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Wanted: Creative Ideas for a Bilingual Video "Success in School"

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Cameron Weise
Wanted: Creative Ideas for a Bilingual Video "Success in School"
on Mar 23, 2009 at 10:34:12 pm

Wanted: Creative Ideas for a Bilingual Video "Parents help their child succeed in school."

I'm looking for creative ideas on how to present my material. My content will be 5-minute video segments on topics like "How to get involved at your child's school.

This is my plan so far:

-Each video will have a Spanish and an English version.
-The VO will be in the respective language.
-I will have b-roll footage from our the classrooms and homes in our school district.
-I will cut away to on-camera sound bites from parents, teachers and administrators.
-If the cut away is spoken in English I'll have a Spanish sub-title and visa versa.

I wonder, will the subtitles be acceptable to the viewer? What other creative ideas might help make these videos interesting to the parents in our school district.

Thanks to anyone who wishes to make suggestions.


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Mike Smith
Re: Wanted: Creative Ideas for a Bilingual Video "Success in School"
on Mar 24, 2009 at 10:45:39 am

Hi Cameron

This feels like a tricky but important one ; if you can do something that might improve a few children's lives, that would be so worthwhile.

So I'll kick off with an non-controversial one (I think!) It might be better to dub native voice over the other-language clips you want to use - subtitles make the viewer work harder and can break attention to the flow of the story.

Otherwise, I'm concerned that you may have just fallen automatically into a programme approach, without perhaps chewing over some alternatives. Why news, and not human drama, child-centered story, cartoon puppet show ..?

Your post reads as if you've already decided on a loosely news-package sort of format I wonder why. Is this approach the best suited to the target audience ...?

(Btw, does documentary ever have "b roll"? Just the naming seems to put priority on the talking-head clips to carry content, whether these show a presenter-reporter or an interview subject. Should the pictures be telling the story, whatever that is. with the sound helping to bring added insight and clarity ...? )

Target audience: many of your potential audience will already be well involved in helping their children at school. How are you adapting your approach to target those less able or less willing to help?

Or is your audience "new parents" and not those with children at school already - that might change things ..

In many ways, your target might be not "all parents" at all, and certainly not the (caring, probably well educated, perhaps well resourced) parents already likely to get adequately involved in their children's schooling.

The audience you want to reach, I'd guess, would be those who are not well involved at the moment but who might become so.

Assuming that people don't know that their children will benefit from parental input in their education and showing "how to" is probably missing a key point. Those who want to help and are motivated will probably already have found ways to help. So is the target those who don't want to help, or who are not motivated - those whose focus of attention is not so much on their children, but elsewhere?

What about those who feel they don't have the time or resources to get involved, those who hated school themselves, or who are uninvolved with and unconcerned about their child's development?

So it might be worth a little research time with some schools, your schools board and the education and social services libraries to try to identify the kinds of factors that go into people not caring about their children, not giving them the time (not having the time) or the input they might benefit from in their schooling, or even feeling positively hostile to or negative about schools and education, or even ambivalent or negative about their child succeeding.

It wouldn't surprise me if your inquiries showed up four or five different, more common ways in which parents somehow don't develop the necessary focus on their child's welfare.

If you could identify the kinds of attitudes and ways of thinking that can lead to this kind of (non-)parenting, then your video might try to find a way to challenge, subvert or change them - though these will be the very people you'll find it hardest even to get to watch your video.

So how do you create an emotionally engaging, compelling, child-focused story or video that might help to catch the attention of your target audience, and perhaps help some of them to see the world once again through child eyes, develop deeper empathy and concern for their child's challenges, grow more resolve to move their child's needs higher up their agenda?

Reference points might include Charles Dickens - always able to catch and hold an audience by putting an innocent child, a victim of undeserved suffering right at the heart of a story with bigger personal and policy dimensions - always able to move us by making the political personal.

Another reference might be Woody Allen's Annie Hall - the sequence where his junior school classmates, all blank-faced and sweet, foretell in their child voices and comic, adult soundbites the twisted fates that await them in their twenties.

For inclusiveness and variety, it might help to write an interlinking set of half a dozen or so stories - boy and girl, black and white, Spanish and English - to build a theme out of a collection of central characters. Each might face a different kind of issue, with parenting falling down in different ways.

