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Tips to Help Your Child Write & Direct a Commercial

by Josh Kasselman

My 5-year-old daughter’s curiosity about my work in commercial and film production has grown big time in recent months. She sees me packing up camera and lighting gear and asks where I’m going today, who I’m working with, when I’ll be editing what I’ve shot, and (inevitably) whether there’s a role for her in any stage of the production. She wants, first and foremost, to be on camera (and I do admit that I’ve worked her into the backgrounds of a few commercial projects in order to be able to see my kid while I’m working), but she’s also expressed interest in learning how the camera and microphones work. I could have worse problems than a daughter who thinks my job is interesting, right?

I’ve decided to use her curiosity as an opportunity to help her create a public service announcement about an issue that’s important to her, and – much to my surprise and delight – she’s chosen water conservation as the subject. At her age, it’s hard for me to tell how much of her concern comes from us constantly barking at her to turn off the faucet, but hey…  I figure making this PSA will let her investigate the issue itself, learn about some very basic technical elements of video production, and even practice syntax and spelling as we craft the script together. Even in our initial conversations about the project, it’s clear that it’ll be an educational experience on multiple fronts and a great way to spend a few hours on a Saturday.

Having a small production company means I also have access to lots of equipment and editing software, but you don’t need anything more than a smart phone or a point-and-shoot camera with video capabilities to take on a similar project with your kids. A few thoughts, if you’re interested in trying one:

  • It doesn’t have to be a PSA. It could be a commercial for a pet, favorite toy, book, etc. Whatever gets your child excited about creating.
  • Writing the script together gives kids a chance to select words carefully, really think through how the issue or product is important or cool, and polish spelling/grammar skills.
  • Storyboarding is always good, clean fun (it’s like making a comic book version before you act it all out), but it’s often used in schools to help teach critical storytelling elements, too. There’s so much critical thinking that goes into telling a compelling and concise story, and it’s a great skill to have in life.
  • Your kid can be on camera, but if she’s feeling camera-shy you could just use her voice while showing images of what’s being discussed. Or have her be the “director” and film you delivering the script.
  • If your child is going to appear on camera, consider filming takes from different angles to make the final product more interesting and to give yourselves the chance to cut together different takes. You can cut together takes that are all from the same angle, but it results in “jump-cutting,” which isn’t quite as smooth.
  • If you don’t have access to basic editing software on your computer or phone (or if you just want to finish the project quickly), you can do the entire commercial with one shot. The pressure of having to get everything right in a single take can actually be really fun.
  • I use Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro to edit, but there are plenty of free or cheap programs that are more than sufficient for something like this. Windows Movie Maker and iMovie are old standbys, but there are lots of others. Cloud-based editing programs like WeVideo are growing in popularity. If you want to shoot and edit the entire thing on your phone, well-reviewed apps include iMovie for iOS, Magisto, Pinnacle, Movie Edit Touch, Viddy, and Video Maker Pro. All have their own cool-looking features, so poke around and see what might work well for you.

JoshJosh Kasselman is a director and producer at Limitrophe Films in Phoenix. In addition to its multiple award-winning documentary and narrative shorts, Limitrophe creates commercial and web video for companies and non-profit organizations across Arizona. 

 

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