iBook Production – Camera Composition

I mentioned that I worked on an iBook, a few weeks ago.  I promised to share a copy.  I created a form to download a PDF copy.  Here is the download link:

A few weeks later, I discovered iBook Creator and created a similar book in the EPUB format.

Email me if you have any suggestions holcomb.ca@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter and subscribe to my blog for more upcoming ideas for your media classroom.

Film and Technology in the classroom

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Using YouTube Playlists in the Flipped Classroom

The Problem

I play a lot of YouTube videos in my class. Luckily, for me I teach film and not math. It is not hard to relate the videos I am playing back to the curriculum. Still I don’t want people to get the wrong impression.  It was this concern that brought me to create YouTube playlists.  A few years ago, I found myself always searching for the correct video to show my class.  I try not to play videos I haven’t previewed before.  Sometimes it would take a second or two to find the right video.   During this time, my students would ask to watch other videos they saw on the screen. I hated not showing them the videos, that would have probably worked.  When searching for behind the scenes examples to show my class, the results would show videos from newer more popular films. Although, I would like to show them the newer examples it was in my best interest not to show them a video that may or may not illustrate the concept I was trying to teach them. This searching took time away from class.

When students are absent they are supposed to check Google Classroom for the daily agenda to see what was covered that day.  Sometimes they are sick, other times they are on a field trip, or out due to testing.  Creating a playlist of videos related to the subject we covered  helps the student to catch up. They may not need to watch everything the class watched to get the concept or they may need watch more because I may have pointed out things to look for in a particular video

The Solution

I discovered that I can create a playlists in YouTube and save them for future use.  I start by finding the videos that are most important. I put the most important videos first in the playlist. I play these first. If the students understand, you can move to the next topic. If not the class can watch more. This gives me the opportunity to include more videos then are needed.  If class is running a little short I have extra material to fill the time.

I  save time, by only showing parts of the videos. One of my favorite video series to use includes an opening and commercials at the end. I just show the students the core of the video. If you have seen the video before it is easy to find these sections.

I try to keep updating my playlists.  I am always finding new videos to use.  You can do this by looking at the suggested videos on the side of the screen.  There are always new videos to find and discover.


In the description, I include which standards that are being addressed.  I watch the videos carefully for everything.   I made the mistake of not realizing how boring a tutorial was once. It made perfect sense to me, but it made the students tune out.  Now  I show this video in small parts.  There are some places where you might want to pause the video to explain something or call attention to some details.
For teachers, who are interested in flipping the classroom. You can record videos to put into a playlist.  You can copy existing playlists and modify then to fit your classroom.  Here is some of the playlists I have created.

School spirit songs

Safety on Set

iPhone Tips in the classroom


Georgia Film Careers Playlist

I hope this helps and email me if you have any suggestions holcomb.ca@gmail.com.  Follow me on twitter and subscribe to my blog for more upcoming ideas for your media classroom.

The New Way to Teach Camera Composition: the scavenger hunt revisited

By: C. Holcomb

I am not sure if I invented it or saw it somewhere, but I have been teaching camera composition the same way for at least the last twelve years. I know a few others teachers that have a similar lesson to teach camera composition.  The students take still photos for a scavenger hunt, then label the photos, and then create a powerpoint. The technology has evolved to a point where this project is getting easier and the pictures are better quality.
To start this assignment, I show the students a short powerpoint on different shots and provide them with different examples. I explain to the students that everyone has a slightly different definition on shot composition. It important for them to understand this because you can find some resources that explain composition slightly different. This might confuse a student who doesn’t pay careful attention. I rely on my professional experience and my textbooks to define what I require on this assignment.
In the past, I had the students take pictures with the still camera or sometimes with a video camera capable of stills. This project would take a while because I only had a few cameras and I would send the students out two at time to take pictures. Thanks to cell phones most of students do not need to use the school cameras to complete this project. So, a few years ago, I changed this from a partner project to an individual project.

Another benefit of using cell phones is that the students are no longer limited by their location. Most of the pictures were taken in locations just outside my classroom, but now students no longer need to be at school to take the pictures. The results of having a larger location base was that I had students turn in some really good looking pictures. Gone are the days of student taking pictures with a cinder block backdrop and florescent lighting (boring).


The next advantage is, I have been able to decrease the time needed to complete this project.  Not only can the student upload the photos quickly to the computers, but they can also do their entire project on their phone. I no longer require the students to use powerpoint, and now I ask them to use Google Slides. They can work on their project on their phone, on a computer at home, or at school by logging into a Google Account. This semester I will give the students the option to turn in their project in as a Google Photo Album.
In the past, when they they did this assignment, they only took a few photos and many of them were incorrect. They felt rushed to take the pictures because someone was waiting to get the camera, and they had a limited amount of storage space. To overcome this, they had to delete the photos that were left on the card. My assignment only requires fifteen photos to make sure the students have a good grasp on camera composition, but I recommend taking much more than that.

