This Is Serial – Reflective Blog Post #17

REFLECTION

For our pilot, we shot scene 1 and scenes 6-9 of our first episode. After hearing others’ thoughts and then reflecting on the piece myself, I found that despite only being two minutes long, I had very strong opinions about the video we created.

The comedic tone we were trying to achieve falls flat on multiple occasions. Seeing Duncan in his werewolf form is not surprising nor funny at all because of the lack of build-up and anticipation to this scene. Seeing only parts of his werewolf form – such as the hairy hands, the canine teeth – before the ultimate scene of Liz and Duncan being scared by each other, may have helped this scene work. Duncan’s final scream is not animated enough, and in contrast to Liz’s energetic scream, it looks inadequate. Especially so, for being the final shot in the pilot. For me, this also makes the series seem more strikingly low-budget and poor quality (not to say that these two go hand in hand), and appears more goofy and less intentionally comedic. Having sat in on the editing process, I know that Duncan’s music-video-like shots were only put in after issues with rhythm and the timing of the rapping. However, because there are so few of these kinds of shots, the montage doesn’t work because the scene isn’t straying from its normal style enough to seem like an intentional creative choice. To me it seems indecisive – will there be a whole performance from this character? No, they’ve back out. Therefore this also strays from the intentionally funny quality we were trying to capture for the entire series.

In terms of sound, there were a few things that stuck out for me. Liz’s radio mic picks up the rustling of her clothes and it’s very loud. Normally I wouldn’t notice this, but once the next shot of Arabella comes up, Liz’s mic is clearly cut off and we can hear that jump cut. It’s especially noticeable because the audio being used for Arabella’s next line is from the boom mic (though she had a radio mic on). The sound of the clock ticking between scenes 1 and 6 is not present. However, I was a big fan of the suspenseful music in the first scene. Joan and I firstly had to make the decision to even add music. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary? But then we considered the frequent long pauses, which for me – despite the writers’ opposing opinions – didn’t add to the comedic quality at all. I think this music isn’t too fast and isn’t too slow, adjusting well to the pacing of the scene, and even improving it in parts where it is just a tad too slow for my liking.

I hadn’t worked with the cinematographer on determining which shots we would get, and I think that’s part of why we struggled with camera and the shots on the day. The first establishing shot is a wide shot that clearly makes the space look like a classroom and not like an office reception space. It looks so empty, though I doubt any real improvement could have been made by the production designer because there is so much white, grey and black that it just makes it look even bigger and thus emptier. The first shot of Liz has way too much headroom and no focus on her hands, which are supposed to be projecting some nervous vibes. The shot of Duncan during his spin is not wide enough to see his entire movement or how he carries himself with his entire body as he does this gesture. We only see from about the waist up. This is an issue because it’s in this area that Duncan looks very rigid. Had we gotten a wider shot, I think he may have looked a bit more loose and comfortable like his character is supposed to be. Duncan’s character is introduced entirely through a profile view of him. This is not the way to go with introducing a main character, especially one who is so open and non-enigma. Therefore if we had the chance to redo this, a shot of him through Liz’s perspective, more straight on, would not only help to introduce Duncan as an important character who is clearly genuine and transparent, but would also emphasise that this is Liz’s story we are being told, from her view. In post production I found that we had gotten had way too much headroom in most of the frames. This excess in dead space is entirely my fault as I was the one directing the camera operators, but as a result I’ve learnt my lesson to pay attention to the framing because it is just so distracting for me to look at now. There’s also issues to do with lighting. Liz is overexposed in most of her shots. The exposure in the hallway scene could have been reduced to really capture that dark creepy corridor vibe we see in supernatural films, adding to the anticipation of the werewolf reveal. The lighting for Duncan’s introductory scene is very different to that of when he is on the phone to Arabella. This might not be obvious for everyone, but I noticed this lack of continuity because these shots were so close together. The shots of Liz and Duncan at the end of the day look way too similar to each other. This is both to do with the similar framing as well as their rooms, desks and chairs looking the same. The post production team tried to change the lighting and colour temperature on each scene to look different, but it’s still something we could have gotten right in the production stage. In the final scream-off, there’s no quick zoom in on Duncan’s face, despite there being one for Liz’s shot. Additionally, I seemed to be the only one who was affected by the fact that some shots are slanted, while some of them are straight on. This contrast is distracting for me, especially when the shots occur one after the other. I believe it’s a result of not checking each shot as we filmed it, looking at them from a slant when we did look at them (yes I actually did that), and also the major difference in height between each camera operator and where they hold the camera.

