The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC), a nonprofit cultural arts center dedicated to teaching literacy for a visual culture in Pleasantville, New York publishes on their website short visual exercises called View Now Do Nows to practice close-reading of images. Each day, the Jacob Burns Film Center website features one View Now Do Now, or you can search a library of almost 200 of these activities, filtering by concept.
Encouraging creativity and engagement with visual texts, View Now Do Nows are short reading and writing tasks for which students respond to a picture or film by making a connections, telling a story, or thinking critically. Students can submit their responses by clicking the Respond Now button on the JBFC website, as well as see samples of other students’ responses. View Now Do Nows address literacy concepts that mirror literature and text study: structure, mood, setting, character, theme, and style. While studying the photograph or film clip, students are using some of the same skills as when they read print text: infer, connect, evaluate, and summarize.
I have created my own series of View Now Do Nows for my students to introduce film and cinematography elements while also teaching close and critical reading skills. Below are a dozen of these hooks and warm ups to spark students interest, focus their attention, activate prior knowledge, and communicate the learning goals for the class.
VNDN 1 – What are the Qualities of a Great Film? Describe five characteristics of a film you deem superb.
VNDN 2 – Anatomy of a Scene is based on the New York Times video series that published weekly videos in which director’s comment on the craft of movie making. I share these weekly with students and after viewing, students respond to the following:
1. What do you see?
2. What did you learn about making this scene?
3. What else stands out in the scene?
VNDN 3 – Watch the short video “What Does a Film Director Do” and then list three responsibilities of a film director based on the ideas shared in the video about directing.
VNDN 4 – Check out Studio Binder’s video about types of shots. Complete the Quizizz to show your understanding.
VNDN 5 – Steven Spielberg is an iconic film director who created timeless films including Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and Ready Player One to name a few. His film career has spanned over 60 years. Watch this videos to learn more about him and his iconic trademarks as a director.
The Duffer Brothers who created Stranger Things borrow some of Spielberg’s trademarks in their popular series. Watch the bike chase scene from season one of Stranger Things against Spielberg’s iconic bike scene in E.T. and then share the similarities and differences do you notice in these two scenes?
VNDN 6 A little film history today . . . Alfred Hitchcock is considered the master of suspense. He created some of the first horror and suspense films in the 1950s. Here is a video guide to many of Hitchcock’s iconic films. After you watch the film guide address the following:
Describe 3 things you learned in the video
Identify 2 “craft moves” that this director is known for
What is one question you want to know about this director?
VNDN 7 By using a point-of-view (or POV) shot, you can put the audience in the place of a character and see the story through their eyes. What do you notice about the POV shot in this video montage.
VNDN 8 Mise-En-Scene means “putting in the scene” in French. Mise-en-scene include all the visual elements that are placed in a scene for the camera; this involves the set, set decoration, props, costumes, lighting.
As you watch the film clip from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, What do you learn about the characters from their clothing? Their facial expressions and how they move? From the lighting? From the sets and props?
VNDN 9 How does Hitchcock create a terrifying murder scene without showing the actual killing. What movie moves are evident in this Art of the Scene with Hitchcock’s Psycho Shower Scene
VNDN 10 Hitchcock uses stairs to build suspense and birds to provide horror in his film The Birds. What are some other things that can be used to build suspense and horror? List three or more and why they work well to build suspense.
VNDN 11 In this Anatomy of A Scene from Invisible Man, the director is talking about creating a mood of paranoia. What elements that the director or actress present in this Anatomy of a Scene can you utilize in your own filmmaking?
VNDN 12 Graphic matches, or match cuts, are useful in relating two otherwise disconnected scenes, or in helping to establish a relationship between two scenes. By ending one shot with a frame containing the same compositional elements (shape, color, size, etc.) as the beginning frame of the next shot, a connection is drawn between the two shots with a smooth transition. How does Hitchcock use a graphic match in the shower scene from Psycho?
Film Challenge That Thing Is Scary (From Burns Film Center)
Be it a doll, a furnace, a tire, a plant, or a group of birds, a good Director can make anything scary. That’s because “scary” is all about atmosphere. For this challenge, find an object and make it scary. Think about why it’s scary, maybe even extra scary, to your character in particular.
Putting the camera up high and shooting down, a High Angle shot, first image below, is great for making a subject look scared, lost, lonely, or insignificant. The opposite, putting the camera low to the ground and shooting up at a subject, is called a Low Angle shot, second image below, and is great for making subjects look heroic, imposing, or larger than life. It’s often called “the hero shot” for just this reason.
1. Use a High Angle shot and a Low Angle shot in your film.
2. Have an unexpected sound effect in your film.
3. Plant a piece of information early in your story that helps the character(s) overcome their obstacle later on.