Our Approach to Filming In Schools

Our Approach to Filming In Schools

As one prepares to film on location, there are numerous details to take into consideration, including lighting, power requirements, room measurements, window and door placement, ceiling height, etc. But when someone prepares to film in a pre-school, kindergarten, or elementary school classroom environment, there are even more fine points to consider.

• How many students will occupy the space?

• Will Teachers’ Aids be available to assist with children?

• What materials are being taught and what is the best approach to capturing it on film?

• Will teachers be working with small or large groups or one-on-one with students?

• Will students act naturally with cameras pointed at them?

Years of filming in and around classroom environments has taught me that it is generally a good idea to take a few minutes prior to production to let the class warm-up to the camera and crew. We at Paladin do this by showing the camera to them, talking about the lens and the microphone, having them look through the viewfinder and letting them see their friends on the monitor. This only takes a few minutes, and it is amazing how quickly most children’s fears and inhibitions fade away.

Small groups of young students and one-on-one teacher-student interaction make for great moments on video. Larger groups can get a bit unruly, which may require additional work in the edit suite. If the goal is to capture specific interaction between teachers and their students, it can often be like attempting to catch lightning in a bottle. I prefer to have a minimum of two cameras rolling at all times to increase my odds of obtaining those precious words, those magical smiles, and those eyes of wonder and amazement.

The physical size of the classroom can also aid or hinder the filming experience. Medium sized rooms often work best as they provide room to move about, but not too much room for students to wander. It is nice to be able to film, and then rotate the lights on the stands to re-light with minimal adjustment for the next scene, as opposed to having to move the lights, stands, stingers, etc. to the other end of a large room. At the same time a room that is too small may cause light stands and cords to be in your shots. A phone call ahead of time to the teacher can let you know what to expect and if there are other options available.

When a film crew arrives on location it can often be like the circus has arrived in town. Vehicles, equipment, cases, and new faces are all cause for attention and distraction. People in the hallways of the school often want to know what is going on. Take time to tell them. Satisfy their curiosity and an onlooker may become someone willing to help wrangle a few of your extra students, or run a timely errand. Make sure extra space is available to stage the equipment, somewhere close by, yet away from the area of focus. Once shooting begins, it is critical that the crew become invisible, sort of the fly-on-the-wall with the camera, filming the magic of education as it happens.

Checking in at the front desk is a requirement at most schools in this day and age. It informs the school staff of your presence and helps you get the lay of the land. The secretaries and receptionists are normally very good at helping visitors acclimate to the environment. It is also a great idea to stop by the Principal’s office on the way to the shoot. Introduce the crew and tell them how excited you are to have access to their world for the day. Then get to work and be on your best behavior… lest you find yourself sitting in that dreaded chair just outside the Principal’s door!


Kent C. Williamson is an owner of the Paladin Media Group, a film and video production company located in Charlottesville, Virginia. As a grade school student at Dowell Elementary, he spent much of his time day-dreaming of ways to creatively film in a classroom environment.

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