In partnership with the PLF, a group of seven students from the Eugene Lang College at the New School in NYC spent five weeks conducting various innovative projects at PLF sponsored schools. Below is a write up from a media lab project, carried out by Jika Gonzalez and Barrett Hawes.

Overall Workshop Strategy

With basic video skills and a strong storytelling style already on display in the Tchey media students’ previous videos, this five session workshop was structured to touch on each stage of video production, in order to take their skill set to the next level with tips, techniques, and theories from the professional world of television and documentary video production. The workshop was also designed to prepare the student video crews for a relatively large-scale video shoot scheduled to take place shortly after the workshops.

Workshop #1 – Interview Skills

The first workshop focused on how to perform a basic interview, which is an important skill for many types of media. Kristin’s anthropology experience made her an excellent person to lead the workshop.

Icebreaker: The session began with all of the Tchey and Lang students (and Jika and I) casually and informally sitting around a table. One by one, we introduced ourselves and talked about our experiences working with media and what element of it we like best. Then we took turns trying to remember everyone’s name until we could all do it (though consistently proper pronunciations took a bit longer).

Exercise A: Who When Where What Why How. The initial exercise was intended to simply map out the types of questions that can be asked in an interview. Kristin began by asking the students what questions they had asked their subjects in interviews they conducted for previous videos. As the Tchey students read their sample questions aloud, Kristen divided them into six categories on the board: who, when, where, what, why, and how. Kristin then led a discussion with the students about the type of information garnered from the six Question Words. The most complex idea that Kristin tried to teach was the importance of listening to the subject when you are performing an interview, so that you can interject with follow-up “Why” and “How” questions in order to acquire those more interesting responses.

As this was the first workshop, we–not surprisingly–ran into communication difficulties. Of course we only spoke their language to say a few small phrases, and while 2 or 3 or the Tchey school kids did speak English well and the others had supportive translations from our trusty tuk-tuk driver Saveth (and also from their classmates), it seemed very difficult to make these concepts clear. The Lang group interacted with Kristin as much as possible and encouraged the Tchey school kids to interact as well, hoping to replace lecture with an example- based discussion complete with activities and games. But the kids were very shy and quiet. And we were pretty darn shy at that point too.

Exercise B: 20 Questions

The low point of this workshop session was an attempt to play a simple, 20 questions-style game in order to illuminate the concepts discussed. (At least, we thought it was simple when we planned it.) The Tchey students could not understand the rules of the game despite many attempts to explain them. At that point we were not sure were the translation breakdown was–between us and Saveth, or between Saveth and the Tchey students. The communication clearly was going to need a lot of work. We finally abandoned the game and moved on mercifully to Exercise C.

Exercise C: Interviewing Each Other

In this activity, the students went off in pairs to interview one another. We specifically set up each pair with one boy and one girl, so as to impede on the comfort zone they would have with their closer, same-gendered friends. Each student had 10 minutes to interview their classmate and learn as much about them as they could. This was the first point in the workshop that the students seemed to be fully engaged. The session was running late by the time the second set of interviews was complete, so we chose to begin the next workshop with each student presenting the biography of the classmate they interviewed.

Workshop #2 – Shooting Interviews

The second workshop furthered the lessons of the first workshop, while adding the element of videography to the interview.

Icebreaker:  Each student gave an oral biography of the person they interviewed at the end of the previous session. The interviews varied with regards to the amount of information learned. Most of the students used at least five or the six Question Words in their interview, which demonstrated to me that they learned something in the previous session. However, it was only Sre Ya who successfully interjected a follow-up, on-the-fly “Why” or “How” question to gain a deeper level of understanding. For the most part I think those more complex concepts of interviewing were never properly communicated–either because of translation issues or because the information wasn’t presented in a clear or palatable manner.

Exercise A: Video Production Basics

I began by asking the students what they thought is the best way to approach a video at its inception, and after some debate and scribbling on the chalkboard, we quickly arrived at two basic points:

1. Decide what your video is about.

2. Plan the way you want your story to unfold in the video.

Then we watched the kids own videos for examples about how to successfully use different story telling elements. In “The History of Chey School,” for example, the video uses very specific questions in their INTERVIEW with the principal to tell the story. And in “How to Plant a Banana Tree,” you see the SCENE of the banana tree being planted. In the GoodTube video, the NARRATION masterfully weaves their current lives with their country’s recent history.  And so, herein, we defined 3 primary story-telling methods: Interviews, Scenes, and Narration.

I think watching their videos and using them as examples worked well. It seemed like the first time that we were engaged with the Tchey kids in a dialogue that was full of energy–laughing, thinking, and smiling.

Exercise B: Shooting Interviews

For the rest of the day, we worked on shooting the first element of video storytelling–the interview. Without discussing shooting style, the same pairs of students who interviewed each other in the first workshop session went out to conduct interviews of other people–this time recording the interviews on a video camera. Each student took a turn doing the camera work or doing the interview, and then each pair switched roles and found a second subject to videotape and interview. There was an emphasis on having them interview people they did not know well, which was obviously a challenge on their school grounds, but they did an impressive job finding other students of very different ages and also many of the Lang students on site (including the gardeners).

