In pairs, learners prepare, film and present a short ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary. One learner takes the role of the ‘star’ or ‘diva’ (popular choices include Marilyn Monroe, King Henry VIII and Dylan Thomas), the other takes the role of interviewer/film maker. This activity tests learners’ improvisation skills whilst also giving them the safety net of being able to prepare beforehand. The fact that they are being filmed – and that multiple takes are not conducive to keeping the mood of the film authentic – makes it very exciting and can create some fabulously emotive (and funny!) scenes.
Show learners http://www.ehow.com/video_4755794_documentary-filmmaking-techniques.html or similar clip. This will give them an overview of the genre and help them to re-create an authentic film. It is important to emphasise that whilst they will have time to prepare scene ideas and some questions to be used in the film, the results are better if they do not rehearse these. By its very nature the film should be improvised and unpolished.
When they have prepared the storyboard of scene ideas and written a few starter questions, the pairing should now work separately. The ‘diva’ should find somewhere quiet to work on characterisation (do they want costumes, make-up props etc.) and the interviewer needs time to experiment with the camera. It may be possible for you to set these tasks as homework but this depends on the availability of cameras and you school’s policy on sending equipment home. A very basic camera with inbuilt microphone is more than sufficient (the films look best if the camerawork is a bit shaky!). We use Zoom or Flip cameras. The cameraman/interviewer should experiment with how best to hold/locate the camera for the best visual and audio effect.
When they are happy, the pair can be brought back together to film their documentary. Again, emphasise that each scene should be filmed only once and that they must carry on filming regardless. Anything they want to cut out of the film can be done during the editing process.
When they have finished, clips can be uploaded to iMovie (or similar), edited and a narrator’s commentary added. The class should then organise a film premiere session where each introduces and fields questions from the audience.
Time needed 3-4 hours (and some time as homework).
- Film editing software (iMovie is better than Windows Movie Maker).
- Costumes etc.
- Video cameras with inbuilt microphones.
Hints and tips
- Learners can choose contemporary famous figures or figures from history. The only caveat is that it is created in the present tense and not done as a retrospective. So, for example, if they choose to focus on Marilyn Monroe, they must act and present the documentary as though filming occurred sometime before her death in August 1962.
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