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!

5 Tips for Cooking with Kids

As an obsessed home-cook, I'm ashamed to admit I haven't done enough to share my passion with my kids. Yes, I bring the two boys to the market almost every Saturday. Yes, I take them to random holes in the walls in search of good lunches, and yes I do cook the odd dinner with our oldest. But I haven't made it our "thing." I suppose age has always been a factor, but now that my oldest son is approaching five, I really don't have much of an excuse.

I mean, I've had him pitch in occasionally: peel some carrots here and there; help wash dishes from time to time; but it I haven't made it a habit.  And I'm sure the boys would love to do more than slave labour in the kitchen. So, as they're now sound asleep, and as I sip on a HopBot IPA from Hop City, I'm thinking of ways to engage them in the kitchen a little more.  Using my own experience, and with some googling, I found some kick-ass tips:

1. Anyone can cook!

Or so chef Gusteau tells us in one of my favourite food movies,  RatatouilleWhile this first point doesn't belong on a to-do list, I thought it was worth including it here  because it speaks to the mindset I need to adopt if I'm going to make this an ongoing thing.

2.  Start with the Hunt

I long ago made it a habit to bring my kids grocery shopping with me. From early April to late October, these excursions take place at farmer's markets. This is such an easy way to keep them engaged. They get to touch and smell fruits and veggies, while being free to run around a bit.  In the early days, I sort of brought them along for the ride. They'd lose patience with me after about 20 minutes. They'd fuss, ask for mom, and sometimes just bust out the tears.  Man, did that ever cramp my style. But something funny happened when I started giving them specific tasks:

"Alright boys, we need a Spanish Onion!"

"What's a Spanish Onion?"

"A really really big, yellow onion!"

"Okay!! Let's go!!"

And off we all go, in search of a really really big onion.  Then, off to find the next ingredient. And the next after that.  It's actually quite fun. It becomes a treasure hunt of sorts, and the kids learn their fruits and veggies in the process. Daniel, our 4 year-old can easily tell the difference between an aubergine and a courgette.  <--- That's my boy!

There's more to it than the game, however.  Last summer, I noticed that Daniel would have a blast helping me cook whatever we picked from our garden. Making them part of the hunt connects kids to the food, and they'll appreciate the whole process that much more when they look at how they've transformed all of these ingredients into a meal.

3.  Forget Perfection

I got this tip from Rob Youngblood over at Family Focus Blog. I just love spending hours in the kitchen fine-tuning a recipe to near-perfection (it's never perfect, of course). I hate putting up a dish that doesn't make the cut. But I've been pursuing this hobby for almost a decade now -- I'm going to need a new standard when cooking with the kids. This is less about the final dish, as it is about the process: time spent together working on a communal meal; learning about food, proper nutrition and healthy habits; while doing something that doesn't involve me pleading that they not slam doors, poke their little sister, or leave every scrap of clothing they have littered throughout the house. The point is to just do it and have fun at it.  I can save the elaborate dishes for the next dinner party. Which gets us to our next point...

4. Keep it simple

Let's be honest: toddlers don't have the longest attention spans. This isn't the time to dig out Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon. I've had the most success cooking with Daniel when I've kept it simple. It's amazing how much enjoyment and excitement he gets from making a simple tomato salad or roasted carrots.  The tasks are easy (salt the halved cherry tomatoes; peel the carrots) and the results are either instantaneous, or fun to watch unfold.   Keeping it simple also helps me spend less time trying to nail every step in a recipe, and more time just enjoying how much enjoyment their getting out of this. And they really do enjoy it (if you keep it simple)!

5. Make them your culinary consultant

Maybe I just have an opinionated mini-chef on my hands, but Daniel loves providing expert advice when asked. "How many tomatoes should we use? Do we need more purple carrots? Does this salad need more salt?" Ask, and you shall receive. Kids love being asked for their opinion. I don't want to psychoanalyze or anything like that,  but I find they get a certain level of pride and confidence when asked to contribute in this way. They have skin in the game, which makes it all more fun, and means there's a good chance they'll eat what's on their plate.  It's their masterpiece after all!