Sounds good, looks good: using short video clips in ELT #IATEFL2015

Event: IATEFL 2015, LTSIG Track Day
Where: Central 3–4, MCCC, Manchester
When: Saturday 11 April 2015, 10:40am

It was an honour to open the Learning Technologies SIG Day on the first day of the conference proper at IATEFL this year. Thank you to Shaun, Nicky, Nikki, Vicky, Sophia, and the rest of the LTSIG committee for allowing me to be a part of your conference day. This post is a summary of what I talked about during the workshop, as well as a look at some of the issues that came up as a room of 100-odd English language teachers busied themselves making Vines.

Opening

iatefl-ltsig-opening-slide

I started the session by conducting a short video telling activity1. A young man and a young lady in Miami. He is texting on his mobile phone; she is reading a book. Then their paths cross. What happened next in the story? Watch this clip and find out:

This introduced the workshop audience to a Vine – that is a 6-second video clip, filmed and edited using the app of the same name on a mobile device, then shared online. Online video, and particularly short form video like this, has become much more readily available with the advent of apps like Vine, Instagram and the improvement in the quality of filming using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.

Not only is it more readily available, but online video is in fact being used more and more. Examples include footage shot by people on the ground during the Arab Spring and during recent events in Occupied Palestine2. And now, even professional journalists receive training in using smartphones to shoot video, record and edit audio, snap pictures and send their material to be used for traditional broadcast purposes.

This means that anyone with one of these devices and a video recording app has the ability to be a director, an actor, a stand-up comedian, a news reporter, and so on and so on. But if we are to make the most of this, there are a few things that we should be aware of relating to film theory and terminology. In particular it is useful to have knowledge and awareness of the terms mise-en-scène and editing.

Mise-en-scène, you may have guessed, is not an English term. It’s actually French and pronounced like this
/ˌmiːzɒˈsɛn/ and is also in fact borrowed from the world of theatre. It tranlates to English literally as ‘putting on stage’ and in the theatrical context it refers to everything that appears on stage – actors, props, set, lighting – which then transposes to everything that appears in shot when we talk about film and cinema.

Here is where it is useful to visualise what will appear in your video when you start shooting. But how can you do this? It is as simple as making a rectangular shape with your index fingers and thumbs, as I demonstrate here.

mise-en-scene-framing-mike-harrison-photo-by-martin-eayrs

Photo by Martin Eayrs

By looking through the ‘frame’ made by our digits we will start to think about what will appear on the screen as we record our video. We can move our frame or what we see through it to create different mise-en-scène. Note that some film theorists use the term to include the actual filming of events, as well as everything that can be seen in the shot. Others use another term to describe the filming as shooting or putting into shots – mise-en-shot.

The second element of film making to consider here is precisely this – how the shots are edited together to create a sequence. In the love story video, we counted eight changes in shot over the course of the 6 second clip. That means that each shot only lasted a very short time, less than a second. Compare this with something like the Hitchcock film Rope and we see a very different approach to filming sequences. The auteur in this film would shoot right until his spool of film was about to run out, adding up to about 10 minutes of filmed action. Here a cut would need to be made, a change of shot, as he needed to replace the film. However, Hitchcock hid half of his cuts in the film, masking them by panning to a close-up of someone’s back. Then he would start the next reel of film from that person’s back and pan away. The result is that when you watch you are unable to see these masked cuts.

Why is editing and shot length important? Well, editing can help us make sense of a filmed story. In our example featuring the young man and young lady, the editing is quite conventional. Close-ups bring us close to the action. Two shots, with both characters on screen, jump to one shots, which we see from the perspective of each character. We follow the jump from the scene outside to the one inside, assuming that time has passed since the young man ran away.

Introducing Vine

While Vine videos, due to their short length and the various different ways people make use of the medium, are perhaps a good resource for the classroom, it is making videos which can provide a really interesting opportunity for ELT. The choice to present Vine as a good video creating app for this workshop was not made off-the-cuff, rather for the following reasons:

  • Vine is extremely easy to use, requiring just a touch of the finger to start and stop recording
  • Vine allows users to share their videos on their network as soon as they are created
  • Vine is cross-platform, with iOS and Google Play versions available
  • Although linked with the social networking site Twitter, it isn’t necessary to have a Twitter account to set up a Vine account
  • Finally, Vine is free to download and use

Using Vine really is easy. On the screen you see whatever fits into the square frame of the app, and then you record by holding your finger down on the image. Taking your finger off the screen stops the recording. This makes it really easy to cut from one shot to another. Once you have recorded enough video, up to 6 seconds in length, a chevron/arrow icon appears in the top right of the screen and you can then prepare the video for sharing via the Vine social network. If you tap on the X icon you can either discard the video (it is then gone forever) or save it for later (it will appear in a draft folder on the Vine app and also on your devices camera roll – I think).

Vine-app-interface

Once you have recorded your video and prepared it for sharing, you can add a description, as well as tags for people, places or other topics, should you wish to.

Vine-Vicky-Saumell

During the workshop, several groups were successful in making their own Vine videos and you should be able to see some of them here on the Vine web application.

Issues

This was the second Vine-related workshop that I had run, and as such a number of things became apparent as participants worked on their videos.

  1. Vine may be blocked in some countries and some app stores
  2. Some previous versions of Vine (for example on older mobile operating systems) may not have exactly the same features as more up-to-date apps
  3. If you have the time and space, planning what you’re going to record would be a useful stage to add in
  4. A more detailed tour of the app’s capabilities would be good before setting people off recording

Despite these issues, and there may be more, I felt that getting straight down to recording something was important to show participants exactly how easy it was.

The session ended with a compilation of Vines created by Zach King with a puzzle for the participants – what did his videos have in common?

If you came to the session thank you very much and I hope you got something out of it! Looking forward to seeing more ELT Vines in the future!

Further reading/listening

Footnotes

1Video telling as explained by Jamie Keddie– ‘telling stories derived from the narratives of videos’

2During the 2010 Arab Spring, social media such as Twitter and Facebook was used by people to document events, and including the use of video. This University of Washington study from 2011 is available online.

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