Monday, 10 November 2014

Film Openings event at the NFT

Presentation summary as used November 2012:

I had a very enjoyable day at the National Film Theatre yesterday, chairing an event of film openings from schools and colleges. We looked at some material which is expanded upon in my post below on film openings, but also some additional material which I am linking here. We were joined by two industry speakers whose work could be useful to a wider audience of students, so I am posting links to them here too.

Three film openings on which I showed at the event

Catch Me If You Can

Good as a graphic titles sequence and an illustration of how a film-maker can suggest things about character and narrative as well as establish a sense of place in an opening. A very large number of titles integrated into the graphics, which serve as a good model for thinking about how titles need to be used in student film openings too.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

In this sequence, we looked particularly at the fragments of narrative (a kind of back story) and at the way the titles appear in red on black with a little 'bleed' each time, but of particular interest is the use of sound, which is quite 'layered' with the Johnny Cash song, the heartbeat noise, the bits of dialogue and other little stings which link with the images.

Napoleon Dynamite

This sequence is a really novel way of representing the titles, but also gives us a sense of the characters, even though only one character appears and then only on his ID card.

Our guests for the day were the man behind all the Bond film titles from Goldeneye to Casino Royale, Daniel Kleinmann, and the editor of the film released today, Monsters, Colin Goudie.

Daniel mainly works in commercials, having started in music video in the 1980s with work for the likes of ZZTop, Adam and the Ants and Gladys Knight; he is based at Rattling Stick in London and his recent adverts can be seen here. His titles for Casino Royale drew upon the influence of Saul Bass (Vertigo, see post below) and blended graphic work with live action to introduce the then new Bond, Daniel Craig.

Casino Royale

Colin Goudie has worked on a number of films and TV productions as a sound and vision editor and his latest work on Monsters was the subject of our session. The film is released today at both arthouses and mainstream cinemas and is well worth seeing. He describes it as a love story and a road movie, but it has the look of Sci-fi in a post-apocalyptic world.

The official site is here

Colin talked very animatedly about the process of making the film, including the improvisation, the largely amateur cast and the use of multiple locations. The film has caused quite a stir as it has been made on a micro budget yet got quite a big release. Another BFI event interview with Colin appears here.

Colin also mentioned the value of youtube clips which show how things are done. One on visual effects is at

Film openings for A level

This post is aimed at students doing the film opening task for AS Media with OCR, but there is plenty of advice here which can be of use to students doing other film-related projects, such as a short film or a trailer. The main thing is to make your final project look like what it is supposed to be- so if it is meant to be a trailer, you need to be sure it shows the conventions of a trailer, but if it is a film opening, it MUST follow the conventions of film openings!

The OCR AS video task asks you to make "the titles and opening of a new fiction film, to last a maximum of two minutes". Many students fall into the trap of thinking this is a really easy task and they can just have a laugh doing it and walk off with a good grade. Nothing could be further from the truth! Expectations are very high from this production work and you will need to work systematically and be extremely well organised if you are to be successful.

However, there are a number of steps you can take which will undoubtedly maximise your chances of producing something for which can get you good marks and of which you can be proud!

Step 1: Ideas

Keep them simple. the more complicated your idea, the more will go wrong. Put limits on settings, actions, characters, story. Try to whittle down the pitch so it can be explained in 25 words, like these here or try to summarise it so that if you were explaining it to someone in a lift, you would get through your explanation and they would understand it by the time the lift reached the floor you are going to.

Step 2: Research

This is a much abused term and often seems to be seen by students as doing some kind of survey and watching a few film openings chosen by the teacher.WARNING- this is not enough!

Research for this kind of project really means getting a full understanding of what the task involves by looking properly at real examples and at examples done by previous media students. A few years ago, this would have involved a big collection of VHS tapes but since youtube came along, frankly, it's all there on a plate for you to select from. This link will take you to a whole load of film openings from a range of different genres.

Even better though, is, where you can download openings from a huge variety of films in SD and HD without any adverts or other stuff getting in the way. The site also features directors, designers and others, talking about their work on these openings- for films, tv programmes and video games.

