Let me make a confession. I have been training people to make videos for 25 years, and most of this training has been a total waste of time.
There. I said it.
Outside of the hothouse of the weekend or evening class, my students have been, with the exception of a few phenomenally talented and dedicated ones, completely unable to make another film.
At a time when the technology to make films is in everyone's hands, but the skills to make effective citizen media are still sorely lacking, this is tragic. So how on earth has it happened? The answer is simple. The technical and craft skills required for documentary making are just too complex, and an apprenticeship of years is required to learn them. So why are introductory video trainers still delivering boiled-down documentary courses over a weekend? A lot of denial of the truth is taking place. Video trainers have dealt with this failure by ignoring it in a number of ways:
1. Deny that it's a failure – you can strongly suspect this is happening when the same video, made by the above exceptionally talented ones, gets screened over and over to show the success of previous courses.
Showing work produced on the course is anyway simply irrelevant, as only work produced afterwards without the help of an expert would mean the course was successful.
Video trainers, ask yourselves this simple question: how many videos were made by course participants AFTER your training finished?
2. Take the money and run. Millions in funding have been thrown at video training around the world over the last few decades, in the misguided hope that by these methods we can produce a whole new class of video producers. So why not feed a bit at the trough?
3. Provide no training at all. The video bloggers' line – we're all capable of being creative in the world of remix and v-logging. Let it all hang out in its distended and undisciplined style. And once again, at conferences, show the few shining examples which have gone viral on youtube.
4. Take this a step further and say that training is an unacceptable restriction on the creativity of would-be film makers and how dare trainers tell them what to do. This has the advantage of making you a lot of friends – all the people who fantasize that they can go from beginner to award-winner without learning the basic skills, or the many who like to say “My video's not boring. It's artistic." It also means you avoid the hard work of actually fronting up to students, of having the courage and the social skills to correct their mistakes without them feeling disempowered. "We're all creative in our different ways" is so much easier.
5. Carry on teaching the wrong thing. The truth is that we video trainers need to take a heavy dose of “unlearning”, burying our professional skills for the sake of students. Rifle mikes? 3-point lighting? WHITE BALANCE? All unnecessary, and they give students the idea that this is a professional world that is closed to them.
6. Parachute in for a weekend, with no follow-up. In reality, the "before" and "after" of a course is more important than the training itself.
The project I work with, visionOntv, has taken a radically different path. We have thrown out of our training everything which would confuse beginners and distract them from basic story-telling. We have produced templates for rapid-turnaround video production, as cartoons on one side of paper. We have told students that they MUST follow the templates. Before the course, students have committed themselves to making films after it, and at the end of it they have been able to create a web community for mutual help.
The first training in visioOntv's MAKING NEWS Roadshow was proof of these methods. In the first month after the training, the new Merseyside Street Reporters Network made no less than 55 short films. In one month - 55 films. Not all of them great, but most of them watchable, and some very good. No other video training anywhere has ever achieved this.
So what is our vision? A world filled with citizen video reporters. A replacement for the traditional media. Untold stories, sidelined perspectives, a media made by the "people formerly known as the audience". The new mainstream.