filming eLearning

A Day in the LearnBIG Studio

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The first thing that strikes you about the space is that it is bright. There are lights at least four feet long set down in rows along the floor, and there are giant glowing boxes on stands set at various angles through the space as well.

We are sitting in the LearnBIG studio, in the middle of filming a short eLearning course about how to use a specialty video recorder. Floor real-estate is at a premium as power cords and sound cables snake through the space already crowded by various stands and tripods holding cameras, microphones, and monitors of various shapes and sizes.

It is the middle of the second day of filming and the actor under all those lights is stretching his facial muscles between takes. He works his lips in a fast and intricate pattern, practicing the words that glow from the teleprompter in front of him.

Sitting in this space you would never know that it used to be an office. Thick black curtains cover the walls and windows. Sound dampening you see, though that has not kept us from pausing several times already today as airplanes make their noisy journey overhead.  Located just outside downtown Bellevue Washington, LearnBIG’s filming studio is right on the path to the area’s busiest airport (Sea-Tac), which means that pausing mid-take due to airplane noise is common.

But even so the shoot is moving along at a steady clip. The Producer/Director is keeping the crew focused and on task, as we move through the storyboard page by page.  At first glance there does not seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason to what anyone is saying.  The Producer will call out an asset number and a take number before she slates each take with the clapperboard well known to any film aficionado.  In reality the alphanumeric soup represents a specific page in the storyboard, a file in the teleprompter, and (in the future) a slice of video which will be incorporated into the final course.

After an affirmative “speeding” from the man running the camera, his ears covered in well insulated headphones, the familiar call of “Action!” resounds in the small space.  There is always a brief pause here.  A short little moment where the crew seems to collectively hold their breath before the actor starts to talk and the teleprompter to roll.  The camera itself has been recording for the last minute or so, since before the scene was slated.  But it is the next ten seconds or so that will hopefully end up in the final course.

The actor begins to speak.  The teleprompter begins to roll, speeding up and slowing down, as it tries to keep pace with his speech.  On one of the large video monitors you can see that he only appears from the waist up, so anyone who ends up taking this course will not be able to see the neon sneakers he wears in stark contrast to the rest of his professional attire.  He pops against the stark white background; there is no way to deny it.

We are just a few words from the end of the teleprompter’s cache when a “from” becomes a “form,” and it is back to the top to try it again.  Everything is reset and this time it all works perfectly.  We relax just a little bit as a new scene is loaded into the teleprompter and we get ready to repeat the whole process over again.

It goes like this all day, just as it did the day before.  Load the words, get the equipment ready, record, stop, record again, load new words, and go again.  We proceed through the storyboard like a bunny playing hopscotch, sometimes landing with both feet and spending a while on a complex piece of filming, other times resting only a moment on a single line of dialogue, before proceeding onwards.

We are not exactly proceeding in chronological order either.  For one thing, certain pieces were filmed all in a chunk together because they all needed the same set-up, so we skip over those when we come to them.  On top of that, almost every part of the course has three or four different variations that any future user could encounter. It is all part of creating intelligent interactions but from our perspective it means that we hear similar things with minute but crucial variations three to four times before moving along in the story of the module.  It’s a little like being a kid and trying to read a “choose your own adventure book” straight through instead of following one specific narrative, or looking at a Picasso painting which tries to represent all facets of a thing at once.

At the end of of the long day we’ve managed to stay on schedule (despite the planes), and the footage will be processed and edited starting tomorrow before going on to Engineering to be stitched together along with the intelligent interaction functionality. By the time it has gone through all the finishing touches there will not be a single hint of the crowded bright room, the neon sneakers and the sporadic process…..there will just be a man speaking against a white background helping you learn something new.