What Equipment Do I Need to Make Movies?

A reader question:

I’ve always been interested in TV Production and am thinking about writing a grant to start one.   Our school has no funding for this, so I don’t even know where to start. What equipment do I need? How much will it cost?

I’ve learned that nothing goes out of fashion faster than equipment recommendations.  However, here are my best recommendations for today.


Your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch with iMovie installed is all you need to start making movies.  $200-$500.


I’m using a T3i DSLR camera that is excellent for still images but also shoots 1080p 24 frames per second high definition video.  $400-$600

For sound, I use a boom microphone which can attach directly to the camera to shoot better sound.  $100-$350

You will also need editing software, either iMovie (free with any Mac) or Final Cut Pro X ($300).

The T3i shoots excellent video in low-light situations.  However, you may wish to add some lighting to your setup.

It’s a Hoax! Teach Critical Thinking and Analysis Through Online Hoaxes

What follows are three of my favorite hoax links, shared in a Google Workshop for Educators.  Use these to teach students that not everything posted on the internet is true.

All About Explorers
An attractive site looking site chock full of information about famous explorers, except all the information is false.

RYT Hospital
Men can now have babies, this high tech web site shows you how.

Museum of Hoaxes
Find tons more in the Museum of Hoaxes.


Interesting Reads on Michael Jackson

Michael and Branding

How Michael Became a Brand Icon
What we should do to brand ourselves, our schools, our businesses

Death by an Overdose of Showbusiness
What we should not to to ourselves, our schools, our businesses

Humanizing Michael

Robert Hilburn Remembers
Long time L.A. Times critic reflects

Quincy Jones Remembers
After “Bad” the rest was just noise, Jones says of Michael’s life and surrounding controversy.

Teaching About Michael

As always, Larry Ferlazzo is there with resources for teaching.

Film School for Video Podcasters

My session for the K12Online Conference, Film School for Video Podcasters, is now online.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page to download for your iPod or to watch on your computer.

The sixteen minute presentation is a series of short vignettes framed by a film noir detective story in which I play the detective (of course).

The inspiration for the project was being a video judge in an internationally known technology contest and seeing the poor quality of submitted projects.  Even though the topic of the projects were very noble, the student use of the medium of filmmaking was horrendous.  What I was judging were powerpoints that moved and not movies.

I maintain that video is not the language of the twenty-first century.  It’s the language of the twentieth century and we’re just now catching up.  So, I do consider it important for teachers and students to have a basic knowledge of the language of film.  This movie is an attempt to help teachers gain that knowledge.  After sixteen minutes you won’t be an expert but I hope you will begin to think a little bit more strategically about your work with video in the classroom.

In the movie I discuss:

  • Storyboarding
    Almost everyone knows that you have to storyboard but there aren’t many models for teachers on how to storyboard.  Here I try to show you step by step.
  • Shot selection
    I talk a little bit about the meaning behind certain shots as well as how to set them up to be aesthetically appealing.
  • Equipment
    In a nod to my hero, Jim Cramer, I present Mad Moviemaking in which I answer questions on what kind of equipment to buy (because these are the questions I get most often about videomaking)

Woven in between those sections is my opinion on the importance of teaching media literacy via media production.

I plan on posting a bit more about my process of making the movie later but suffice it to say that it was a lot of work.  I welcome your feedback below.  Enjoy!

Media Literacy Links

We can spend our time crying about how students spend more time watching TV and less time reading or we can provide them with the analytical skills they need to process and think critically about the TV they are watching. This becomes increasingly important as media is being delivered to students on smaller and smaller hand-held personal devices.

Perhaps the best way to teach media literacy is by having students create their own media. In the same way that we teach reading comprehension through writing we can teach media analysis through media creation.

Media Creation Links

Video in the Classroom.com
my own site dedicated to integrating video production in the elementary classroom

has free movies you can watch to improve your moviemaking talents

American Film Institute Screen Education Program

Media Literacy Links

PBS Don’t Buy It
Kids’ Media Literacy Site

PBS Media Literacy Quiz


Center for Media Literacy

An Introduction to Media Literacy

Media Literacy Online Organization Index

Recommended Reading

Reading in the Dark
recommended by Roger Ebert for teaching students to analyze films

Article: Why Media Literacy Matters

Media Literacy Film

My friend, Nick Pernisco of Understand Media presents this film which makes the case for teaching students how to responsibly view media rather than banning their access to that media.  It’s similar to my case for teaching student to safely use Google rather than banning Google.

