Film Ideas and Approach

Click here to download our proposal.

In our documentary, we will be focusing on both Ghanaian and Philadelphian students who agree to participate in our project. We will also interview teachers, parents and experts in the field of education who can provide insight to our observations. Our film is different than other films within its genre because we plan to focus on both the strengths and weaknesses of both domestic and foreign education systems. We do not aim to criticize either system, nor tear down the students who agree to let us into their lives and experiences. Instead, we want to provide a medium by which the students, teachers, parents, and experts can express their thoughts and concerns about the education system that is so prevalent in their lives.

We plan to focus on the community as a whole. To do that, we must conduct numerous interviews so that our sampling will be representative of these communities. We will be focusing on the classroom experience, specifically highlighting a few students, teachers and parents who we feel work well on camera. In conducting a sample that is as representative as possible for our small production team, we will be able to get a feel for education from a cultural perspective. It is interesting to think about the fact that even though Philadelphia and Ghana are thousands of miles apart and have completely different geographic, demographic and political make ups, students and teachers face similar issues when it comes to the opportunity to create and flourish in a productive educational environment. Maybe this observation suggests that we are not all that different after all; that we all have the same basic needs and desires that we are seeking to fulfill.

While shooting our documentary, we plan to use natural lighting without reflectors in both Philadelphia and Ghana. We are shooting in 50 mm - focusing on brightness, natural colors, and adapting to possibly variant weather conditions. By keeping our focus on portraying the most realistic representation of the observed environments, we will avoid stereotyping the different classrooms. It is very important to us to preserve the integrity of our observations.

We realize that there is a very real chance that people might act differently while they are on camera either because they are nervous, uncomfortable, over zealous, etc. Our plan is to spend a day with the cameras rolling, spending time with the students and teachers just getting to know them on a personal level. Not only will this allow them some time to feel more comfortable being on camera but also with our production team. If the interviewees feel comfortable with us, we believe that they will be more willing to engage in conversation that will provide us with insight into their educational experiences.

Other issues that we anticipate encountering during production are language barriers, access complications, financial issues, ethical concerns and the overall complexity of the documentary storyline. Fortunately for our team, Ghana’s official language is English so we will be able to communicate without too much trouble. Additionally, The Heritage Academy’s founder is a Villanova graduate and is working very closely with us during this whole process. He is fluent in the Ghanaian native languages and in English so he is available to translate if we run into any problems. As for access complications, we have secured access to all of our anticipated locations in Ghana and have narrowed down and are deciding between a few urban schools in Philadelphia. In terms of finances, we are currently fundraising as a class and are hoping to raise enough money from generous donors who believe in the integrity of our cause to make it possible to create a meaningful documentary. The ethics of our film are the concerns that we hold in the highest esteem. We believe that it is crucial that we stay true to the nature of the documentary. That means that we will not create a story, but rather we will follow the organic flow of the real story as it unfolds. If that means that we go into the schools and encounter a completely different situation that we anticipated, then so be it. We will honor those who open their hearts and their lives to us by telling their story in the most truthful way possible.


We want our documentary to look and feel perfectly natural. Throughout production, we will use existing light sources and rely on our own lights only if there is not enough ambient light available to produce a useable image. This means we will rely heavily on the sun, moon and stars, and established light fixtures in classrooms and on streets. In doing so, we will emphasize the contrast between natural and artificial light which separates the classrooms of Cape Coast and Philadelphia.


Emphasizing the natural feel of our documentary, the seasons will serve as the foundation for our viewers’ sense of time. While Cape Coast will be warm and bright in October, by the time we return to document our own schools, Philadelphia will be entering winter. Similarly, the documentary will offer a clear sense of the passage of the sun throughout the day. As mentioned earlier, cooler morning shots will be used primarily toward the beginning of the documentary, starting with the beginning of the students’ daily routines. We will then witness the passage of the days from their perspectives, moving from midday to sunset toward the end of the documentary. In doing so, we save the strongest lighting condition for climax of our story. It is interesting that the sun should rise on Ghana before it rises in the States. Being on the west coast of Africa, we can capture the sun setting on the ocean, making its travel westward toward our own schools, and cut back to the sun rising on Philadelphia.


We would like to take on the perspective of our students as much as possible. Low-angle shots from the back of the classroom will provide the sense of sitting with the students. When shooting portraits of the students, the cameras will be either level or only slightly above eye-level. Mimicking the look of the classroom to the human eye, we will photograph individual students and teachers mostly at 50mm, and shots of the classroom wider at approximately 28mm. Telephoto shots will be saved for moments and images with strong emotional appeal, such as portraits, or the sun setting. Our target aperture will be f5.6 and can go up to f11.0 only if absolutely necessary, and as wide as f2.8 in low-light situations.

At the Heritage Academy, all classrooms are lighted exclusively by the sun. The windows are open-faced with no panes, and only serve to let as much light in as possible. In the morning and late afternoon, the sun will shine through the windows at an intense angle, laying wide beams of light across the classrooms and creating a strong sense of contrast. These scenes will provide good opportunities for portraits of the students and teachers, as well as wide shots of the classrooms, to be featured toward the beginning and end of the documentary. Midday will provide the softest lighting in the classrooms. Footage shot at this time will look the most straight-forward and emotionally unbiased, and should be used in the middle portion of the documentary. Philadelphia classrooms, on the other hand, are lighted almost entirely by artificial lights. This will create a much flatter look and feel than that of the Heritage Academy. Under this light, portraits shot in the same manner as those in Ghana should evoke an entirely different feeling for audiences, thus emphasizing the role environment plays in students’ education. Under cloudy winter skies, exterior shots in Philadelphia will look similarly flat. Only tungsten bulbs of students’ homes will provide the warm glow and sharp contrast the sun offers freely in Cape Coast.


Our primary color palette will be dictated by light and natural environment. Yellows, reds and browns will dominate the Cape Coast scene, while cool gray, blue, and brick are most common in Philadelphia during the winter. Again, classroom colors differ widely between Cape Coast and Philadelphia. At the Heritage Academy, walls are painted with bright and saturated colors, adding excitement and energy to the classrooms. Dirt floors and natural wood desks add contrast in tone and texture, grounding the rooms with strong earth tones. Classrooms in Philadelphia, however, are purposefully color-neutral. Whitewashed walls and colorless tile floors lay the background for the students and teachers. Only they and the course-related material decorating walls and blackboards will provide interest and energy to their classrooms.