China and CCS Videos Part 3: Developing a Script

Read from the beginning: Setting the Stage

Go to part 4: Rehearsal and Filming

Once individual research was complete, it was time for the groups to start drafting a script and developing images. First, I created a guideline for scripting and shooting to share with each student. Then, I asked each group to create a new shared Google document to develop their script.

I wanted the groups to have as much class time as possible to focus on their work, so I tried to limit the amount of whole group instruction to just 3-5 minutes at the beginning of class.  In general, this was my daily checklist:

  • Remind students about the overall project deadline – “We are filming on February 25th. You need to be ready to go walking in the door on the 25th. The deadline will not be extended!”
  • Remind students to use the script and video guidelines as a checklist. If I remembered, I would make sure to post the guidelines on the projector…but I probably only remember to do this about 50% of the time.
  • Give students a benchmark goal – “Make sure your scripts are done by Friday so that you can start rehearsal on Monday.”
  • General advice or cautionary tales – “It is really helpful to make a list of pictures you want to create BEFORE you start making pictures.”


Drafting the Script:

During the class period, my goal was to actively check in two times with each group. I soon discovered that it was necessary for me to ask specific questions like, “What exactly are you working on now? What is your goal before the end of the class? What can I do to help?” Questions like these almost always elicited a detailed response. Whereas if I just asked “Are you guys OK?”, the answer was inevitably “Yes.” Other than these check-ins, I basically just tried to stay out of their way and let them work. Every now and then I found it necessary to address the entire class in the middle of the period to clarify a particular point, but I tried to minimize that as it was always a bit disruptive to get them out of “the zone” long enough to listen to the announcement.

By far the biggest concern of the students was drafting a script that would fit within the 2-3 minute length requirement. As each group was ready with a rough draft, I had them do a timed reading. The majority of groups came in over the time limit on their first reading. Despite repeated requests to extend the video length, I held firm and coached them on how to revise and pare down their scripts. This was initially very challenging for students because they had to prioritize the information from their research. However, I realized that the larger issue was not so much their ability to do so, but rather I needed to reassure them that they would not be penalized for “leaving something out”.

On a related note, the students grappled with how to turn their list of facts into a viable script. I found that each topic presented its own challenges.

  • Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong, U.S. China Relations – These were, in some ways, the easiest to script because they focused on concrete events that could be presented in a clear linear fashion. I encouraged these groups to provide enough context to get the “big picture”.
  • Human Rights, Technology, Environment– These topics are too big to discuss everything, so it was important to find a unifying theme. I encouraged students to dig deep on one idea rather than try to address a broad range of issues. For example, environment scripts could focus on air or water pollution. The human rights groups generally decided to spotlight one or two major corporations as case studies.
  • Culture – In my opinion, this was by far the most challenging topic to address. Invariably, each person within a culture group picked a distinct topic (e.g., food, sports, fashion, etc.) based on their interest. This made it very challenging for students to develop a unifying theme, so instead I felt that it was most important to provide a clear organization of their ideas. For example, try to present their ideas in a logical order, and use title cards to show transitions from one topic to the next.

The last major element of developing the script was incorporating the images. This was essentially a parallel work stream for the students. They had to develop a list of images that would complement/enhance the script, produce the images, and include stage directions within the script on how the images would be incorporated. To streamline the process, many groups opted to focus on general images that could be reused several times within the context of their narrative, for example, a Chinese flag or outline maps of countries.

While students were workshopping their scripts, I had my own responsibilities as well. My daily homework assignment was to provide feedback to group on how to edit/revise their script. Outside of class I coordinated with the art department to ensure sufficient supplies and  I consulted with my tech support to finalize any software/hardware issues. Also, I had to set up the studio in the classroom and make sure everything worked properly.


I was initially quite anxious about this phase of the project because so much hinged on how well the groups could collaborate. By and large though, my fears were happily unrealized. Most of the groups were focused and productive during class time with minimal coaching or encouragement from me. However, there were a few groups that experienced ongoing challenges that significantly impacted their productivity, and the quality of their final product.

  • Three groups had significant issues due to poor focus in class, disorganization, failure to complete homework and/or poor leadership. Two of these groups ultimately needed to shoot their video twice because the first take had significant deficiencies. The third group managed to produce an acceptable video on their first take, but they fell short of the required minimum length.
  • Another group suffered from an extreme personality conflict between two of its members. They were eventually able to put aside their differences with a lot of coaching and direct oversight by me, but all of the group members reported afterward that the situation had negatively impacted their experience with the project.


Go to part 4: Rehearsal and Filming


Have you ever had students write film scripts in class? What could I do better next time? Tell me about it in a comment!


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