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Week 10: Reading Movies

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cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by alexkess

This week we enter what most students find the most challenging yet rewarding portion of ds106: video. Working with video presents challenges with file formats and using more complex software. But the end rewards are often the most rewarding.

Before we jump into editing, we want to spend some time first looking critically at the video form. Read the rest of this post for details about all of your work for this week.

Ready Your Tools

For the work in the next 2-3 weeks, you will need to be using software that allows you to combine, edit, re-sequence video, as well as being able to add or even replace the audio from a video clip. Reference the Tools for the Trade for links to software you might want to use as well as our new Video Guide for video resources and tutorials.

We most strongly recommend that you use the applications that come with most computers- either Windows Movie Maker or Apple’s iMovie, these are generally the easiest to get started with and should be available on your computer. Note that there are often challenges in Movie Maker and importaing MP$ type videos, you may have to install extra video codec software or find converters that will translate MP$ videos into AVI or WMV formats (try or

In addition, for making small clips from downloaded videos, get a copy of the free MPEG StreamClip, an application for Mac OSX and Windows that makes it easy to mark and export the exact portion of a video – see our new tutorial that shows you how this is done. If you inatall the newest Beta version you can actually import videos directly from YouTube.

When you write up your week’s summary, describe the video tools you have available and what your familiarity with them, even if it is none.

Reading Movies

You have likely seen plenty of movies, but when we say “reading” movies we mean looking at them with a keener eye for the cinematic elements that make them successful (or not). This is not about labels of “good” or “bad” movies, but how well they convey the story to all our senses, how well they suspend our disbelief to make the plot real, to draw us in.

For your work in this week, you are expected to look for details in movies,many of which are found in Readings
From Roger Ebert’s “How to Read a Movie

“In simplistic terms: Right is more positive, left more negative. Movement to the right seems more favorable; to the left, less so. The future seems to live on the right, the past on the left. The top is dominant over the bottom. The foreground is stronger than the background. Symmetrical compositions seem at rest. Diagonals in a composition seem to “move” in the direction of the sharpest angle they form, even though of course they may not move at all. Therefore, a composition could lead us into a background that becomes dominant over a foreground. Tilt shots of course put everything on a diagonal, implying the world is out of balance. I have the impression that more tilts are down to the right than to the left, perhaps suggesting the characters are sliding perilously into their futures. Left tilts to me suggest helplessness, sadness, resignation. Few tilts feel positive. Movement is dominant over things that are still. A POV above a character’s eyeline reduces him; below the eyeline, enhances him. Extreme high angle shots make characters into pawns; low angles make them into gods. Brighter areas tend to be dominant over darker areas, but far from always: Within the context, you can seek the “dominant contrast,” which is the area we are drawn toward. Sometimes it will be darker, further back, lower, and so on. It can be as effective to go against intrinsic weightings as to follow them.”

Read this! This is gold.

To get an appreciation for some of the power of cinematic techniques, watch at least 5 of the following videos about making film.

Other elements to consider keeping in mind include:

  • Lighting
  • Film “tone” (bright, monochrome, washed out, high contrast, low contrast)
  • Set design, wardrobe and location
  • Sound- music, sound effects
  • Action, stunts

Look, Listen, Analyze

Now we want to apply some of these to a classic scenes from movies. From the YouTube lists below, pick one scene you will analyze (do not watch it yet!)

You will now review the clip three times.

  1. Before watching the first time, slide the volume on the clip (or on your computer) all the way down. Take notes on the visual aspects of the clip. Look for camera angles, cuts, how many times the camera switches view, the quality of light. Look for the ways the camera tells, guides the story.
  2. Now turn the volume up, but play it without looking at the screen; just tune into the audio. Take notes on the pacing of the dialogue, the spaces in the the audio, the use of music or sound effects (think back to our work earlier on listening to audio).
  3. Finally, watch the scene with the audio as normal. Pay attention to something you may have missed the first time or how the elements you saw in the first two steps work together.

