George Lucas Educational Foundation

Reading Film: The Story of Movies

Martin Scorsese champions a visual-literacy curriculum, available free to teachers for use in middle school classrooms. Read the article.
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Colleen: So, right now your job is to figure out where the light's coming from, how strong it is, the intensity, and perhaps how it makes you feel. Caroline?

Caroline: There was more than one light source, because you can see that half of the guy's face is lit up and that other half of his hat.

Narrator: These Santa Barbara sixth-graders are analyzing scenes from classic films like "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Student: It kind of seems like there might be moon -- a moon.

Narrator: They're in the middle of a four-week project called "The Story of Movies," a free curriculum that helps students develop critical-thinking skills and fosters an appreciation for the complexities of moviemaking.

Cathy: What we want teachers and children to do is look at film through three different lenses. The first lens would be film as a language, as a powerful communication tool. The second lens would be to look at film as a historical, cultural document, and then the final lens is to look at film as a work of art.

Narrator: Filmmaker Martin Scorsese started the program when he realized that kids needed tools to interpret the visual imagery they're immersed in every day.

Martin: So much of today's society is done visually and even subliminally for young people that it could be dangerous, and one has to know it's a very, very powerful tool. We don't mean to be having young people take two hours of their time to just sit and enjoy a movie. No, this is a learning experience. What you're doing is training the eye and the heart of the student to look at a film in a different way by asking questions and pointing to different ideas, different concepts.

Colleen: Can we have some people tell us why a cinematographer changes the lighting in a film?

Student: If it's lighter, it's more happy sometimes, and if it's darker it's mysterious and...

Colleen: So many of my children have told me that the way they get their information is from the television or from the movie screen, and when I ask them, "Well, how true do you think it is? How valid are those pieces of film clip?" they seem to think that it's all true because they saw it on film. So, I feel that this program and others like it that show how films are made, how it is artificial, will help them not just to believe things just because they're on the screen.

Narrator: The "Story of Movies" curriculum package, including lesson plans and DVDs, is available free of charge to teachers around the country. In a cross-curricular approach, students first learn the history of film, then move to lessons about the tools filmmakers use, from science experiments dealing with the properties of light...

Colleen: Watch what happens to the light, how it changes.

Narrator:... to observations of how various musical scores convey different emotions.

Cathy: Students have to tap their knowledge of music, their knowledge of art, their knowledge of literature, their knowledge of history in order to understand what's going on in the film. We can't just show it to them and say, "Now tell me what it means."

Martin: They need to know how ideas and emotions are expressed through a visual form, panning left and right, tracking in or out, booming up and down, intercutting a certain way, the use of a close-up as opposed to medium shot. What is a medium shot? What is a long shot? And how do you use all these elements to make an emotional and psychological point to an audience?

Student: I've never really thought to make my own movie before, and now I think it would be really fun, especially because now I've learned so much about the lighting and how much work it takes behind the scenes to make a movie and how lighting and music really affects the setting and the mood of it. I think it's a lot of work.

Narrator: For more information on what works in education, go to

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Shannon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that movie making will make the social studies curriculum more interesting and that a movie is a natural flow of social studies. I would welcome anything that would bring life to the area of sst. I feel it would make it more interesting to teach and to learn. Everyone involved will get more out of history in that way.

Joanne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Martin S. is a highly effective director whom I always associated with the darker side of society. I was impressed with the students' comments and their understanding of the use of light and dark and the value of the type of music having a subliminal effect on the audience. By choosing effective elements these cab attract the students to the story, but this can also be used adversely. The classroom teacher has to be very careful in the media (s)he brings into the classroom because it can have an adverse effect.

Cherish Hughes's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of multi media in the classroom. Having GT students I can really see how their minds would be gathering information from movies, timelines, text etc. and thus fostering great questions in their minds. This skill of questioning something they have been taught promotes higher level thinking. I am definitely going to challenge myself to use more stimulus in the classroom especially in Texas History.

Nina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I absolutely love this! I am a huge fan of movies and was in theater and drama all throughout middle school and high school. Those were the most memorable times for me in learning. We had to be able to visualize so many aspects of plays and movies alike. Also, we even were able to make our own videos. This is a fantastic program that children will remember forever.

Janene Meyer's picture

WOW- this looks to be very similar to my first film class...... about ten years ago my "former" place of employment allowed the seniors to take " Film as Literature" instead of the "English Lit. class." I took all the classes (I already had several- and love the art form) to teach the class and the next year we started saying the long goodbye to electives and "extras" and then ultimately our jobs........... It is a sad state of affairs here. This past Monday they laid off another 100 teachers from the school..... All my friends lost their jobs. I like my new job- BUT- it will never compare to teaching!!!!!!!!!!! I started getting this magazine when it first came out- and still love it. I wish I had had this unit then- instead I started from scratch. So- I applaud everyone working on this magazine and website for the constant inspiration it has given me and the tools and gifts it gave me to provide my seniors with with more ways to think critically, ask questions, and most importantly the understanding that we all continue to learn things with every step throughout our lives......

Debra.Clark's picture
High School Health teacher, and ESOL K-12

This would be a great tool in helping my EL's (English learners) to identify their emotions! I would like to get this lesson plan for my kids:)

Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)'s picture

[quote]This would be a great tool in helping my EL's (English learners) to identify their emotions! I would like to get this lesson plan for my kids:)[/quote]

You may visit the program website for more information and to download the free curriculum as PDFs...

Best of luck!

Jody Urbas's picture

While I imagine in 2006 this was a tremendous resource, at this point it is frustrating at best. You are no longer able to get the video clips, while there are portions of the program that can be done, without the video and still resources, the holes left are significant. I will still use many of the concepts that are introduced here, but in order to create the additional resources it will take a vast amount of time and energy to make this valuable.

Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)'s picture

Jody, thanks for your comment, that's very good feedback for the program authors. On their website they suggest that rented or borrowed DVDs of the three movies they offer curriculum packages to accompany would work just as well, but you're absolutely right that it would be a significantly more time-consuming task than when they offered full kits.

In the original packages they simply included the DVD with the curriculum and it was up to the teacher to find the proper clips -- for copyright reasons they were not able to publish / excerpt the clips and embed them online. There were also specially-produced clips that made points or showed film-making strategies, and these are no longer available.

Still, I think there's value in the curricula from Story of Movies, but potential users should know that they no longer offer the full kits, so the specialized clips are not accessible, and that some legwork is needed to get the full-length movies and match clips to the PDFs that are now online.

Jody Urbas's picture

Dear Amy,

Buying the movie and finding the clips isn't the issue, it is all the supplemental clips that they use as a part of the curriculum which are not a part of the films. I am currently recreating multiple facets of the units using other materials to replace those which can not be found. I'm not shy about hard work, I am just worried that I may not be able to recreate the concepts of the units when the materials are not always accessible.

For example, Film Clip 2-1 The Director's Vision is a whole lesson based on a clip which includes director commentary from Citizen Kane and 2001 a Space Odyssey.

This is not something that can be easily recreated and certainly can't be found outside the original. I understand and value copyright, and see value in the curriculum as it now stands, I just want to make sure folks know what they are getting themselves into before they embark on the task :)

For anyone who is planning on this monumental task I strongly suggest that the Appendices from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. They do provide a significant amount of film industry insight and would help others to create a unit with depth.

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