Today, I had one student take only twenty photos, another take ninety-six and one take over two hundred. Now, they can afford to take more pictures until they get the picture they want. I am challenging students to show me something I haven’t seen before by using angles and lighting to their advantage. I have also made this a contest by telling them I would use the best ones in an article I was posting online. The downfall is not every student has a phone.

I know it is hard to believe. I still have a few who have broken their phone, or they refuse to clear up space on it. Others supposedly get grounded from their phone, or run the battery down before class. I started my lesson this year by explaining how to use Google Photos and letting them know it had unlimited storage. Still, I had to pull out some old still cameras to let them use for the projects. A benefit of this is, students working on their own device are finishing their project faster. The last two semesters I have had some talented students finish the assignment in one day!

Next year, I plan on adding lighting to this assignment. I want the students to experiment with lighting. The students will take photos that are backlit, overexposed, and underexposed. If the student can master this assignment we can make great looking projects all year long! One time, the students caught me experimenting, with lighting, while they were working on their projects, and they began taking their own lighting pictures.
Another thing I am experimenting with, is having the students do this project in a completely different format. When I first started, we were using video cameras with tape. Back then to have the students do this assignment as a video, would take way too long.  It would a lot quicker these days.  I have one student who is doing drawings on a computer. I would like to see someone, who is interested in animation, doing this as one.


Here is a list of the pictures I have been using for the assignment:


  1. XCU of an object
  2. XCU of a person
  3. MS of someone wearing a green or gold shirt
  4. MS of someone near the vending machines/ someone in the stands
  5. LS of someone walking (lead room)
  6. MCU of someone in front the media center/ someone near the gym entrance/ football gates
  7. MCU of someone in the cafeteria/ MCU of someone cheering
  8. XLS of a group of students
  9.  2 shot   
  10. a shot with a canted angle
  11. CU shot of someone in profile
  12. a shot that shows great depth of field
  13. a shot that shows shallow depth of field
  14. a eagle eye shot
  15. a low angle shot

I hope this helps and email me if you have any suggestions holcomb.ca@gmail.com.  If you would like to see how I define the shots above, you can download this short ebook to your favorite reader. Or read it online here.

Follow me on twitter and subscribe to my blog for more upcoming ideas for your media classroom.


Book Creator App

I installed the Book Creator app on my iPad this morning.  I used it to create a book of my daughter’s sight words.  With her help we recorded the words on the iPad.  It was a easy program to learn.  We were able to export it out as an ePub, a PDF and a video.  This only took a few minutes.  It will be easy to create a book each week for her to study.   The app cost $5 in the App Store.   It is available on iOS, Android and Windows mobile.  I recommend trying the free version out.   Here are links for the video  and ePub.  

I hope this helps and email me if you have any suggestions holcomb.ca@gmail.com.
Subscribe to my blog for more upcoming ideas for your media classroom.  Check out the Tap That YouTube channel for tips and tricks on using your iOS device.  

Film Crew Members in the Audio Video Technology and Film Classroom

If you are trying to do film projects in your classroom, it is important to get everyone involved.

So everyone needs a job, a different job.

On a film set everyone is encouraged to “stay in your lane”. That means to do your job and your job only. Film has a chain of command, and there can only be one person in charge

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Filming in my classroom.  

of the production. That person is the director. I assign a student to be the director, but I let them know I have the final call. As teacher, I assume the role of producer and make sure the students are able to make a film by providing them with the gear necessary and provide supervision of the entire production process. I usually assign an assistant producer to arrange for other locations and handle the business end of the production. I have tried to keep these positions as true to the industry as possible.

Film crews vary in size. As a teacher, you could put the students in groups of 5-7 students and have them make a films. When I did this in my class, I had the student do silent films and kept the actors to a minimum. Numbers never worked out evenly and students are always going to be absent. I figured out it is best to just a do a whole group production. I would prefer to have crew of no more then 24 students. At most schools you are going to have a few more. These are in order of my chain of command.

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Actors running lines

1 Director – They are responsible for keeping the film production going on even when the teacher is not engaged in production process. I let them know they are charge of the production and I am in charge of the classroom.
2 Assistant Director – The AD is responsible for running rehearsals and keeping the production on time. I put them in charge of the production assistants.
3 Assistant Producer – The assistant producer helps to keep the classroom going. I usually have the makeIMG 1630 425 copies of the script and any paperwork.
4 Director of Photography/Camera Operator- The camera operator is the person who will be setting up the shots and capturing them. The DP is responsible for the look of the film. I encourage this person to change the settings until they see an improvement. I combine these roles because this isn’t Hollywood and I need students elsewhere.
5 Script Supervisor – This student is making sure that everything gets captured. They also take notes on which takes are good. It is helpful to have this person record the settings from the camera. If someone is absent, they have this information to match the settings to get the same look.
6 1st AC or Focus Puller – This student is in charge of getting the camera in focus and helping to set up the camera.

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Editor working to get everything cut together.

