan doing the activity, but we wanted to avoid lots of edit points, which would make it harder to connect the pieces in this already short video. So we spent time together designing camera movements that would let us get the activity in close, followed by a clear shot of the book, and especially Ryan reading the book. It was a little tough handling all the movement while also trying to pull focus, but we got it done.
So it was a productive experience for everyone!