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How to apply film techniques to video learning

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In 2018 I delivered a presentation at DevLearn in Las Vegas. My topic was how to apply film school techniques to video learning. We had an amazing discussion in the room, leaving me with two takeaways – (1) 60 minutes is not enough to cover a topic like this! And (2) so many creative learning directors and designers are looking to incorporate video in their learning moving forward.

My insights here have been gleaned from over a decade working in the corporate learning space, primarily with video. I’ve spent hours talking to film school graduates and it was through almost all of them that I kept getting turned on to the seminal textbook on the topic of film-making: Sight, Sound, Motion: Applied Media Aesthetics by Herbert Zettl. In his book, he identifies five interconnected aesthetic fields or dimensions in which to study the art of film-making:

  1. light and color;
  2. area and screen focus;
  3. depth and volume;
  4. time and motion; and
  5. sound.

Using Zettl’s five dimensions, I am going to cover five principles and show how to apply these film school techniques to video learning. Click each link to jump to the relevant section.

      1. Conveying feeling through color.
      2. Applying the rule of thirds to manage essential processing.
    1. Manipulating point of view (POV) and camera angles to convey new information about characters.
    2. Varying rhythm and momentum to control your narrative.
    3. Using sound to convey new information.

First up, is how you can convey feeling efficiently using color to manage cognitive load.

 

How To Convey Feeling Through Color

This is a simple trick you can employ in your videos right away to significantly reduce the time you might otherwise have to spend in the script describing the mood of a character. Use color grading in post-production to signify certain feelings. Say you want to show the consequences of incorrect action. Or you want to give your learner a sense of having achieved something. In both cases, simple color grading can do a lot of the work for you. Check out this video to see what I mean.

How to Use the Rule of Thirds to Manage Essential Processing

Managing essential processing is one of the most crucial aspects of learning design, and part of that involves selecting and organizing information that is relevant to the objective of a lesson. You can follow the rule of thirds to strategically position the most important information or object for a learner. Use the tips outlined in this video to thoughtfully position subjects for interviews, place text on screen, or focus attention on diagrams or animation.

How to Use POV and Camera Angles to Convey New Information About Characters

Next up, let’s dig into how to use depth and volume to manipulate POV and angles to convey new information about characters.

I’m going to use two narrated clips from this original in-depth video essay on the movie The Imposter to demonstrate this technique. The first shows you how the filmmaker uses a different POV for all characters except the ‘bad guy’.

Why do you think this is so?

This is a subtle way to influence how you feel about a character. Without using dialogue, you can tell a lot about your character by their placement on the screen and the way they interact with the camera. Check out the next clip to see what I mean.

Wow. Notice how the background for the ‘bad guy’ is blurred? There’s some great symbolism right there with his history being such a mystery. The fact that he looks you in the eye, while the other characters look off-camera also has a profound effect on your relationship to the characters. If you’ve watched the movie, you will see how persuasive this guy is. If you haven’t watched it yet, you’ll have to check it out to see if he’s telling the truth at the end there 🙂

Finally, let’s explore what Herbert Zettl refers to as the 4th and 5th dimensions of film-making – motion and sound.

How to Use Rhythm and Momentum To Control Your Narrative

The 4th dimension of motion can best be applied to transitions between scenes in learning videos. Using rhythm, momentum, and directional movement, the legendary director Edgar Wright is able to transport his viewers through time and space in a seamless piecing together of his narrative.

We are often limited by attention spans reducing our total learning time. Smart use of transitions between scenes can be a way to speed up the action and link together learning objectives in a seamless way.

How to Use Sound To Convey New Information

The 5th dimension of sound concerns how to convey additional information in much the same way camera angles and POV can convey meaning. Watch (and listen) how the writers and sound designers for A Quiet Place incorporated sound to tell their story.

In learning videos, we often use sound effects to set the scene, adding depth and context to an office scene for example with the background hum associated with offices. You can also explore using indicative sound effects (think ping! Or ding!) to draw the learner’s attention to key learning outcomes.

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