A dozen researchers made their own short films after reviewing existing material. This course signposted video hosting websites and discussed how online video can feed into social media platforms. We talked about a few key filmmaking techniques and showed how very low-budget short films can create excitement and generate online text or video based discussion.
The first session began with delegates doing quick sketches to describe their research, like playing Pictionary, setting the scene for awareness of film as a communication tool. We presented and compared several University research films, from the Cambridge Ideas and Under the Microscope series, with the help of a professional filmmaker.
YouTube and Vimeo were explored as two video hosting websites that offer slightly different functionality and attract different users. They both allow text descriptions and for videos to be embedded into other web platforms. Whereas YouTube is more popular and has more content, Vimeo tends to have better audience engagement through its citation and comments that link together various films’ contributors.
Storyboarding, or scripting a film while planning its images, is a key aspect of crafting an audio-visual story. We discussed aspects of cinematography that included use of: talking heads, where a presenter speaks directly to camera; close-ups or landscape shots; moving scenes or static or frames, where visuals speak for themselves; and whether to be serious and direct, or to introduce elements of whimsy into a research narrative.
Delegates had a week to generate video footage using mobile phone cameras and returned for a quick master class in using iMovie. People crafted their video, working alone or in pairs, to make a two or three-minute video that used cross-fades, static imagery, voice-overs and cut-away shots to tell a brief story.
Most delegates said this was useful for their professional development, with the exception of one person, who said: “I am confident I will leave making videos to professionals… I didn't know that a high level of skill and equipment would be needed, so in this sense, it was useful!” People enjoyed the opportunity to plan a storyboard alongside professional filmmakers, using words and visuals to create a narrative. Everyone came away from the course feeling more informed about filmmaking.
We wanted this course to stimulate production of material for online conversations. Whereas some people already had detailed knowledge of video platforms and found aspects of it too basic, some people valued the background, saying: “It was good to get an overview of the range of ways in which videos could be put online, and to get some experience with editing software.”
Technical problems and time pressures were frustrating and we could include more tips in advance on cutting together material to aid planning. Some people thought the sessions could be shorter, but others wanted more time; we highlighted that any members of the University are able to use the facilities by booking with the University Computing Service.
Several people from the course said they would make videos again, with some people highlighting the links between planning a message and podcast. About half of the delegates were keen to encourage others to collect footage for editing from laboratory or fieldwork shots, saying: “I'd love to help my research group to make a video to advertise our researches and our academic program.” Another comment was: “I'm reasonably confident of my own skills now but if training on iMovie is available I would be glad to send students to it.”
*This is based on observation, verbal feedback, ad-hoc emails and responses to the online course evaluation.