Design and Storytelling in Film

An interesting conversation began in Students 2.0, where Anthony, a high school student, wrote,

“…like home movies, most…student videos are lacking a thesis and a design to support them. As technology allows us to integrate creative projects…we need to give students the tools to funnel their creative efforts into an effective and cohesive whole.”

I made the point that teachers need to be showing students basic elements of film language if they’re going to ask students to make films. We would never teach writing without teaching students how to read text. How can we teach film without pointing out how to read film language?

Anthony felt that this was out of reach of most teachers. He’s probably right since most teachers don’t have this knowledge themselves. However, I don’t think it’s hard for a teacher with an ounce of motivation to learn how to analyze film nor does it take a lot of time to teach because most of us are already subconsciously aware of what goes into the “design” of films.

Tom of Bionic Teaching picked up on this thread and posted an excellent Before and After Powerpoint example of how a powerpoint slide could be improved through better storytelling and by linking design to the storytelling of the slide.

I’d like to try to illustrate the point from a film making perspective and demonstrate how this relates to film. Specifically, let’s look at framing from high and low angles and at varying distances.

These shots come from our film “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse” which was made almost entirely with still images in my first grade class. In this scene, a mouse party is interrupted by the entrance of a cat in the room. The mice flee and a chase ensues.


Most of the teacher and student films I see look worse than the above shot in that they’re taken from even farther away and the camera never moves from that position. The cat might enter, turn her back to the camera and the mice would quickly run off-frame.




So we looked at at least three things in this brief example:

Shooting from different angles can make characters more or less powerful.We can show character’s point of view by cutting to what they are looking at.Shooting from different distances conveys different information about a scene.

Naturally there are technical names for these shots and techniques but I’m trying to simplify things so that a teacher who knows nothing else could teach this.If teachers would teach just these basic film elements by analyzing any popular media, students would be able to produce better video and be better able to analyze all types of media.


Reflection on AFI’s Screen Education Series

The City Mouse and the Country Mouse (See Entire Film)

Digital Storytelling Blog Carnival

Why Integrate Video Production in the Classroom?

Excerpted from Video in the Classroom.com

1. Student engagement. Too many students in urban cities are dropping out. Engaging students early and providing positive experiences with school can help to hook these students before they leave.

2. Student achievement. Every classroom has a few students who are below grade level. Traditional teaching is not working for these students. These students need teaching that appeals to different learning modalities. Teaching as usual is not working.

3. Higher level thinking.The revised Bloom’s Taxonomy puts creating at the highest level. Most traditional teaching asks students to memorize and recall information whereas filmmaking asks students to analyze and synthesize information from multiple sources, decide how to illustrate that information, and make decisions about presentation.

4. Media literacy. I would say that filmmaking is the language of the 21st Century but truly it’s the language of the 20th Century and schools are just now catching up. Students are exposed to media images on increasingly smaller technology devices and are given very few tools in traditional schools to comprehend and think critically about these images. By creating media, students understand exactly what goes into constructing media messages by constructing them themselves.

5. Closing the digital divide. Lower income students, in particular, have more limited access to technology and technology teaching which asks them to use the computer in ways which are not simply remedial. “Economically disadvantaged students who often use the computer for remediation and basic skills, learn to do what the computer tells them, while more affluent students, who use it to learn programming and tool applications, learn to tell the computer what to do.” (Neuman in Conte 1997)

Is There Any Evidence of This?

Yes. Please see research done with Project Live in Escondido Unified (note:  this link has gone offline, it may or may not work) which found an increase in standardized testing scores as a result of infusing curriculum with teacher and student produced media in a one to one laptop program.

In addition Mathew Needleman has traced increased fluency speeds to his work in a one computer classroom in which students create films.

Second Life for Toddlers

Nick Pernisco on the Media Literacy Ning points out this article from the New York Times about how entertainment companies are clamoring to create the next Second Life for the pre-teen and younger set. Nick asks, “Are kids really safe on these sites, or are they being stalked by online predators called advertisers?”

While I think that the sites are safe. Brand loyalty is being created in subtler and subtler ways. Now you don’t have to use the actual product, you can just have an experience using the virtual product and it works just the same in terms of raising your awareness of a brand.

As these technologies are new, however, I wonder if parents are able to talk to their kids about this because of their own limited experience with Second Life environments. It again points to the importance of media literacy education.

If we were teaching students how to be aware of advertisements such as product placement on TV then their knowledge would probably transfer to the video game. In the absence of any media literacy education we’re raising generations of students who are going to fall prey easily to subtle even subliminal messages from advertisers.

Join the Media Literacy Ning if you’re interested in networking with other teachers around this topic.