Oscar Wilde, the playwright, once said, “Imitation if the sincerest form of flattery.” Well, what better way to learn the art and process of filmmaking than by copying from the greats?
The scene re-enactment is an in-class project designed to teach beginning film/video students how to put together a short scene from start to finish. Usually chosen by the instructor (sometimes with input from the class), the scene in question is usually one that’s instantly recognizable, but always meets the following criteria: three minutes or less, a minimum of two speaking roles, one location, and at least one “interesting” camera shot. About the only thing the students don’t do is write the script.
Without being shown the original scene, each student receives the script and attempts to “break it down” (design shots to tell the story) as if s/he is the director. Then, their shot list gets compared to the original. Often, students design many more shots than what is needed for a three-minute scene. This teaches them the brevity of visual storytelling and the importance of budgeting time (and consequently, money). Of course, editors love coverage, so if a student has a particularly interesting (or necessary) shot not used in the original, we include it.
Next, students choose their production roles. Depending on the size of the class, they may wear multiple hats. The Production Designer (PD) scouts for and secures a location, set pieces and relevant props, while the Director scouts for talent and creates a shot list based on the original scene. Meanwhile, the Director of Photography (DP) designs a camera and lighting plot, coordinating with a Gaffer (lighting director), and the Key Grip reserves the necessary gear. Then, the Assistant Director (AD) creates a shooting schedule based on the talent’s and location’s availabilities, as well as the camera placement and shot difficulty. If time permits, the Director also produces storyboards, but those are already available from the original edit.
The day before the shoot, the PD dresses the set while the Gaffer and Key Grip light the scene. The DP practices the camera shots and any camera moves. If available, the Director rehearses with the talent.
On the day of the shoot, the AD basically takes over, keeping everyone on track as far as what shot is next and how much time they have to get a good take or two. The students learn the on-set calls and more importantly, how to do their job and not the job of another crew member. Additional roles on this day include the Script Supervisor, who keeps all of the production paperwork, assists the AD and primarily watches for continuity issues, and the Location Sound Recordist, who’s responsible for operating the mixer and/or boom microphone. Being students, each of them wants to give their feedback on the performance, tweak a shot, or move a light, but they quickly learn to focus on their specific duties, not those of another crew member.
In the end, most classes are able to complete in four hours what it took professionals a full day (minimum) to shoot. And they also break everything down in that time too. Granted, the student version is nowhere near as polished as the original, professional version, but students get a practical lesson in the complexities and harmony of how a crew works and how a scene comes together without having to use this learning curve on a more important project… one of their own for their demo reel.
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