For the first six weeks of the (twelve week) semester students are given weekly ‘sketch’ video tasks to complete. All are identical in their technical requirements but themes vary. They begin simply and progressively become more abstract. This helps students develop their ability to think about what they make and to shift their practice as media practitioners away from their fetishisation of industrial media.
I do not assess the sketch films. They are critiqued in class, which when done well becomes a powerful motivator for them to do the work, and the individual clips also provide the media library for their Sketch Film, but individual clips I leave be. Perhaps surprisingly most of the students all of them, and when I stop providing weekly tasks many complain. The rhythm of making, of thinking about the weekly prompts and responding is something they come to enjoy a lot. I think, but aren’t certain, that this sort of buy in occurs because we spend a lot of class time talking about why, answering questions why, and I have plenty of answers to these questions. I also think the in class critique helps an enormous amount as they develop ways to think critically about their work and this helps wean them from needing teacherly endorsement or external measures to finding value in their work themselves. Finally, I like making stuff, I think everyone does, and the weekly clips introduces the sort of constant making that we all did in kindergarten and primary school where learning was also a making. Learning through doing is very rich, multimodal, and pleasurable.
Technically each sketch film is:
- 30 seconds in length
- available as H.264 video
- either 4:3 or 16:9 in aspect ratio (depends on the hardware the students choose to use)
- published on their blog, whether through a video hosting service or not doesn’t matter – as long as they can access appropriate copies of the material for reuse later
Weekly Tasks (2012)
- Make a 30 second film using round things in your house
- Make a 30 second film using square things in your house
- Make a 30 second film using blue things that you like (things that are blue, not things that make you feel blue)
- Make a 30 second film using red things that you like
- Make a 30 second film using yellow things that you like
- Make a 30 second film about travelling towards a place
- Make a 30 second film about travelling away from a place
- Make a 30 second film about being somewhere
- Make a 30 second film about how it feels to be ‘outside’
- Make a 30 second film about how it feels to be ‘inside’
- Make a 30 second film about how it feels to be ‘between’
- Make a 30 second film that describes your family, but you cannot show anyone
- Make a 30 second film that describes you, but you cannot show yourself
- Make a 30 second film using or being ‘things that quicken your heart’
- Make a 30 second film using or being ‘small things that are worth noticing’
Students are invited to write individual blog posts that link to their films briefly discussing which they think is the best, and why.
By having so many pieces of work made in such a short time students are forced to work in agile, creative, sketch like ways.
Some students bring professional production values to bear on these tasks as they believe this is the only way that media making can be legitimate or authentic. For those that are insistent about this idea of ‘quality’ a lot of pre and post production is undertaken for each clip. This might include the use of friends or family as cast, special effects and/or a lot of editing and sound production. This rapidly proves to be unsustainable as as one of the aims of the subject is to explore the implications of having ready to hand video making tools literally in your pocket, these students are forced to let go of what they come to realise is an unfounded bias towards high end ‘production values’ in their work.
The increasing abstraction of the tasks scaffolds the imperative, delivered via the teaching, to try different things and to take risks and be experimental.
The tasks begin in a concrete way concentrating on simple objects and colours, moving through to ideas and experiences. Since film and video is a concrete medium (you always have to film some thing) attempting to translate an experience or idea into something filmable is difficult. This helps recognise this concrete condition of film making, providing an opportunity to test this. The role of the in class critique (which users a variation of de Bono’s hat model) is important as it enables a language through which they can talk and write critically to their own work.
Each work is small enough that if it is an aesthetic failure there is opportunity to make another (as they are so short and quick to make), or just try again next week.
Some weeks students simply do not have time, or find an idea worth making. I want them to experience this. To learn that good work is not a case of waiting around for an epiphany of inspiration to arrive but is based on habits of regular making. You just do and keep on doing. That’s how it happens. I want them to see how the quality of what they make varies, so video making no longer needs to be invested in the risks of monument making (the great big project) where failure can be catastrophic, and can be succesful, viable and possible as a sketch like making of small parts. When they are small parts some might not be great. Perhaps they should be removed, perhaps kept. In either case the cost of this decision is small. This is, of course, the logic of industrial media writ small, with an emphasis on minor modes of making inflecting new forms.
Students need to work quickly to be able to make so many clips, therefore the differences between the works comes to matter as much or more than the individual works themselves.
In online environments serialisation and its avatars count for a lot. A blog gains its texture from smaller parts that appear over time. Flickr works because of the new connections made between otherwise discrete things. One photo is only that, collect them into a set and then it becomes individual photos and the relations between. Relations and the idea of what is between becomes a powerful definition of what a network specific media practice involves and what a Korsakow film is. This is also a feature of being network literate.