There are many elements to running a successful Digital Storytelling program with school students, but one of the most important, and least written about, is the importance of the students starting with a good idea.
In my experience, good movie or digital story projects are always those that progress from a group of students that start with a clear and simple idea. The more convoluted or confusing the initial idea is, the more difficult the entire process becomes.
The idea needs to be clear and simple because the film will be short, and there is no time to communicate complex ideas to an audience. The more story detail you need to communicate in a short film, the weaker the film will become.
The sooner the audience ‘gets’ what is going on in a short film, the sooner they relax and start to enjoy the process of watching it. A simple idea is easily communicated, so an audience is very quickly on the same page as the film makers. You then have a heap of time to have some fun with the idea if it is a comedy, or to allow a serious or dramatic idea time to ‘breathe’, and so become a lot more effective.
More importantly, for you as a teacher, a digital story with a strong, clear and simple idea progresses very easily through each stage of production, because everyone of the group members is very clear on what they are trying to produce. It then becomes relatively easy to guide and advise the group in their subsequent creative choices so that a quality film is produced.
If you allow a poor or complex idea to get off the ground, you are playing catch up from the beginning, and in my experience the project can become a bigger and bigger headache each week. When a really poorly thought through idea is allowed to progress, it can often require fairly strong teacher intervention at some stage in order for the final project to get completed to a reasonable standard. That is never an ideal situation for teachers.
‘Action Stations: Digital Storytelling‘ explains a key step in our digital storytelling program that was put in to ensure as many groups as possible start their films with a great and simple idea. It is called ‘The Pitch’, and it requires each group to sell their idea to a panel of teachers before they can get their production up and running. The key in this stage is for teachers to be tough but supportive. Be strict on what you let through, but offer ideas and support to groups that need to rework the initial ideas they have brought to the panel.
Get this part of the process right, and the rest of your program will be so much more successful!