White Gloves (Week 7)

This week we produced short videos without any editing, inspired by the constraints placed on filmmakers in the White Gloves Film Festival. Since I find pleasure in taking clips and putting them together, cutting them, controlling what people see, this task felt odd. Like the final product was not finished yet.

We thought the timing of panning in/out would allow us to create moments of suspense, urgency, and humour. We tried to make our story and acting overly dramatic for comedic purpose. When we shared our video in class everyone laughed and someone said “it’s so bad that it’s good.”

What made it entertaining for me was the rawness of it all. You see Riley running up the stairs and stopping to catch her breath; you realise our camerawork is dodgy as we end the clips seconds too late; our camera angles are questionable; you might even notice people laughing in the background. But our efforts seem to have worked for us.

Why Look At Animals? (Week 7)

The first time I went through this week’s reading, I couldn’t make the connection to what we’ve covered in class. The second time it clicked.

‘At the most, the animal’s gaze flickers and passes on. They look sideways. They look blindly beyond. They scan mechanically. They have been immunised to encounter, because nothing can any more occupy a central place in their attention.’

Berger poses our role as consumers blindly taking in all the information presented to us through media texts. Just like animals at a zoo, we are trapped by our rigid roles as constituted by living in a consumerist society. Many of our senses have been reduced to mere filters of information and have left us struggling to take in meaning, and instead, our response to a majority of things is simply ‘indifference’ (explored during our activity in week 2 encountering media around the city). We consume and consume so much information from TV shows, ads, literally everything, that when it comes to taking in more information about worldwide epidemics, world hunger, war, our ability to connect with the empathetic side of ourselves is hindered.

Why look at animals? We must direct attention to what humans have done to animals – left them marginalised, isolated from each other and reduced to circus acts, exploiting them for profit – all things we may very well be doing to own species. Only our ‘artificial space’ is the internet, social media platforms, etc. Is there a real, deep connection between the people on each side of a Facebook wall, or are we simply putting ourselves up for observation like animals in a zoo?

The Plot Twist (Week 7)

plot twist

an unexpected development

A device that makes stories interesting is a plot twist. When I think of the term, things that come to mind are films like Psycho (1969), The Sixth Sense (1999), Orphan (2009), The Village (2004), even contemporary music videos like Halsey’s ‘Colors’ (2015). These are examples of storytellers that managed to destroy any ounce of certainty in my life in a single moment. Any semblance of understanding I had about the world around me.

My only problem with plot twists is that over the years I’ve come to expect them. I can’t watch an M. Night Shyamalan film without thinking ‘when is this all going to turn around?’ In films and TV shows I actively look out for foreshadowings of what major twist is about to come.

But my friends appreciate plot twists in films. They make things exciting.

What I’ve learnt about incorporating plot twists into stories is to give the audience a false sense of certainty. Give away nothing too suspicious. In Psycho, Sixth Sense, and Colours, we think we know everything there is to know about the protagonist, but we are proven wrong. In Orphan, we think we know everything about the villain, but we are wrong. In The Village, even the setting turns out to be artificial. I plan to use plot twists in my future projects so I can use the art of surprise to my advantage.

The Sixth Sense Ending

Trigger (Week 6)

Last Friday I saw Kip Anderson’s documentary film What the Health (2017).

About: “What the Health is a ground breaking feature length documentary from the award-winning filmmakers of Cowspiracy, that follows the exciting journey of intrepid filmmaker, Kip Andersen, as he uncovers the impacts of highly processed industrial animal foods on our personal health and greater community, and explores why leading health organizations continue to promote the industry despite countless medical studies and research showing deleterious effects of these products on our health.” (IMDb)

I saw this film for entertainment purposes. This content is equally intriguing for me as it is frustrating. However, since I’ve been learning about the art of the interview, I couldn’t shake my queries – e.g. I wonder what questions what he asked hear to produce that sort of answer. Kip Anderson often has his subjects provide self-contained answers and removes his presence completely from the equation. 

But at one point he asks the most despised question to ask of a vegan. “Okay…so, where do you get your protein then?” This arises from the misconception that meat is either the only or the best source of protein. Kip Anderson and his interviewee both know that it’s not. Kip Anderson is so well-timed, and he knew exactly when to ask that question to elicit a frustrated response – right after a long and detailed explanation of veganism. It evokes a comical response along the lines of, “are you serious? I’m gonna jump from this building right now”, before delving into another heated reply.

Answers like these add to the documentary’s spirit. These are the kinds of answers I want to see in my own interviews.

Single Shot Film (Week 6)

This week we worked in groups to produce a story in one single take. We had to rely on visual imagery rather than dialogue.

I have experience with using storyboards but found it hard to plan out each frame when we weren’t sure of the location we would shoot in. So, we set out to shoot in the common area on level 2 of building 9 which we are all familiar with.

Our single shot was a short story about ‘misunderstanding’ social cues. We did use written text – Facebook messages to friends to try to get the thoughts of the characters across.

We filmed about 10 whole takes and each one consisted of slow yet deliberate camera movements and blocking the actors to carry themselves a certain way. Each aspect we wanted had to be perfect – otherwise we had to restart. This exercise was a great experience to get acquainted with blocking and shot precision.

Pretend I’m Not Even Here (Week 6)

It is essential that we conduct documentary interviews and observations professionally, ethically, morally, legally, and serendipitously.

All crew members must pay attention to the interview process. Interviewers should arrive on location at least 1.5 hours prior to shooting and use this time to set up, capture extra shots, plan questions, calm nerves, etc.

A ‘safety person’ should be keeping an eye on everything so as to avoid accidents.

