Zooming to the Head of the Class


By Bart Weiss

As we begin Summer Semester 2020, the universe and the university have been communicating though Zoom and its brethren since the COVID-19 situation and social distancing started in March 2020. We have all been on Zoom, and some of you may have used Zoom to make a documentary. (By the way, make sure you get the setting correct for that). As a film student, you should work to make the Zoom experience work for you. So, here are five steps to impress your film teacher with your Zoomology excellence.

  1. Get good sound. Just like you don’t want bad sound in your video, you can do much better in Zoom if you have better sound. There are a few options here. The easiest is to use some headphones like the ones that came with your mobile device. The mic will be closer to your mouth, and the way Zoom works, it will process your audio better. The next step up would be to get an external mic, and it doesn’t even have to be a great one. You will need a USB or digital mic which will easily plug into your computer. If you have them, try a better analogue mic with an XLR cable and analogue/digital converter. The thing is if the audio sounds better, people with listen to what you are saying just a bit more.
  2. Think about the lighting. Remember you are a film student, and this is an opportunity to impress your teachers. Using just a table lamp near the computer can give you a nice key light. Some LED desk lights can let you adjust the color temperature and brightness. If you are using a virtual background you might want to have another lamp as a backlight to give you a clean key. But for the extra pizzazz, you can add some color gel to the lamp for effect.
  3. Let your background tell the teacher and the class something. Remember, you are a storyteller.

If you don’t use a virtual background, think about what you can put behind you that can be expressive. If you go with the virtual background, really go for it. Look for images that project the image you want to project. Maybe it is a scene from a rare film, or something that relates to the subject of the class for the day. But if you do something creative, you need to keep being creative, or it will get stale. Another approach with the virtual background could be to visually express how you are feeling. As a creative person, use this as a challenge, and it will pay off.

  1. Use an external camera instead of the camera that comes on your computer. Usually even your iPhone or Smart Phone will look better, but if you have a good DSLR or cinema camera with a nice lens, the image you project will be great.
  2. What are you wearing? You don’t need go all out but think of how you would dress a character in your film. Think about what your character could be wearing or how you can be wearing it.

As a film student, you are learning how to control the image. Zoom is another creative outlet and another way to show off your cinematic skills.

Zooming to the Head of the Class

Bart Weiss

Bart Weiss is an award-winning filmmaker, educator and director/founder of the Dallas VideoFest and produces “Frame of Mind” on KERA TV. He was President of AIVF and was a video columnist for The Dallas Morning News, and United Features Syndicate. Bart received an MFA in Film Directing from Columbia University. www.videofest.org