Digital Storytelling vs. Making Movies

     I’ve always qualified my presentations on digital storytelling with the disclaimer “Makin’ Movies” because there are some differences in approach between “classical” digital storytelling and the videos that I promoted in my school district. Here is a brief comparison between the Center for Digital Storytelling’s seven elements.
     1. Point of View is good across the board. In the CDS model stories are very personal and created by one single person. Many of the videos my students worked on were team projects and, except for family immigration stories, not very personal. But even commercials, historical reenactments and literature videos need a point of view.
     2. Dramatic Question again, this works for well for both genres whether it be what difference a person made in your life or why you are attempting to sell a certain product.
     3. Emotional Content can really tug at your heart strings in the classical digital story. In student/team videos it often shows up in the form of comedy. Though there can be some very poignant irony when historical characters talk about their hopes or future.
     4. The Gift of Your Voice is invaluable in a personal narrative. Since student videos can cover such a wide range and often include interviews, we want to translate this element as the students’ understanding of the material being presented. Here’s where some higher order thinking and synthesis come into play.
     5. The Power of the Soundtrack provides an instantaneous shared experience to the viewers and can be very powerful in creating and sustaining a mood. We all know how movies bring us to the edge of our seats with their background music. Additionally, student videos can employ a range of sound effects to bring the action and the message home (i.e., Civil War soldiers talking with gunfire and explosions in the background).
     6. Economy used to be defined in writing assignments as “at least 500 words, 3 pages,” etc. With student videos the assignment limit usually starts out with “no more than…” In any case, less is more. 30 or 60 second commercials and PSA’s (public service announcements) can pack an awful lot of power. And since you will want to eventually share everyone’s video with the entire class, 3 minutes per project is a good maximum for just about everything. Anything longer than that really does start to feel like a feature length film or documentary (which isn’t always bad). Caveat: watch out for “blooper reels.” Make sure that it is clear from the start that bloopers don’t count. I’ve had more than one project where the out takes were longer than the video.
     7. Pacing is what really sets the great storytellers and joke tellers apart from mere mortals. No matter how visual a student video is, it has to be well written and prepared. It’s in this written preparation and storyboarding (along with helping them get and keep the facts straight) that the teacher can and should have the greatest influence on the final product. Caveat: transitions between clips are easy to add and very seductive, but they can take away from the story when they are over used or too noticeable.
     It’s elemental!

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