For some really innovative graphic-style titles from the past, the work of designer Saul Bass is well worth a look. There is a collection of his work here on youtube, including this one for Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'

Research needs to cover film conventions- how is an opening established in terms of story, genre, location, character, camerawork?- but also institutions- which personnel, jobs and organisations are credited in those opening two minutes and in what order and why?- and the audience- all media texts are specifically targeted at particular audiences and you need to consider how this is done and who that audience is.

You can do the conventions bit by watching a range of examples and identifying how they work; institutions can be covered by making good use of a range of examples on the artofthetitle site. An exercise that helps with this is this one here, making a timeline of the titles from an existing sequence. This example of what a student did to plot the titles of 'Iron Man'

For the audience research, the temptation is to do loads of questionnaires and then endless pie charts. You really don't need to do this and it is of questionable value anyway. Two strategies I would recommend are for quantitative data (numbers) do some online research to find breakdowns by audience age and gender for particular films and for qualitative data (what people say, in more depth) have some regular feedback sessions with your classmates where you look at each others' ideas, progress, animatics and rough cuts and then finally your finished work to give and get feedback. This needs structuring with some focussed questions, and you could always video it and put bits on your blog for evidence.

Finally, look at old student work. A search for 'G321' on youtube or vimeo or 'Year 12 film openings' will yield lots of results. Your task is to identify the strengths which you could learn from and the weaknesses which you will attempt to avoid!

Here are a couple of sites which contain plenty of them and an example to get you started.



Step 3. Planning

This is the other big aspect of the process where you can do so much to ensure the overall success of your project. I would suggest that a blog is the best place to gether evidence of both your research and your planning, so that the whole project can be seen as a journey. It is also a lasting record for when you come to do the exam at the end of the second year, when you will need to refer back to things you did a while ago in your preparation for the exam. Blogging can allow you to show all kinds of examples which have inspired you and which you have used for research.

For planning, everything needs to be taken into account. It is always tempting not to bother with storyboards but it is a mistake if you do so. You need a visual plan for your work as it won't just happen when you have a camera in your hand! I would recommend using post-its for constructing a storyboard, as you can move the frames around and change the order easily. Once you have done the storyboard, the next step is to turn it into an animatic, which quite literally involves taking a photo of each frame (on your phones or a webcam, nothing fancy) and then dropping the frames onto the timeline of your digital editing program. You can then cut them to length, add titles and sound and then export the whole thing as an animatic- a moving storyboard. here's one...

L3 Group 7: JAHMAL & SVEN - OPENING SEQUENCE ANIMATIC from cmdiploma on Vimeo.

You can get feedback on yours from your peers and then adjust for the final shoot accordingly. Other planning which you could easily evidence on a blog would be moodboards of the overall piece- which could initially be produced using found images- 'recce' shots where you go out on location and take snaps of places you might use and things like costume and prop ideas. All the way through the project you can be taking screengrabs of your work in action, like work you are doing in photoshop or your digital edit program.

The other crucial aspect of planning is logistics.This involves production management skills, thinking ahead to everything that could possibly go wrong on your shoot and to every little detail of what you will need. Nothing should be left to chance- costumes, props, locations, camera equipment and people all need orgnaising. Don't have your actors just wearing any old clothes- plan what they will wear; don't rely on someone else remembering particular props, have a list of who is bringing what. Don't assume everyone will simply turn up- make sure everyone has all the phone numbers and everyone knows exactly where they should be and when.

As for locations, make sure you have got the place you want at the time you want and without other people getting in the way of your shoot. If any of these things can't be achieved, re-think where you are going to shoot. It looks terrible if you have members of the public around in the background or a tripod sitting in the corner, so plan things so that you can control your set!

Step 4. Production

As director, you will need to be in charge of your actors and it will be your job to get the best out of them. Key elements of this are explaining what you need and what their role involves, rehearsing so that their performance looks convincing and enthusing them so they give their best. A lame performance will spoil your film opening!