Write up a blog post that includes the embedded clip, and the notes you made in the three views of the scene. Did you notice thing but minimizing your senses?

Now use what you have read in Ebert’s column or anything else you observed in the cinematic technique videos to identify key elements of this scene. Include specific reference to Ebert’s idas of left/right character placement, what the camera angle suggests, how the way the scene is shot builds the story element. We are looking for the video aspects that makes this work well (or not) – not just “this is a great scene” or “this is my favorite movie”.

Exploring the Movie Even More

Seek more background information on this movie from its entry in WikiPedia or the Internet Movie Database. Find at least 3 interesting bits of information about the making of the movie – link to your sources.

Identify the film genre and justify your choice with supporting evidence from the film using one of the references below:

Next, find at least one other YouTube clip from this same movie; download all the clips as .mp4 files to your computer (here is a tutorial on downloading YouTube videos).

To get practice in video, locate at least 2 smaller portions within these clips that demonstrate points you made in your analysis in your post. We want you to put these scenes together in a short montage, editing them together so that you get some basic experience with video editing. You will then want to pull sections out of them with MPEG Streamclip and combine them into a newly edited video (this is possible to do just within this application- see our brand shiny new tutorial).

Upload your montage to YouTube, and include as part of a post on Exploring a Great Movie Scene summary.

A Little bit of Pre-Production First

Before we set you loose on the Video Assignments next week, many of which require some knowledge of video editing tools and techniques, we would like to focus on some pre-production that will help you complete the assignments.

What we want you to do this week is to identify two assignments that appear interesting, and just do the set up work that will enable you to complete the assignments next week. DO not start editing, just identify and assemble the media you think you will need (e.g. find the source clips you might use in YouTube, list or find the types of images or audio files you might need) and what you think it will take to create your own video.

The assignments listed below were chosen because they have plenty of examples done by previous ds106 students and they also have tutorials that others have written for the assignment

  • Return to the Silent Era: Select a trailer or movie segment you can use for this assignment.  Outline the things you can add to make it more like silent movie style, or write the text you will use on the screens that display dialogue.
  • Vintage Educational Video Assignment: Identify an educational video you could use to create your own; create a script and set of media needs to complete  the assignment.
  • Play by Play: Write a script and record audio you can use for this assignment.
  • Plinkett Review: Write a script and record audio you can use for this assignment.
  • Make a Scene from a Horror Film: Outline and describe what you would need to do for this assignment
  • Redub a Movie: Write a script and record audio for this assignment.
  • Or choose any other video assignment, and document all you would need to do before going into editing

Again the point here is to just do everything you would need to do for these assignments up until you do video editing. Write a blog post outlining what you’ve completed for pre-production for these assignments. Include in your writeup a short review of 2 previously done examples you looked at for each assignment.

Daily Creates

To keep your creative juices running, do at least two daily creates this week. It would be most worth it to take on a video challenge!

For Your Weekly Summary

Be sure to include al of these items in your weekly summary as well as your reflections about what you learned from trying to read video.

  • Include in this week’s summary your review of what video editing tools you have available and can use, as well as describing your familiarity with using them (“none” is fine, it just helps to know where you are starting from).
  • A post after your “3 time” review of a selected movie scene. Be sure to include aspects you learned from Ebert’s “Reading Movies” essay as well as other things you observed about the use of sound, camera techniques, lighting, set design. This should include the embedded clip.
  • A second post with what you found about the making fo the movie, andy production information you find interesting, and its genre. Include the clip you created by combing clips form two different scenes together, this should be uploaded to YouTube as well.
  • A post describing two of the video assignments you might consider working on next week. This should include a reason why the assignment appeals to you, as well as a description of the types of media or techniques you think it might need based on the description of the assignment and the examples done by others.
  • A summary of the two Daily Creates you have done this week.

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