I think we should have directed more attention and crew towards production design. Liz needs to be carrying a purse or bag of some sort to explain to viewers that she is leaving the office at the end of the day. The offices and the reception space are so bare, that we needed more props and intricate pieces to make it look more realistically like an office. The door to Duncan’s office in the hallway has too many signs on it to not look like the door to a RUSU activity space. I thought that Werewolf-Duncan looked good in person, but the wig on camera doesn’t. It might be the highlights of the wig catching the reflection of the lighting setup, but it makes it look more silver/grey in colour than it looked in person – thus more human and 80s and less supernatural-esque. I was a fan of the zoom in on Duncan’s face at the end of scene 1, and it helped to establish that he would also be a significant character in the series, as someone in the know. Liz starts off as the primary character, and Duncan ends the scene as the other central character we should be watching.

Overall, I think this video is a good length for a webisode (despite being a bit short, it’s still missing the b-line story we will be shooting in the future). A few of these issues I had with the pilot are very much subjective, and I have found that what I may hate about a shot, another may enjoy. It was a good learning experience and getting to sit down and go through it with just our media team (the only ones on set beside our actors, and in turn the only ones aware of the things that went on during production) along with Robin, who understood our aims and individual roles we took on, was very helpful in producing opinions about this pilot, coming from someone who doesn’t consider herself very opinionated or inflexible at all. This reflection process will be very useful for what we have to consider in the pre production, production, and post production phases of Human Resources: episode 2 (and hopefully if we get enough time, the redoing of episode 1).

Password: SERIAL

 

 

 

This Is Serial (Blog Post 16)

Today the writers told us to cut large sections of our pilot to fit their vision better. The rewrite we made was the interpretation of 4 of our crew, after being told we wouldn’t receive anything beyond a first draft. If they really are so invested in this script and series, why not ask for a copy of the revised script we told them we would make? Why not join us in our shoot? Why not come to class? Why not answer our messages? This is a collaborative studio. The flow doesn’t consist of them imagining a scene in their head and telling us match every single aspect they envisioned. Our interpretation as media students is relevant too. If they really want total creative control, perhaps they should have been like Marry Harron (American Psycho 2000, I Shot Andy Warhol 1996) who chose to research, write and direct her own feature films, so she could have say over everything. Unfortunately for our writers, despite their suggestion of them directing, the stage of production is up to us. Decisions with regards to what occurs on screen are currently up to us. This series remains our interpretation of their script. Otherwise we’d have nothing to do and nothing to learn.

At the moment, I’m trying to focus my energy on correcting the technical problems we experienced with the pilot, such as with framing and over exposure.

We’re considering shooting in a space like this, where there are real offices set up (for greater realism and making the job of production design easier for Eve).
This hallway is a strong contender for our scene we are shooting next week.

This Is Serial (Blog Post 15)

A while ago, I joined the crew of an RMITV show. Because they allow for roles to rotate, I’ve gotten the chance to be the director, assistant director, switcher, and camera operator for multiple episodes. Directing a few episodes of my show has helped me direct my crew for our web series shoot. I’m also responsible for framing shots and instructing the switcher when to cut. This helped me in the pre production stage when I was constructing the storyboard for our web series. Understanding the significance of different shots – for example a two person shot projects an intimacy between the two people, and a medium close up or mid shot is more personal – helped me make these decisions about camera angles and shots.

However, the difference is that as a director at RMITV, I’m standing in a control room and not in the studio. I’m giving directions to the floor manager via a headset, who communicates this nicely to the talent. In our web series shoot, I had to act way more professional because any comment I made could be heard by the actors. It takes away my chance to act stressed. Either way, it’s still been a learning experience for me.

This Is Serial (Blog Post 14)

Today our industry guests watched the presentations of our production plans. While I felt bad the other group did not deliver the pilot that they wanted and had planned to deliver, I was very inspired by their collective determination to get it right the next time round. 

The notes we got from our guests made up the strangest feedback I’ve ever gotten. Like, they really didn’t like our work at all, not even the potential we thought it had. We had decided to go with a handheld cinéma vérité style like you might see on The Office (US), but I stressed that the inspiration for our series is and will not be The Office, as I know it’s a mockumentary style of observational strategy. I tried to explain that we drew our inspiration from Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013), often referred to in my television cultures class as ‘easily, one the funniest shows of all time’. But most of our feedback went into telling us how our show is not at all like The Office, which we had already understood. I feel like we didn’t get much out of our feedback.

By the end of class we agreed to begin pre production to shoot the b-line of the pilot. We will commence this pre production officially next Tuesday, where the writers will join us after their lesson!