You also need to know your equipment- you should have had lots of chances to use it to experiment, to try things out as you build up the project but by the time of the main shoot you should be absolutely in command of it. If you fumble around or forget bits of kit, you will have wasted your own and other people's time.

Use your storyboard but get extra takes- don't rely on one angle for everything or just one take. when you come to review the footage there may be little bits you don't like, so several takes of each shot will give you some choice. You might do a bit of improvising on the day with other shots that you haven't thought of before. Extra footage costs nothing, so you might as well get it. go for some unusual angles and go for plenty of variety, especially close-ups.

Step 5: Post-Production

When you have all your footage, you need to get it organised back on the computer in the edit program, labelled and sorted. When you start to edit, always think of the big picture first before you go on to the small detail. If you obsess about getting a particular shot or transition absolutely right before you've got a rough edit in order, you may end up running out of time!

You need to give equal prominence to all the formal aspects- soundtracks,camerawork, choice of mise-en-scene, pace of editing and of course the titles, so be thinking about those all the way through your edit. Don't leave any one aspect until the last minute; it's all important.

Finally, remember it is a film opening not a whole film or trailer; don't have too much happening or try to tell too much of the story, but on the other hand don't make it so impressionistic that it looks like a trailer.

In a future blog, I will consider some good ways of doing the evaluation for the AS specification.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

20 Ideas to refresh your media teaching

Really, you needed to be there! A course for teachers run by me and Tom Woodcock, 6th Nov 2014 at the EMC...The twenty ideas:

Get to Know the Class

About Me

Post-It Lesson Plans

Twitter: Interactive Media in the Classroom

Out to Shoot

Storyboard: Choose your Weapon


Cut and Paste

Bingo for Writing

Assessment Challenges

Instagram Adverts

Don Draper

Research and the Art of Recording Learning


‘External’ ‘Experts’

Do Something Different

Rough Cuts and Step Deadlines

Attention to Detail

Writing for an Audience

Reflective Island

And the resources we used:

2  About.Me: a good site for students to create a profile

3 examples of post-it lessons based on

4 @bcotmedia does a lot of this!

5 other induction task videos here:

6 Storyboard this:

a person is standing outside a window
they look in through the window
they are shocked at what they see

What kind of storyboard sheets do you use?

Re-makes are a really good way to build skills:
  NFTS students do it with a painting! :

The Jamie's Dream School Trailer is followed by the original; also featured here are a  Juno titles re-make, a playlist of music video re-makes and some horror trailers. 

Tv- and 



music video extract-,   


Re-makes can work well in print too:

re-make a film poster: (GCSE)

8 An exercise in image selection for a newspaper

9 The Bingo grid- put nine words on a grid and students write a mini essay using all nine then peer assess

10 Discussion of challenges around assessment

11 Instagram ads- choose object of stationery
take three advertising photos
put on instagram
think of target audience
leave negative space on pic for tagline
be ready to pitch

12 Pitch using the pictures!

13 Taking notes using paper v digital

14 Collaboration- the advantages of it for both coursework and research for exams!

15 Some people you might invite into the media classroom:

other staff
SMT / Governors
media practitioners
other arts/media organisations

16 Different ideas! The CD cover meme:

Use the title of a randomly-generated Wikipedia article. You HAVE to use the title of the page you land upon!1. Get a band name:

2. Get an album title: 
Use the last four or five words from the last quote on this page of random quotations

3. Get your image:
Use the random images  generator from Flickr's last seven days you HAVE to use the third image, whatever it is

4. Drop image and words into Photoshop:

Adjust your band name and album title by changing the font, colour and size and maybe putting a bit of layer effect on. Resize your image so that it is the right size for the front of an album. If you want, you can turn colour into black and white, but you can’t add anything else to the image!

The shoot out-

17 rough cuts and step deadlines- a better way to organise projects

18 a couple of sensational videos:

19 Tips for exam writing:

short sentences
short paragraphs
line spacing
concrete examples

20 Reflection Islands- thinking about your experience of courses!