The details would come later, but these might include the high-powered exec who looks down on her spouse and offloads caring to a succession of nannies, the single parent with limited time, the smug couple who put appearances and status before their child's need, the less-educated parent herself terrified of the teachers and the school ..? Each, of course, a background character for a central child, who might be facing issues of fitting in, of bullying, of not having their interests acknowledged or developed ...

Then you'd want to crisp this up into a series of short, sharp, compelling and moving little episodes (a writer's task).

And then you'd need to find a way to put that on the screen. Assume that full-on drama with child actors and the works is financially out of range. So could you do this with stop-motion models? With puppets? If you use child voices with scripted personal stories, that might have impact.

Or could you use live classroom footage and fictionalised (child or parent) voice-over to tell the stories ? You'd have to be really clear on screen about what you were doing, to avoid misunderstandings. But this could be powerful, if you could make it work. The movie Jonathan Livingstone Seagull reportedly did something similar, using hundreds of hours of wildlife footage and sifting through it to find the pictures to tell the unique, personal story of just one fictional bird.

Or could you have a poet write you a warm, personal and compelling little piece of simple verse encapsulating your themes and message. and play that over playground activities and classroom footage, supplemented with a small number of key "staged scenes" of particular key points ..?

Or could you have a musician create you a song - again, nothing too literal, this should be good work with a theme, not a lecture in doggerel - and use that a base for a child-centered music video ...?

One last thought ... adult actors in oversize child clothes, playing out scenes in exaggerated dumbshow, almost mime, while a child's voice speaks their thoughts and concerns ...

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Mark Suszko
Re: Wanted: Creative Ideas for a Bilingual Video "Success in School"
on Mar 24, 2009 at 6:30:32 pm

I think its possible to over-think something like this, but Mike is on to something when he starts talking about how you narrow the scope and define the audience, and your techniques arise out of reaching that target.

I work on a couple of things like this every year. I often recommend people working on this kind of thing go out and get a copy of "Scriptwriting for High-Impact videos" by my friend John Morley. Morley will walk you thru all the things Mike talked about, and more. Much more.

Myself, I would try to keep this simple and direct and not go for anything "whacky". Parents are a very busy audience, they will be impatient if you take too much time being "cute" with effects and unmotivated eye candy. For a parent audience, I would first briefly acknowledge that just by watching this video, we know they care about their kids and want the best for them. And launch immediately into actual simple exercises or examples, with a little voice-over explanation to fill in gaps and weld it together.

We did this on a sucesseful literacy promotion video. The video is aimed at immigrant, indigent, and under-educated parents, who may feel as if they lack the right resources to promote their onw kids' literacy.

So we start out with very cheap techniques, demonstrated and with corroborating interview sound bites from the parents. For example, the parent brings home a paper, even one a couple days old, doesn;t matter where it comes from. The idea is to go thru it with the kid, lookign first at the pictures, trying to decode what the picture is ablut, then working thru the caption, and the headline, and maybe the first couple paragraphs. This is done with anything in the paper, ads are an easy start becasue they are simple. Cartoons too. They work on sounding out the words and even at doing character voices. As much as the literacy training is important, the personal one on one time with the parent working with their kid makes a huge difference as well, because it communicates that the parent espouses literacy as a valueable thing and a doable thing.

We built up more and more techniques this way, and gave the parents a selection of these tools they could mix and match as appropriate to their personal needs and schedules.
With each quick example, we went to interview bits of the happy aprent describing the joy and success they felt with these steps, encouraging parents to try the exercises.

No flashy effects, mostly cuts, a few dissolves, newsmagazine style editing basically. A form people are comfortable with.

I thought it was pretty well done. Something to think about, anyway.

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Cameron Weise
Re: Wanted: Creative Ideas for a Bilingual Video "Success in School"
on Mar 24, 2009 at 9:35:49 pm

Thanks for your excellent suggestion to make the action points of the video simple for parents to implement. Because parents are always overwhelmed the suggestions need to be clear and precise.

Your book recommendation is also appreciated because script writing is something I need to learn lots more about.

I hope I can find the balance between trying to motivate unmotivated parents, and giving some good ideas to parents who care, but need some examples to model from.


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Cameron Weise
Re: Wanted: Creative Ideas for a Bilingual Video "Success in School"
on Mar 24, 2009 at 9:25:25 pm

I want to thank you for your thoughtful response to my post and for making me think about the target audience and the challenges of reaching that audience. You are correct, I'm trying to change behavior in either negligent parents or marginally negligent parents. Finally, all your creative ideas are really appreciated.


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