Lesson #1- Production! A Science or an Art?

Objectives and Goals add comment

  • Introduce students to the Production Phase of filmmaking focusing on Directing, Cinematography, and Leadership
  • Application of camera techniques
  • Organization and leadership skills to manage cast and crew
  • Obtain real world career technical experience producing a short film

Introduction of the Production Phase

Teacher lesson set up: 

Before students enter the room, place a sheet of paper with the job and description on tables. I typically have 40-50 students in one class placed in 3 or 4 groups with 3 to 4 different productions.  Therefore, you will have different production teams at each table.  Depending on the size of each production, some jobs will be combined.  Explain to students that having multiple skills is very similar to the workplace with so many budget cuts, especially for non-profit television and independent films.

Suggested groups:

  • Camera — (Director of Photography, Cinematographer, Director, Assistant Director)
  • Camera Crew- (Boom Operator, Sound Designer, Grips dedicated to Camera)
  • Lighting- (Gaffers and Grips dedicated to lighting)
  • Style- (Make up and Wardrobe)
  • Props and Set Design
  • Key Editor(s)
  • Locations (Scout, security, securing locations)
  • Talent- (Actors and Director)
  • Writers- (Key Writer and Script Supervisor)

When students enter, direct individual students to the correct table. Specific jobs were assigned in the prior lesson “Plan, Point, and Get Ready to Shoot!  Short Film Preproduction”.  If students are without a job, please assign accordingly.

Teacher says, “ Today, we begin shooting our short film productions.  Before we start production each day, you will meet in these job assignment groups to clarify the needs of your executive producer who will assign you a grade.  Your task is to review your duties and make sure everything is in place to shoot. Gather equipment and assemble if needed. You will have 5-10 minutes within your job assignment groups daily.”

Allow students time to review their job descriptions.  Check in with table groups to clarify job descriptions.  Students should gather equipment during this time.

Teacher says,” Before we begin, with your groups discuss the following question:  Why is communication important while shooting a film?”

Allow students to discuss their answers to this question with their groups.  Then have a class share out focusing on positive communication and listening skills.

The Executive Producer Tasks Lists


While students begin reviewing their descriptions, meet with the executive producer(s) and pass out The Executive Producer Daily Task List listed in the resources below.  Inform the executive producer(s) that this task list must be completed daily.  Also pass out the Executive Producer Grade Sheet.  Review this document clarifying that a portion of each students grade during this process will be assigned by the Executive Producer.

With each executive producer, review their production calendar and decide exactly what scenes will be shot for the day.

After meeting with the executive producer, have the executive producer meet with the camera team and director and review the shot list and make changes when needed.  Make sure objective is clear for the day.  Tell students that their shots must be planned in order to shot their footage for the day.  No shot list, no production.

Coach your executive producers to be leaders while going through the task list.  Model questions they should ask their cast and crew. This process needs to be done quickly before going to set.

Once task list is complete, clarify student expectations.

Teacher says, ” Your executive producer is responsible for assigning a grade for the work you produce.  Be cognizant of your shooting environment.  There may be other classes, so always be quiet on the set.  If you have a question, please ask your executive producer.  Always stay with your production team.  I will walk around and check in with each crew. Any questions?

After answering clarifying questions, allow students to begin their productions. Assign return to class time to groups allowing enough time for equipment return and handing over footage to instructor.


Homework: This homework is assigned to all students the day before production begins. Pass out the Homework Assignments handout.

  1. Read  http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/cinematographer2.htm and write a 3- paragraph reflection on cinematography.
  2. Then, write one statement about the characteristics of a great cinematographer.
  3. Post your reflection on your online portfolio.

Cinematography Exercises:  While students are in production, the cinematographer, director of photography, and grips will practice the following exercises each day. Teacher should monitor their progress and use questioning to check for understanding.  Teacher may need to model camera work for clarification.

Remind Cinematographer and DP of the following suggestion


Teacher will pass out the Cinematography Daily Exercise worksheet that includes exercises for Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4. Students are to review and complete the required readings, videos, or exercises in the first ten minutes of class each day for the next four days.

Day 1- Camera Settings and Clearing the frame- For this exercise, students are to familiarize themselves with the basic camera settings.

