How to Film a Great Scene for Robert Louis Stevenson Day

Image of someone filming on their camera phone. Image credit to Jay Wennington on Unsplash

This year's Robert Louis Stevenson Day will take place on Friday 13 November, and as usual Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust are going to be laying on a fantastic programme of events and opportunities for young and old to celebrate the life of the great man. 

Edinburgh City of Literature Trust are inviting pupils to film a scene from one of Stevenson's books for their drama competition

This year's theme will be Stevenson on Stage and Screen, and Edinburgh City of Literature Trust are inviting pupils across the city to act out a well-known scene from one of Stevenson's books, film it and submit it to their drama competition. 

Putting together a filmed production is always great fun, and thanks to the prevalence of camera phones and free editing software it's within easy reach for many of us. So how do you get started, and what important points do you need to bear in mind? We're going to draw from our fantastic learning resource from writer Cat Hepburn and give you Cat's top tips in condensed form below.


Get inspired by the work of others

The landscape of TV and cinema is awash with fantastic, creative visual storytelling. Check out the YouTube channel Every Frame a Painting, where the styles of different directors are analysed and celebrated. Your pupils can mine their favourite movies to see how different directors approach similar set pieces like conversations and fight scenes: the Lord of the Rings movies are full of great cinematography, as are Chris Nolan's Batman movies. And even if just for your own perusal, we can't resist a mention of the beautiful cinematography in Breaking Bad.


Pick the right scene

Picking an effective scene is crucial: ideally you want one where there's some kind of conflict, where a character wants something and is struggling to get it. Tension is a great ingredient too. Remember that conversation scenes can be just as gripping, if not more so, than full-on action scenes. That’s why the City of Literature Trust have chosen the transformation scene from The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as the focus for their drama competition – it’s brim-full of dramatic potential, as it focusses on establishing two recognisable and distinct sides of the same man within a short space of time. Have a look at this 1930’s Rouben Mamoulian original for inspiration – it shows you what is possible even without any modern high-tech special effects.


Make good use of dialogue

Dialogue is a great storytelling device, but the trick is to use it efficiently and effectively. Remember you've now got visuals, so you've got a second way of conveying information to the audience. It's better if you can show them how a character is feeling through the character's actions rather than their dialogue. Don't be tempted to simply reproduce the dialogue from the book verbatim: think about what you can cut out and show through visuals instead.

Dialogue is a great storytelling device, but the trick is to use it efficiently and effectively


Arrange your scene effectively

Think carefully about how you place your actors, scenery and props. The positioning of actors relative to each other can be instrumental in conveying the balance of power between them.



Before you storyboard, it's helpful to know about the effects of using different camera angles: check out pages 7 and 8 of Cat's resource to find out more!

Storyboards are a really useful tool to plan your scene. In each square of your storyboard, you draw what the camera will see and write what action is taking place underneath. Storyboards don't have to be works of art: stickmen and simple drawings will do the job just fine.



And now it's on to filming! You might want to use more than one camera, if possible, so you can capture things from a variety of angles. 



Most types of editing software are pretty intuitive. Windows Movie Maker and IMovie are two hugely popular programmes for PC and Mac. Depending on your school's restrictions, you can also use YouTube's free movie editor, with lots of free music available to enhance your scene. WeVideo is another great option, with a free version available.

So what are you waiting for? Get in the director's chair and make it happen: Stevenson's books are full of memorable scenes just waiting to be reimagined. Head on over to Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust's website to find out more about their drama competition. Best of luck!

Image credit: Jay Wennington on Unsplash under Creative Commons Zero.