Video Project: Fuxing Elementary, Taipei

Gotta admit: I’m super proud of this one. Between editing, finding and pulling clips from YouTube, and filming with my students, a solid month of work went into making this profile of the school.

The Plan

At first, I thought I could get enough footage of the kids by letting my Winter Camp kids write scripts and run wild with cameras. That didn’t work. Luckily, I shot a lot of “B-roll”-type static footage that later made it in to the final video. The footage from the school’s camcorder was of poor quality, but it was service-able.

Crunch time hit around April, when a rough draft was needed. I didn’t have any of my “hero” footage of the kids, but I had pieces that could be put together for a five minute intro, and photographs that could be added in for padding. I started looking up my school on YouTube, searching in English, and finding very little. I copy/pasted the school’s name in Chinese, and suddenly I had a wealth of footage to steal from.

The best and most used source came from this channel (drones and timelapses), but I found a lot of videos taken by parents, teachers, and coaches as well. I even found that the school has it’s own YouTube page, though it hasn’t been updated in some time. The historical photograph was taken from this page, found on r/taiwan on Reddit a few months ago.

The Lesson

Materials list: a sheet of paper

All I needed to do was ask for volunteers to be on camera. That’s it. In every class I asked, about half the kids jumped up to help. I moved them to the front of the class, and the kids who didn’t want to be on camera to the back. The kids who wanted to be on camera would pick a partner from the back to help them write their sentences (in large print!) and practice speaking. The topics I had them write about varied from class to class. Since I had too many “Favorite Class” and “Favorite Teacher” submissions, later classes would get “Favorite Book” or “Favorite Memory”.

With about 15 minutes left in each class, we’d start filming. The air conditioner and fans would be turned off and the windows and doors shut to eliminate as much outside noise as possible. This provided motivation for kids to get the damned thing done. “Let’s do this already so we can cool off!”

The Process

I used Windows Movie Maker which I feel now was a huge mistake. No joke, my work PC could NOT export the final video as it ran into constant memory issues. Core i5 processor……. 3GBs of RAM. Ugh. My near-five-year-old workhorse laptop (Lenovo Y580) handled it fine, which was lucky. If I had more time, I think I’d have liked to try a non-linear editing system like Adobe Premiere, DaVinci Resolve, or Sony Vegas. It would have given me much more flexibility in the editing process.

The draw of a drag-and-drop editor like WMM was just too appealing, though later I ran into problems when adjusting the length of a clip near the beginning of the timeline and dealing with the effects of moved music/narration/subtitles in every other clip all the way to the end. And the sheer number of clips for a 12 minute runtime was pretty outrageous. Though, that might have been a problem in another editing program as well.

fuxingWPP.jpg

I really enjoyed getting to use my DSLR for film-making. Pentax is often knocked for their poor video capabilities, but I didn’t find myself limited. I didn’t even realize until the end of the filming process that the aperture for video is variable and that there’s tons more settings available in-camera if you go looking for them. Oh well, something for next time.

I think I’d like to add a hotshoe-mounted shotgun microphone to my arsenal in the coming months, as well as a sturdy tripod and a fast prime lens. The mic would have made the biggest difference here, as I had to spend a ton of time in Audacity removing background noise and trying to boost the audio from each of my interviews. Extract the audio, get noise profile, eliminate noise, export, merge video and clean audio, export again. It got rough, and there must be a better way to do it.

The Conclusion

This project was kind of forced on us by the Taipei City government, and I’ll admit to having been salty about having to take time from my classes to work on it. In the end, I’m super pleased that I spent the time on it. It’s much more personal than anything I made in Korea. It’s something I’m proud of. It’s something my students can enjoy. And because I’ve decided not to renew my contract, it’s something I’ll watch to remember my time at Fuxing and in Taipei. 

I feel like I had the chance to learn a lot of new skills and exercise some new muscles in the process of making this video. The more I dug myself into the project, the more I looked forward to adding new bits and pieces to it. I started seeking out video essays on Vimeo and YouTube (Every Frame a Painting, Kaptain Kristian, CGP Grey) to find inspiration for the first half and it’s made me consider trying my hand a more outdoorsy take on one.

I really wanted this video to be loose and fun, and I hope that comes across in the bloopers, retakes, and asides. And I hope it’s sincere, too.

Thanks for watching!

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