  1. Set camera frame rate to 24 frames per second (24p), which will give a cinema quality image. Your camera may have other choices such as 30p, which will give the highest quality image.
  2. Set the camera shutter speed to 1/48 or (1/(2 * frame rate).
  3. Identify the iris on the camera and turn off automatic controls and adjust it manually.  The iris is similar to aperture on a digital still camera or DSLR.
  4. Adjust frame to letterbox for the wide screen effect or wide. Avoid the squeeze setting if offered.
  5. Set the white balance using a non-reflective white card.
  6. Identify the Manual focus ring on the video camera.  Turn off the Automatic focus and adjust the manual focus ring.
  7. Identify Gamma modes if available and determine which is most appropriate for your shoot. Cinelike will give a cinema quality warm tone feel.
  8. Do a sound check after connecting Boom mic to camera and adjusting camera sound inputs.
  9. Record a sample take and replay for quality or connect camera to a monitor and check for quality.  Pay closely attention to sound capture if the boom is your primary source for sound.
  10. Make sure the boom is not in the frame, EVER! Make sure tripods, and other camera equipment are clear of the frame.
  11. Be aware of the background.  Each image should look like purpose.

Day 2- Rack Focus- Pulling Focus

  1. Begin by watching a short film defining pulling focus- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycnbrfiZDDY
  2. Read the website on Pulling Focus- http://www.theblackandblue.com/pulling-focus/
  3. Try pulling focus.  Set two objects on a table.  Begin by focusing on the first object using the manual focus ring on the camera.  Then move camera to second object and focus on the second object creating a soft focus on the first object.  Make sure objects are not too close together or too far apart.
  4. When shooting your footage day 2, pull focus at least once.

Day 3- Camera Movements- Dolly, handheld, Steadicam, and tripod

  1. For this camera work, incorporate the dolly in at least one shot today if not planned already.
  2. Incorporate handheld or Steadicam camera work in at least one shoot today.
  3. Pan in at the beginning of a scene.  Pan out at the end of a scene. Make sure you are using the tripod when panning with the camera.

Day 4- The Moment Before, Pick up Shots, and Ambient Sound

  1. Review the following 2 websites-http://www.notafraid.com/2011/05/pickup-shots/ and http://www.mediacollege.com/video/shots/pickup.html.
  2. Capture at least 2 minutes of action before the actor’s first line is delivered and after.  Where is the actor coming from and where are they going?  What were they doing before the scene began and what will they be doing right after?
  3. Capture Pick up Shots of the set with no main actors present.
  4. Read the following website- http://www.mediacollege.com/audio/ambient/
  5. Capture 2 minutes of ambient sound only for each shot before the actors begin speaking.


Homework- This homework is assigned to all students the 1st day of production. Pass out the Homework Assignments Homework.

Review the articles:

Then, visit the imdb.com and look up your favorite movie in the search engine.  List your favorite film and the director of that film.  Answer the following questions.

  1. What do you believe was the director’s creative vision when directing your favorite film?
  2. Click on the director’s name to view their imdb.com profile.  Have you watched any of their other films?
  3. If so, is it possible to identify the director’s style or creative vision in other films?

Lastly, write a three-paragraph reflection on directing. Then make one statement about the characteristics of a great director.

In Class-  Review statements from last night’s homework.

While students are in production, work with the directors to coach them in directing their actors and camera crew.  Use questioning strategies to encourage directors to direct their cast and crew.

The Production Phase Continues

Deadline: Students are to continue with their productions for a given time period. Make sure they are aware of how many days they are allotted to capture their footage and make sure that students stick to this deadline.  Walk around and work with the cast and crew via the executive producer, director, and director of photography.

Closing the class each day:  Make sure students return equipment to storage and submit their rough footage to the instructor.  Footage should be labeled.  I keep separate envelopes for each class with SD cards or tapes labeled with a variable.  This will avoid students accidently deleting other group’s footage.

Advice from the experts: Invite a local director, cinematographer, or sound engineer to coach students for an hour.  This outside experience is invaluable.

Dailies: Make sure students have a laptop on the set so they can review footage. Sometimes it is necessary to reshoot.  Dailies consist of footage that is prepared for the director and other crew to be viewed nightly in order to look for technical errors. Because of technology, this can be done immediately.   Make sure students are reviewing their footage.  Ask them how it looks.  Ask them if they need to reshoot anything.

Teacher review:  For the first day of production, review student’s footage and offer suggestions to the group.  I usually type this information and give it to the executive producer, director, and director of photography to inform other teammates.

Assessment Types:

The Executive Producer Grade Sheet will be used for assessment during Production.

The executive producer assesses students each day on their job performance.  This grade will be submitted to the instructor and adjusted according to teacher observation during this project.

I use my roster and walk around during production and give students a mark for their job performance (A- Task Achieved, C- In progress with support, and F-Not completing task with no effort or desire) and compare my results with the Executive Producer.

This grade sheet is also listed under the Executive Producer Activity.


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