Interviewees are more than just people answering questions. Subjects should be considered ‘participants’ instead because they have an active role in helping to shape what the documentary is about. In order for the participants to feel comfortable, giving them too much information rather than too little may be necessary.

Permissions must be granted by participants to use their answers (as well as people in the background), and by venue owners for locations filmed at.

The attitude one embraces to allow for ‘happy accidents’ to occur – or good fortune out of bad. Others call an event like this that is unplanned – but ultimately makes the entire interview process – the ‘privileged moment’. For example, a member of the crew apart from the interviewer should be allowed to ask the participant a question if the need for it arises as this spontaneity can spark a great answer from an interview.

One of the things that most resonated with me was that when interviewing you can say “pretend I’m not even here”. The interview process is not about the interviewer, but instead about the participant and their contribution to the documentary. Allowing the participant to pretend that your presence, and the entire crew and production gear you are associated with, is non-existent, may help them calm down and act more natural too, and this usually makes for a far smoother interview.

Documentary & Mockumentary (Week 5)

This week has been all about the art of the interview. As a result, we’ve been looking at documentary styles and narratives. Each time we do, I think about all the documentaries I’ve seen in my life. Some more impactful ones like Cowspiracy (2014), Earthlings (2005), or He Named Me Malala (2015) which is about the story of Malala Yousafzai – the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

In films I love the comedy genre. So I thought… what’s a documentary that’s humorous in its approach? I couldn’t really think of one on the spot and all I considered instead was The Office (US) and how it’s mockumentary/documentary style is prevalent in its making. I know that it’s a scripted television show but I find it interesting that the ‘interviewers’ don’t actually exist, only for the sake of the show. The time the ‘sound guy’ showed up in Season 9 to console Pam crying had me shook and when the ‘documentary crew’ filming intervened in an attack on Pam I really felt that moment.

What I’m hoping for with my interview for PB3, is to conceal my presence on film by cutting out my questions and asking my subject to produce self-contained answers like they do a lot with the ‘subjects’ on The Office. I want it to be like Netflix series Making A Murderer (2015) where clearly, each person is being spoken to and asked questions, but we only ever see their answers which makes for an intense piece when the subject matter is more sombre. The interview is about the subject and not about me, which is what I’m trying to acknowledge by staying out of the frame and out of the piece unless it’s incredibly essential and my subject is being attacked like Pam on The Office. Perhaps then my sudden presence would add dramatic effect. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Interview Exercise (Week 5)

Using the Sony MC50 camera was like using any other recording device, except not. The value of the equipment made me a tad iffy.  Initially the many features intimidated me until I realised it wasn’t that different from my camera at home. The tripod actually, was exactly like the one I use to film at home only 10x heavier. Getting to use this camera in a group exercise was a good experience because we were relying on each other for help.

One of the biggest problems we had in my opinion was overcoming the intensity of the wind outside. We thought the best way to capture our vision of university life was by filming the courtyard and some buildings as part of our establishing shot. Because this had to be done outside, we were left waiting at some points for the wind to die down before filming. It was affecting the footage as well as the audio. When I got the footage up on Premiere Pro I realised that despite our efforts, the sound of the wind was very overpowering.

I’d say the shots with our first interviewee were pretty good simply because of the framing and choice of location. He is not too close to the top of the frame that he looks cut off, and looks rather centred. You can see the background very clearly as a result – the blue sky, the university buildings, the other students. It sets the tone for a school-based interview.

I also think the final shot (interviewee two in action) was successful because her exit from the frame and the lingering of the camera without a subject in sight, helps to show that, yes this is the end of the video, a outro of sorts.

What I discovered about camera technique was that framing is important to set the tone of the interview, and to help develop the character of the subject. Close-ups would have indicated a more intense interview, but our aim was to depict a chill vibe throughout. The zooms in the shot of the subject smelling the plants was supposed to seem like we were being let into a secret, or in this case, that we were spying on the subject.

Because it’s a speaking interview, having clear audio is essential. I’m thinking next time I don’t just rely on a shotgun microphone (especially outside a RUSU party where the Spice Girls are playing at max volume). I think the lavalier mic would be great for this kind of thing. Either way, it’s important not to rely solely on editing programs to make the dialogue understandable.

Art of the Interview (Week 5)

Louise Turley of Back Roads (2015) talked to us about the art of the interview. For an interview to run smoothly we must consider who our interviewee is and whether they can deliver on camera. Who is our audience? They should be interested in what our interview is about. Do we have the best kind of questions thought up? They are usually open-ended questions that allow for deeper thought and generally elicit better quality responses. Location is very important, and it’s something I hadn’t really thought about before. Besides being optimal for production (good lighting, minimal background noise and interruptions, etc.) the chosen location must have some significance to the interviewee and to the subject matter of the piece. Permissions also have to be granted for public places and should be acquired from the subject as well. I think that in my Project Brief 3, I’ll ask my subject to provide self-contained answers because as difficult/unnatural as it may be for someone to do in real time, I want to remove my presence entirely from the video of my interview.

I’ll be real, I took down a lot of notes in this class and now I feel overwhelmed. It’s highly likely I’ll forget something from the huge list of instructions we were given.

I’m going to embarrass myself and there’ll be no way out and —  that point in the lecture is when Louise Turley gave the advice that most resonated with me. About how it’s still a somewhat tricky process for her even now (she still gets nervous sometimes), and how mastering the art of the interview takes practice after practice. So if my project doesn’t go according to plan, it’s all fine in retrospect because it’s my practice phase. I have time and room to improve.