NYU Cause Video Lab
Part of the social media strategy class I teach this spring at NYU with co-profs Tom Watson and Howard Greenstein is a Saturday Video Lab, which I designed to help students become "viterate" and to help them visualize the missions of the nonprofit causes for which they either work or volunteer. (In class, each student must develop a social media strategy for a nonprofit of their choice, and also make a 60-second visual mission statement for that nonprofit, presenting both in front of the class in May for their final grade.)
To help me teach this mandatory Saturday lab segment of the class this year, I invited USA Today's Jefferson Graham. I'd met Graham at a video lab he taught last fall at the annual PDN/PhotoPlus Conference at New York's Jacob Javits Center, and his approach to teaching video editing — by crowdsourcing the exercise —was so inspired, I wanted Graham to help me and my co-profs, Watson and Greenstein, spread the magic among our students.
There were two rules: I'd insisted that each student use a smartphone to shoot their videos this year, so as to prove that not every good video required expensive equipment to produce. The second rule? Everyone had to participate.
We broke the class into three teams, each equipped with a tripod and a smartphone and a special microphone, and took them outside to Bryant Park, just across the street from our midtown Manhattan video lab classroom. Each team was assigned to find out how Mayor Michael Bloomberg's outdoor public smoking ban has been faring. (Answer? Not very well. The students found quite a few people still lighting up. To document this, we asked some students to conduct on-camera video introductions to the story; others to take turns interviewing smokers and non-smokers. Still others were asked to shoot behind-the-scenes footage and collect B-roll, which included footage of cast-off cigarette butts and anti-smoking signs placed prominently inside the park.)
Among those interviewed by the students was a homeless man who lost his mother and wife to cancer, yet who still smoked every day in the park; a non-smoking mother and her baby, who loved the ban, and a smoker from New Jersey who said he would quit if he lived in Manhattan, where cigarettes cost $2 more than at home.
Back in the classroom an hour later, we group-edited the main video into a 65-second rough cut. (This weekend, Graham and I will be putting together the "movie of the movie" that was shot by one of our three student teams.)
Besides being great fun, the point-and-shoot exercise was proof positive that it doesn't have to cost a lot of time and money to shoot a good nonprofit "cause video" that can have impact and visualize the importance of any organization. And, we proved to the students that it didn't take a lot of expertise to start making a decent citizen video. We used 2 iPhones and a Samsung point-and-shoot camera, and augmented each with IK Multimedia iRig microphones that Graham picked up for me at B&H for $45 each. Additionally, we brought along 3 tripods to help keep everything steady.
Our 14 students have since declared the day a hit; all 14 will be shooting their "for real" project videos over spring break at NYU, which begins in earnest this weekend. Before the lab, students were stressing out about their video assignments. After the lab? The shot lists, storyboards, and scripts I had assigned them were suddenly getting turned in or rewritten—a great indicator of renewed interest. Just this afternoon, three of our students borrowed microphones from my studio.
Thanks, Jefferson, for co-conspiring with me to co-develop this exercise for our class — and thanks, Howard and Tom, for working with us to create a dream team for Video Lab Weekend that has inspired 14 students to embark on citizen video projects now and in the future.
Can't wait to see what the students produce on their own!
(For more on the class, here's Graham's blog post on the experience.)
-- Marcia Stepanek
[PHOTO courtesy of NYU and The Wired Nonprofit: Social Media Strategy and Practice class co-taught by Marcia Stepanek, Howard Greenstein and Tom Watson. Those pictured comprise the #wnpnyu class: Samantha Brody, Jacqueline Wolfson, Nirmal Patel, Aaron Green, Ann Chandler, Tom Watson, Dolapo Ojo, Mrinali Vaswani, Samantha Collidge, Elizabeth Cotter, Regina Weichert, Molly Lukash, Marina Spindler, Jefferson Graham (front center), Howard Green, and Steven Galeazzi]