Workshop #3 – Shooting Scenes

The third workshop explored the story-telling method that maximizes the power of video: seeing the story unfold with visual images.

Icebreaker The session began with all of the Tchey students gathering around the iPads to watch the interviews that were shot at the end of the previous session. After viewing each interview we discussed two questions: What did you learn from the interview? And how did it look visually? Within this discussion, I attempted to reinforce the interview concepts of the first session and also to give basic video tips. For example, your subject should be the brightest element of the visual frame so that the viewer?s eye focused naturally upon your subject (and also so that the auto-focus feature of the video-camera captures the subject in focus). Again, I believe using the students’ own work as a teaching aid helped keep them engaged, though some specific concepts were difficult to get across due to translation issues.

Exercise A: Shooting Visuals

Jika led this exercise, which attempted to teach the students to use the element of video that separates it from other forms of media–the power of the moving image as a story-telling device. Each student went into the field and, taking turns with a partner, chose one object or event to video from as many different angles as possible. The goal was for each student to pick one visual subject and to shoot it from at least 10 different angles.

There was clearly a lack of communication for this exercise–despite our repeated attempts to emphasize the major points–as only 2 or 3 of the students understood its intention. Most students videotaped several subjects, and few captured more than 2 or 3 different angles. It was admittedly disappointing and after it had seemed we were starting to make progress with our communication issues. This is an area that could use follow up with future volunteer teachers.

Workshop #4 – Post Production

The fourth workshop explored the editing process of video production, primarily through the act of learning by doing.

Icebreaker: I began with a simple exercise to get their minds thinking about how put their video together. I asked them what their favorite movies were and why, and I threw key words up onto the chalkboard. They included “good story,” “beautiful images,” and “magic,” among others. And while Harry Potter was a bit beyond what they were doing, I hoped to draw a parallel between their videos and the movies that millions of people around the world flock to watch. I encouraged them to keep these ideas in mind as they pieced together their own videos (though admittedly, I did not feel like this concept sunk in with much depth).

Exercise A: Editing

To explore editing, the boys, led by Sen, chose to use footage that they shot in the previous session: lots of footage of ducks crossing the school grounds and settling into a body of water behind the school. The girls chose to continue work on their video already in progress, about children who work after school–or work instead of going to school at all. I moved back and forth between the groups to watch their progress and address simple editorial questions, such as: Who is your audience? What information do you need to provide for them to comprehend your story? How are you introducing the subject? How are you exploring the story? What is the point you are trying to get across? These concepts were admittedly tough to delve deeply into because of the continued language limitations (though Sen by now had become a valuable translator).

Workshop #5 – Looking Ahead & Finishing a Project

The fifth workshop continued the exploration of the editing process and also hoped to prepare the students for their upcoming video shoot about Cambodian students living in a rural environment.

Exercise A: Srayang Prep

Taking into account all of the video-making theories that we had explored as a group up to that point, we struggled through a discussion meant to prepare the Tchey students for their upcoming video shoot at Srayang. I attempted to highlight the major points on the chalkboard: What is the goal of the video? To explore how differently Cambodian rural students live and learn. How do you intend to tell the story? Using a combination of interviews with students and scenes of them at school and in their home lives. I encouraged them to think about their interview questions from this perspective and to plan the scenes they wanted to videotape as much as possible. This was not a particularly lively or engaged discussion, which was perhaps the result of a lack of an icebreaker, lack of visual aid or activity, and also the complexity of the topic.

Exercise B: Finishing a Video

As promised at the end of Workshop #4, Chenda and Reaksay (with the help of Srey Ya) presented their nearly finished video, “The Work of Students After School.” This immediately charged the dull workshop session, as the boys were eager to watch and the girls were nervous to share. The video was met with supportive laughter and applause. After we screened it, we had a lively discussion about what finishing touches the video needed, which mostly amounted to changing the music, fixing the audio mix, and smoothing out the titles and subtitles. Sen and Sothy were particularly helpful, as their iMovie skills were key to smoothing out the kinks, and I was impressed by how much they worked with the girls, so that the Reaksay’s iMovie skill set in particular improved from the boys help. Meanwhile Sopha and Samoun were team players, using another computer to download music options for the video. After some hard, quick work, we re-watched the video and celebrated.

Overall Workshop Reflections

Despite the difficulties we encountered throughout the workshop sessions– primarily communication issues, but also the need to get to know and trust one another in a short period of time–I do consider it to have been a success. I can’t say that any of the students learned a breakthrough amount about video production, but by continuing to practice their craft at the very least, I am sure it was of value to them. And I do believe that some of the basic concepts that we tried to highlight throughout the workshops will stick with them.

Me, on the other hand… I learned an unquantifiable amount about working with a group of folks seemingly so different from myself. Primarily, I realized that the growth and success of the relationships and the project as a whole occurred when we focused on what we had in common. It took a lot for me to overcome my admittedly bashful tendencies, but once I did, the relationships gained were awesome. And next time I am in a similar situation, I know I will come out of my shell much more quickly. I only wish now that I had more time with them…

by Barrett Hawes