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Perfect Activity: How to Make A Halloween Horror Movie With Your Kids

Perfecting Parenthood: How to make a Halloween Horror Movie With Your KidsDo you want your kids to be giddy with pride? Pride in themselves, but also proud of their awesome parents? Feeling special, famous even like an Emme Watson or Daniel Radcliff? Do you want to be famous yourself among your parent friends? Read on!

I was the James Cameron of our neighbourhood group of parents for a while after I rustled up the young actors to create this oscar-caliber short horror film: The Haunted Lake.

It isn’t very hard to do, though more difficult than just making popcorn string, and it’s a really great way to get everyone involved from the youngest to the oldest and even the parents.

Have a look at the movie, I’m very proud of it but more importantly, the kids and even the parents of the kids are super proud.

Here are the steps:

Step 1 The Idea

You don’t need much preparation for the project, but you will need an idea. The idea doesn’t have to be very good, just a simple story, perhaps even the retelling of a story you’ve seen before. Of critical consideration is that the children should each have parts within their ability. The parts need have enough meat to give them a good sense of participation, and also that the kids will enjoy playing.  I've done this a few times and I found that the kids can never agree on who should play which part.  It doesn't really matter, just allocated them randomly.  The kids will soon be immersed and forget their grumblings.

Haunted Lake was born from a Halloween sleepover last year that my two children were hosting for two neighbourhood kids. I needed a story that could give roughly equal parts to four young kids. At the same time, there couldn’t be a ton of dialogue or acting because the kids are very young ranging from 6 down to 3 years old at the time. Since it was getting close to Halloween I chose the horror genre.

My story’s kernel was four campers setting up a tent and then disappearing one at a time at the hands of some unknown monster. This idea would provide plenty of opportunities for action and acting at the levels my kids were capable.

Step 2 Loosely Plan the Movie

I had a two act movie in mind.

Act 1 The initial exposition where the campers get to the haunted lake, pitch a tent, then go to sleep. The only thing I had in mind was that the campers would be shown very happy, and very optimistic that if they saw a monster they could handle it. This was the setup to act two.

Act 2 The monsters come in the night to take out the campers one by one. Basically, each child leaves the tent only to die out of sight by an unseen force. The only acting would be looking scared and screaming. The kids absolutely LOVED it.

Step 3 Film

For Act 1 we just wandered around our neighbourhood skipping, running, and conversing. Each child got one or two sentences directly to the camera, but otherwise it was just messing around. For each scene within the act I brainstormed with the children so they each got one responsibility:  A bit of dialogue and an action. One child set up the tent, another called everyone for dinner, another zipped up to go to sleep, etc.

For Act 2 we simply drew straws for who would be taken first. Then I just alternatively filmed them in the tent hearing noises and someone going out. Once out they were told to pretend they were exploring, see something frightening, then pretend they got attacked or taken. For the final two deaths I filmed them leaving the tent and pretend running. There was one special effect where my wife’s backlit hand played a monster hand taking out the last survivor.

Try to catch some interesting angles. Mix in some closeups with wide shots. Facial shots with full body, zoom in and zoom out of scenes. I usually try to catch the kids just candidly being kids.

Step 4 Editing

This is where it all happens.  The raw film looks totally boring, but when you slice it up, add music and sound effects, then it really starts to look and sound like a work to be proud of.

I used windows movie maker, but Macs also have iLife. Download all the video from the camera to the computer. The software is drag and drop.

The first thing to do is cut up your raw film into clips you can use. When you arrange the clips consider muting or lowering the sound, since you probably caught a lot of noise with your hand held camera and no external microphone. We’ll cover up most of that with music. The only sound you really want is the dialog and some other key sounds.

Arrange the clips to make it interesting. Experiment.  Try a system instead of randomly throwing clips around.  My system is chronological order and I try to build increasing emotion over time.  So you'll see that this film starts with friends being happy and confident, then they find something which might be scary, but they ignore it, then they go to sleep in that environment in the dark, then the monsters start picking them in a more and more scary way.  So it builds up and up until the end.  The music and sound effects are chosen to achieve that.  First the music is very happy, then a bit mysterious, then soft, then scary.

Find music from your MP3 or CD collection -- every video sequencer can handle MP3s or CD tracks.

Find sound effects on the Internet.  Free sound effect clips are available from many sites.  You can start at PACDV Free Sound Effects, but do a Google search for more.  It is quite a bit of work to figure out and record your own good sound effects.  You also don't need the sounds to match what they really are.  For example, I used jet plane and iceberg sounds in this film.

Step 5 Screening

The big payoff.  If you've involved other kids invite them and their parents over.  Cook up a few bowls of popcorn, dim the lights, and show off your masterpiece.

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