Lee Schaeffer - Churchill and Woodland Hills High Schools (Ret.)
Television production is both an art and a science. A high school's television production program will be dependent on the talents of the program coordinator in each of these areas. Some may approach the subject from a technical approach and other will emphasize writing, art or acting depending on their background and training.
Television production is a time intensive. It demands a working knowledge of state-of-the-art electronics, computer technology and an ability to manage the personalities and talents of the students. This balancing act walks a fine line between success and failure. Many schools in the area have a closet of unused equipment because they could not manage either the technical requirements, the art of production or the personalities involved.
LOW COST TELEVISION PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
A TV production course will be dependent on the equipment available. There is however no consensus as to what equipment should be. There are three basic formats for a production system:
1. ENG (Electronic New Gathering)
The basis for this production concept is a single camera-recorder, tripod and microphone. With these system students can be taught the fundamentals of composition, shot sequences, scripting and in-the-camera editing. This system can expand into post-production editing with the addition of editing VCRs and an inexpensive controller. Such a system will work well for productions by school personnel or small groups of students. However, since it is usable by only two or three people at the same time, it is difficult to teach a class using such a system.
2. Studio Production
The basic equipment for this approach is two or three studio cameras and tripods, a switcher and monitors, microphones and mixer plus a VCR. A location divisible into several functional areas: Studio or class room -- where lights can be hung and a set constructed Control room -- to house the production equipment and an area for maintenance and equipment storage.
When used as a "teaching studio", these areas should be large enough to accommodate the number of students in the class as crew members rather than bystanders. Further expansion of this system would include:
If there is enough room in the studio and control room, this facility can provide positions and activities for a number of students.
Studio projects can be done as a "ring around" where you repeat the project and rotated the crew through the various positions. This way, you can fill two weeks with the same lesson plan. At the beginning, it might take two days to do a simple PSA since everyone has to learn their specialty. With each one teaching one as "assistants" the second round goes much faster. By the end, you might get through two rounds in one period.
In the real world, the "assistant" is usually the lessor skilled member of the crew. The trick here is to consider them "teaching assistants." The assistant positions are filled not with the novices but with trained students who just completed the various assignments in the crew rotation. It becomes their responsibility to train the person operating the equipment for the first time. If the assistant is the "novice", the person actually performing the task is too busy to teach the assistant who becomes board just watching. If the assistant is the more knowledgeable, then they can instruct the person doing the task and in so doing keeps them busy and reinforces what they learning.
CREW POSITIONS FOR AN INSTRUCTIONAL STUDIO
The assistant positions are filled not with novices but with trained students whose responsibility is to train the person operating the equipment for the first time.
3. Remote Production
The most interesting school activities are not going to occur in the TV studio. To televise these events a remote production facility must leave the confines of the studio. In its simplest form, a simple ENG system can meet these needs. Announcers may require additional microphones, mixer and a video/audio monitor.
While a single camera can capture a football game or concert, the constant zooming and panning by an inexperienced operator can be painful to watch. For greater "production values" a portable production facility with the basic function of a small studio is required. Such a system should contain two or three cameras with 100'-200' of camera cable, camera monitors, a simple switcher with monitors and an intercom and an audio mixer. All the equipment should be permanently wired and enclosed for transport to where the production site.
If your going to do it more than once, take the time to make life easier in the long run. If your building will allow it, run camera, intercom and microphone cables from the studio patch to jacks located in the school's gym, auditorium and football field. This enables major remote productions to be set up with a minimum of work.
It is necessary to maintain the interest of the students involved regardless of whether the activities are an after school activity or a formal class. This requires balancing the capabilities of the students and the equipment and the time available. Students must be involved on a regular basis in quality productions for which they receive positive feedback.
The television production team is analogous to a sports team that are motivated to practice and perfect their techniques to make a credible showing in broadcast production. There is a limit to the number of training exercises that students are willing to participate without going "on-the-air". In the average high school TV Production Class there is usually not enough time and talent to produce a regularly scheduled program that will maintain viewer interest.
The one exception may be a televised "News" program for the school's morning announcements. However, due to the time constraints involved, such a program can never advance beyond a "talking" face with the addition on a few video clips. The responsibility for such a program usually fall on a few dedicated students and what works one year may be difficult to carry over from year to year.
Some schools use the production of a Video Yearbook as a major project for their production classes. Such an undertaking takes a great deal of planning, time and dedication. Quality videographers must be provided for all school events. A "format" just as with a printed yearbook must be developed. Super-VHS equipment is required to maintain quality for editing and duplication. It is a fine line between a quality production and a collection of "home movies". There is also the danger of competing for subscriptions with the traditional yearbook.
The formula employed at Woodland Hills High School is to use our community cable systems for the live telecasting of school events. Televising events such as sports and concerts meet the requirements for a successful program by providing programming for which there is an audience and relatively simple production techniques can still produce an interesting program.
The direction that the television program take will depend if it is operated as a formal class or as a "club".
The most successful instructional format I taught with offered a "TV Production Class" and a "Technical TV Class." TV Production met three days a week and the technical class met two days per week. The Production Course covered basic production techniques and allowed for pre-production planning and crew scheduling. The same period we offered an advanced technical class two day per week that dealt the technical aspects of television. Students in this section set up the equipment needed the next day by the production classes. Students could take either or both of these courses and students not in the formal classes were also welcome to take part in productions. These courses were also offered first and second semester so that uninterested students could "escape" and new students could pick up the course at mid year. A limited number of dedicated students are allowed to repeat the course for credit to provide a continuum of experience from year to year.
MAJOR TOPICS COVERED IN PRODUCTION CLASS
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