7 2nd AC or slate – In this position they help to set up the camera, work with the 1st AC to set marks for actors and everyone’s favorite job slate the shots.
8 Gaffer/Lighting – Depending on the equipment available you may be able to add more people. The key here is to have enough light to shoot the scene. This person needs to work with the DP to get the look you are going for. I recommend keeping it simple. It is a horror film it needs low light. It is a comedy it need to be brightly lit.
9 Actor 1 – Realistically you may only 1-2 students who can act. Unless you are fortunate to have a lot of drama students in your class. You are going to need a few students who can fake it. I usually pick students who are extroverts like cheerleaders, chorus or band students. They can usually take the pressure of having everyone look at them. The fewer actors the better, if not getting coverage will be an issue.
10 Actor 2 – Depending on how many students have talent, this person may be more of a supporting role for the other actor.  If you have several people who can act, give everyone a chance.
11 Key Production Assistant 1- This is one position that will help where needed and will assigned to help by the assistant director. They will help assign the other production assistants duties.
12 Background actor 1 – This is where you might want to use some 2-3 students who are well liked, but may not have the acting or technical skills. These students may have one line to deliver or may have some action in the film. One of the scripts I use has a character who shows up late for class. It is a funny character so everyone gets a good laugh. This helps the students get into the character.
13 Background actor 2 – To keep things interesting I give my background actor a small role.  Think about the Breakfast Club.  You are a nerd doing your homework.  You are a jock sleeping.  You are a beauty queen doing her makeup.  Get the picture.
14 Art Department 1 Set Decorator – This student works with the DP to place objects on set to be seen by camera.

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Keeping up with the shots.

15 Art Department 2 Props – For this job you really need someone who is going find all the props necessary for the scene.  I had student make props for our last 48 hour festival.
16 Production Assistant 2 – The PA in this position will be in charge of lock ups. When you are recording, they will make sure that no one enters the set. They are standing at entrance to keep the production from getting interrupted at a critical point.
17 Production Assistant 3 – I like to assign someone to help out the Art department. They don’t get to make decisions.  This person supports the department.  This may be the person who moves everything for the Art Department.

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Director looking on as DP sets up the shot. 

18 2nd Assistant Director The 2nd AD is in charge of paperwork including the call sheet. Briefly, the call sheet is a document that lets the crew know what scenes are being recorded and who is working in which jobs. Assuming you have a classroom printer the students would get one everyday for the next day of recording.

19 Boom Operator – This is the student who aims the boom pole to record the best audio. This takes a bit of technique. I try to demonstrate to the students the difference in sound quality by showing the difference between a microphone that is aimed at the actor versus one that is aimed to the side of the actor.

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Boom operator

20 Audio Mixer– This student

IMG 2920 425
Trying to fight the shadows.  

is responsible for recording the audio. They press record on recorder, adjust levels as necessary and monitor for any problems. When we are short on crew members, we plug the camera straight into the camera and monitor the audio there. Just make sure that the camera setting are correct and you are not dealing with onboard audio.

21 Data Wrangler – This student is responsible for copying the footage to a hard drive or computer. It is best to make multiple copies. I prefer to use several small SD cards and keep the footage on the card until the production is over. To back up the footage on a Mac I create a disc image of the card. This is stored on an external or several external drives. Another method, I have used is to simply drag a copy of the footage into a folder and label the folder with scene number. I don’t recommend this method unless you are certain that it will not mess up the file structure.
22 Editor – On my most recent productions, I made the whole class edit the final project. However this fills another position and keeps a student busy during the production process. As long as the student has access to a computer that can usually edit the previous days recordings. On the first day, have this student work on a credit roll and a title sequence.

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Camera Department

23 Assistant Editor – I have this student import, label the footage and place in bins according to scene. For example, if a shot is scene 1 take 2, then label the shot sc1-tk2. Then that footage is put in the bin for scene 1 and sort the good takes from the bad takes. Later this footage is easy to find. Another duty they can perform is to synchronize the audio from the audio recorder to the video. Hopefully, your software will make this an easy job. You can manual synchronize the audio by lining up the sound of the slate from the audio recording with the scratch/camera audio.

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Small crew working on a short film.

24 Production Assistant 4 – You can never have too many production assistants. You may have this student tag along with you. When a problem pops up, assign them to fix it. It could that someone is absent or that the wind is blowing props around. Something will happen, and that is where they can be assigned.
25 Behind the Scene Photographer – It is a good idea to have a student take some pictures of the production process. These are good PR for your program. These can be used promote your final film or to share with parents.
26 Make Up Person – If you have a student or students who are interested this can be a valuable position.

Sure you are probably going to have a few more students. They can be background actors or PAs. My second year class are usually smaller and I have to do my productions with less students.

I hope you enjoyed this blog. Please email me if you have any suggestions holcomb.ca@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter and subscribe to my blog for more upcoming ideas for your media classroom. Subscribe to my youtube channel for iOS tips.

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