June 27, 2012  |  Behind the Scenes, Events & Programs
Lights, Camera, Action: The School Visits Film Shoot

Museum educators often struggle with how to capture the impact of our programs. There are so many incredible programs offered by the MoMA Education Department for many different audiences that take the form of tours, talks, art-making classes, drop-in programs, and digital and analog games, and documenting a visitor’s experience of these ephemeral events is difficult. I was recently presented with the challenge of showing the impact of the School Visits program through video. I know from creating videos for the Education Department in the past that capturing a school tour as it unfolds is a tricky and challenging process. How were we going to show the impact of School Visits on students and teachers in an engaging way?

Students from Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts with educator Emily Gibson after the film shoot

In the past when we have tried to document School Visits tours in process, there were several challenges that made the video footage almost useless. When a large group is traveling through the galleries, having informal conversations and participating in group activities, it’s almost impossible for our film crew to properly light the group or capture the audio of a large discussion. When my colleagues Jessica and Francis and I first started brainstorming about what this video would look like, we talked about our desired shots and what the challenges of each setup would be. We decided to try something new: stage a School Visits tour with high school students who had already been to MoMA. We would invite them to the galleries after hours for a filmed visit based around one work of art. That way we could control the setup and stage the students in a way that worked for the camera. While this would eliminate some of the logistical challenges of the shoot, it presented a few others: what if the students didn’t show up? What if they got scared in front of the camera and weren’t ready for a conversation? What if, by using only one work of art, we didn’t get enough variations of shots?

Jessica, Francis, and I talked out all the possible scenarios and planned for the shoot. I shared some tips from creating videos for other Education Department programs:

Jessica interviews educator Emily Gibson about teaching inquiry-based learning in the galleries

Tip #1. Create a checklist of all the different examples of MoMA School Visits we would like to show, and make sure we capture all of them during the shoot. Video can capture the flow of a tour, not just snapshots, as long as you are prepared to really direct the show.
Tip #2: Build into the schedule a time to interview the students and teacher about their experience at MoMA. With video we can take advantage of the participants’ voice and feedback, and record their point of view.
Tip #3 Be very hands on with directing the students. If a student says something but doesn’t speak loudly or the camera doesn’t capture it, we need to jump in and interrupt and ask the student to repeat him or herself. Video production is expensive and time consuming, and this is our one shot to get it right!
After all the careful planning, there were still some unexpected last-minute challenges: on the day of the shoot we were told that the teacher couldn’t guarantee how many students would show up, since it was after school hours. Oh no! We started to create a backup plan, maybe having staff stand in as fillers if only a few students showed up? But luckily a good-sized group of students arrived right on time from Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts.

The students were patient and comfortable in front of the camera and boom microphone, and even under the pressure of the lights they offered thoughtful responses about the work of art, George Segal’s The Bus Driver. Our educator, Emily, led the students through a lesson on the theme of identity, and connected their activity to a poetry unit they were doing in class. The students graciously agreed to be interviewed about the value of their experience. After so much planning, Jessica, Francis, and I were excited to see the School Visits video come to life. In the process of this experiment, I learned that a staged, controlled conversation comes across much better on camera than trying to capture a tour in progress, as long as you have a flexible and patient group of people who are willing to be coached and take the extra steps. The video will be finished soon—look for it on in a few weeks!