Movie Maker for Windows PC and iMovie for Mac offer users a fairly easy way to create movies using image, audio, and video files. By providing a rich array of templates and online tutorials, both programs make it simple to take an idea from a storyboard to a finalized short movie.
Perhaps the best advice on starting a video production—which can easily seem daunting—is to plan out each stage of the process and begin collecting all the necessary materials. Think about a subject, a working title, which resources will serve as research material, what types of media will be used (images, video, audio—or all three), and who will be a part of the production. Settling on a topic or subject, however, is not permanent; indeed, over the course of a video production major changes may take place. Be prepared to cut out major parts, introduce significant material at the last second, and even revise the main subject or topic of the video.
Flexibility is a must when dealing with multiple elements, numerous collaborators, and new technology along the way.
After establishing a basic outline of the video production process, it's time to craft a storyboard. A quick search on the web for "digital storytelling storyboard" produces a useful list of websites with templates that can be downloaded or printed. Jason Ohler, DiscoveryEducation, and storyboard instructor Karen Lloyd offer some free templates but many more exist online. The University of Houston also offers a nice primer on how to develop storyboards for digital storytelling. Don't expect that the final video will incorporate the visuals and dialogue in the storyboard panels exactly as they were initially conceived. Storyboards are a road map, so expect detours in your journey.
As the research process helps inform key details of the story, create a folder to collect images, video files, and audio segments. iMovie and Movie Maker are both flexible in accepting different file formats, but think about sticking to JPG (images), MOV or WMV (videos), and MP3 or MP4 (audio) files. [Note: This chart explains the difference between an MP3 and an MP4 file].
Okay, now that you've made all of your preparations, how do you actually make a movie? Here we provide a simple overview of how to use iMovie and Movie Maker.
- When opening iMovie on the Mac, the screen will be divided into two parts. The bottom half is the "event" area where you can import images, sounds, and videos. The top half is the "project" work area. Here, items can be edited by clicking on the media item and selecting the "precision editor" (displayed with the gear logo for "system preferences" in a Mac).
- In the middle of the screen is the event task-bar. On the left, the video camera icon allows users to easily import from a camcorder or other video recording device. Users can also import videos by selecting "file" and then "import from camera" (command+I). The second icon on the left allows users to flip the event and project work areas. The icons in the middle of the screen allow users to perform basic functions with any item placed in the "event" work area. Users can add any selected portion of the event to the project, mark or unmark selections as favorites, undo selections, provide a voiceover (using a plug-in or built-in microphone), and edit or crop. On the right side, users will find a third group of icons that facilitate the import of images and audio files, create text, control transitions, and add a map or background design.
- The fun begins once items are placed in the project work area. Users, for example, can control the audio elements in the production so that music can fade in and fade out. Clips can also be cut so that only 20 seconds of an audio track appears in the production. iMovie even allows users to blend multiple audio elements, so that a voiceover can be accompanied by a student-created musical tune that serves as a soundtrack for the project. [Note: Creating an original musical score, as well as recording a voice-over or narration, can be easily done in GarageBand. Once finished, these files can then be imported into iMovie using the audio import feature on the right side of the event taskbar.]
- For images, users can overlay text on top of any image. Slide transitions mimic techniques perfected by filmmakers Ken Burns and George Lucas. Elements in the project work area can also be shifted and relocated at will. So if a scene in the original storyboard appears early in the video, but later seems better suited for the end of the video, clicking and dragging the scene into its new place is simple. The precision editor also makes it easy to select specific scenes in an imported movie and then move the selected portion to the project work area.
- When opening Windows Movie Maker on a PC, the screen will be divided into three parts. The bottom portion is the "storyboard." Here users can drag imported items into a desired sequence. [Note: When adding audio, the storyboard converts into a "timeline" view. Users can toggle between both views with the control on the left side.] The top portion is divided into a "tasks" sidebar on the left—with a series of tasks divided into three groups (import, edit, and publish)—and the "import" area where users can place their images, audio, and video files.
- Adding transitions and effects is a fairly easy process. Users can right click any image, for example, and choose the desired effect or transition. Another option is to use the "tasks" sidebar and browse through the dozens of options available; users will drag effects to the desired image or place transitions into the small boxes between media items in the storyboard.
- Adding an audio clip or text—in the form of a title, credits, or an overlay for a video or an image—will revert the view from storyboard to timeline. In this view, users can lengthen or shorten clips, and with a microphone record a narration for the presentation. Like iMovie, audio files can overlap to facilitate transitions. In addition, audio levels for videos and music can also be controlled to create layers. This is useful for providing a subtle musical soundtrack to a recorded conversation or dialogue.
- Once the product is finished, users can publish their final product by saving it on the computer, recording it onto a DVD or CD-R, emailing it to a recipient, or transferring it to a digital video camera.
The best aspect of iMovie and MovieMaker is that both tools are only limited by imagination. As previously mentioned, flexibility is a must in video productions. Remember to find value in the production of a video, not just with the final product! By collaborating with others, maximizing talents within a group, conducting historical research, and making tough editing decisions, students will find that producing a video for a history course requires many of the skills historians develop over time.
One novel approach is to ask students to present their research and findings through a film genre. Whether it is a mystery case about Botticelli's Primavera, an overview of Canadian history through a mock interview, or a straightforward documentary about African American history.
Although digital storytelling has benefits for all children, the multimedia format is especially helpful for students with specific needs. English Language Learners (ELLs) in Oakland, CA, work on a video production as part of a year-end culmination project. Working with iMovie or Movie Maker may also be appealing to visual learners who often excel in art or theatre courses, but are reluctant participants in history courses heavy on documents and lectures.
In short, tools like iMovie and Movie Maker can make video productions for digital storytelling easy and expose students to historical thinking processes. With careful planning, preparation, and flexibility, teachers will discover (alongside their students) that producing videos is as fulfilling as seeing the final product.
- Think your students are too young for digital storytelling? Think again! Read about how first-grade teacher Jennifer Orr uses moviemaking with her students.
- Student creations don't need to stick to traditional narratives—how about making history-themed music videos? Hawaii-based teacher Amy Burvall shares her work and tips.
- With the sesquicentennial afoot, how about inspiring students to make their own documentaries? In one TAH grant project, teachers tried their own hands at moviemaking. And on the Manassas, VA, battlefield, students scripted and shot Civil War films.
- Kelly Schrum, in an article reprinted in Hacking the Academy, offers a good overview of why digital storytelling is right for the classroom.
- Gail Matthews-DeNatale, in Educause, offers a helpful academic overview of why incorporating digital storytelling into the classroom has merit.
- Prairienet offers readers a useful summary of the cognitive benefits of producing a digital story.
- Meghan McGlinn-Manfra outlines five basic components in an effective digital narrative.
- Eighth-grade teacher Lynne Zalesak reflects on her experiences with her students and digital storytelling.