How to make a (superhero) movie starring your kids

My boys are in their superhero phase right now. They can't get enough of Superman and Batman. One Sunday morning, as they were running around the living room with their action figures and asking to watch trailers of old superhero movies, I got the idea for a kids' activity that would be fun: write, produce, and star in our own, homemade superhero movie! I asked the boys if they were in, and they jumped at the idea.  It took up the bulk of our morning, but time zoomed by and the kids were totally immersed in the project. It was a good way to keep them busy. Here's how we pulled it off.

1. Write your story

Time: 5 minutes

Take out a pen and paper, and ask your kids what they want to see happen in the movie.  My four-year old was a fountain of ideas. I simply created a bullet-point list and wrote out his thoughts as the two-year old nodded in approval at his older brother's creative genius.  For this step, just get their thoughts on paper.

2. Storyboard

Time: 5-10 minutes

I know this sounds like a step fit only for Hollywood directors, but I found this to be immensely helpful, as it helped the kids visual what each scene or sequence would look like. Go to the top of your bullet list from step one, and for each bullet, ask your kids where the scene should take place, what the action sequence will look like, and what the dialogue will be.  This will also help you for the shoot, as you'll know what you're actually shooting. It will also help with post-production, as you'll know how to stitch your video together. Trust me, the kids won't want to wait 5 hours for your to stitch the video together; they'll want to see their box office hit pronto!

3. And...Action!

Time: 30-45 minutes, depending on number and complexity of each scene

This is when it gets fun.  You don't need a fancy camera. We shot our video with my iPhone 4S. It shoots in HD and is more than adequate for this type of project.  To make the final product more enjoyable for the kids, try and get up close, as much as possible with your shots.  If all of your shots are wide, it'll still look fine, but they'll love seeing the occasional up-close shot when they inevitably replay the movie over and over again.

Get the kids dressed up in character and then work your way through each scene you developed in step 2.  (You could do a little arts and crafts session to create costumes.  In my case, we took 15 minutes to draw a superman logo and taping it to a blue shirt, but you could make a whole day our of creating costumes).

You can probably shoot two or three takes for each scene, but if you don't want to spend more time in post-production, and you want to wrap up the shoot within a reasonable amount of time, I suggest just sticking to one take per scene. It'll also make it easier in post-production -- you won't have to sift through reams of film to pick the right take. Sure, the video won't win an Oscar for cinematography, but it'll feel authentic and you'll get them down in time for their nap!

4. Stitch it together

Time: 30-60 minutes, depending on how comfortable you are in a video editor.

If you've never edited a video before, don't sweat it. Apple has made is simple with iMovie, and it's free. You just import your video clips, and drag each scene onto the timeline, in the order you already identified in steps 1 and 2.  If you've never done this before, and want to have some familiarity with the application, I recommend taking some time before you start this activity to watch a tutorial. I suggest you do this before, because once you're done shooting the scenes, your kids will be eagerly anticipating the final product. They won't necessarily have the patience wait it out as you sort your way through tutorials. Here's a decent one I found after a quick search:

 

5. Add some polish

Time: 5 minutes

This part is optional, but if the movie would benefit from some music and sound effects, add these at the end.  If you need to make some edits to the dialogue, you could use this step to record some voiceovers (as we did in our example). Don't forget to add a title bumper and credits, using the simple built-in title templates available in your video editor. Run it by your kids to make sure they're happy with the product, and then export! Share it with friends and family. Or better yet, set up a screening in your living room with a bowl of popcorn!