This Is Serial (Blog Post 13)

The writers watched our final rough cut of the pilot. Most of their critiques were about how our work did not live up to their vision of the scenes. I think if they had come to our shoot they could have helped to shape what they wanted to see. A lot went on between the vision they had in their heads of the scene, them writing this down and making a script, and us interpreting that script, filming it, and then editing it.

The writers mentioned their ‘bible’, a book and compilation of all the intricate aspects of their characters and their universe. I was freeeeeeaking out inside but a deep breath helped me chill. That book could have been extremely useful in aiding my interpretation and making the pilot more accurately represent what the writers wanted to see come of their script. I had worked with the actors on their characters’ motivations without this book detailing each character’s motivations. Another miscommunication. Collaboration requires updates and constant availability to communicate/answer questions. It requires more frequent joint classes and knowing what the other class is working on. That bible would have been great in hindsight, and I left trying not to dwell on what could have been – but rather, how I can use this book in the future.

This Is Serial (Blog Post 12)

Jen has been synching our audio and footage this past week. Today I went in to edit with Jen, Joan and Matilda. We added a suspenseful score to the first scene which I couldn’t get out of my head for the rest of the day. It maintains the light hearted tone I wanted. It adds vibrancy and life to the scene.

Maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten since Tuesday, or because it was pitch black in the basement suites, but I was starting to find our web series hilarious. It doesn’t look super professional, but it looks like a pilot.

This Is Serial (Blog Post 11)

Today we shot scenes 1, 6, 7, 8, and 9 from our pilot script. Because I’m directing and our cinematographer was away for location scouting, I constructed the storyboard, floor plan and shot list.

Bridie and I met with the actors and I made sure to sit with each of them as they were getting ready to explain them what kind of character they would be playing. Once we began blocking I explained the kind of movement and mannerisms I wanted to see.

Bridie and Matilda kept track of the shots we covered, and Bridie specifically kept track of time. She knew what time all the actors would have to be finished by and when each shot would have to be recorded by. Everything felt extremely organised because of their planning.

Now it’s up to the editing department to produce a video. Today was excellent practice for me, but it’s not over yet because I will also join the post production team to edit.

This Is Serial (Blog Post 10)

I’m feeling nervous. We’ve encountered our first issue – an uncertainty about where we will shoot our first scene. For some reason it takes a million technical fixes and a miracle to book a specific room on RMIT Book It or RUSU – as neither of these systems acknowledges this room before our own eyes to even exist. We were told this room will be left unlocked for our shoot over the break, but my back up plan is to utilise any room that’s open. Plan C is to use one of the open study spaces like we did in one of our video prompts.

At the end of last lesson we got the news we wouldn’t be receiving another of copy of our script, only the first draft, so Bridie and I have revised it. I understand the writers are not at our beck and call and that they’re probably busy working on something else. But Bridie and I are not writing students. We have not had the opportunity to partake in all the creative writing classes they have. We have also not received the other work we were promised. So we edited the screenplay with the approval of our own group,  and sent it out to the actors immediately. I took charge of this situation and I’m hoping it eased most of my friends’ nerves.

This Is Serial (Blog Post 9)

There is a lot of freedom in making a web series. We have the freedom to follow a traditional flow of producing content, as is done for broadcast television and films, or we can divert from this because there is no network we are trying to appeal to. Despite this freedom of choice, we have gone with the more traditional route and have decided on roles, casting, location and props.

The other group in our class was fighting over who gets to direct. I came to this class with the intention of getting involved in camera operating. But once we began to choose roles it, absolutely nobody in my group wanted to be the director. Jen kindly volunteered to be technical director, free to help anyone in any role. I have no significant directing experience, but seeing the other group fight over the job made me think it’s not so bad. I volunteered because when else will I be in a learning environment like this, in a group so encouraging?

Once our roles were set, Bridie (as casting director) had us look go through her list of actors and pick out who we thought would fit each role. 

Moving onto location, we scouted out locations to fit the office look the writers were hoping for. We took photos for them, keeping an ear out for nice sound and an eye out for good lighting.

This Is Serial (Blog Post 8)

I realise I’ve been confused. The script we received today is only a first draft. None of our ideas have been used – the use of the vlog, interview, or flashback. I will definitely be revising this script for its strange flow and unnatural dialogue.

We have chosen Cam’s script as it’s most doable for us in terms of time and budget. The writers agreed to work on both producing a revised copy of the script we will shoot, and writing out a synopsis for the short episode and a detailed description of the characters we can use for casting. This will help us immensely seeing as the writers are not always able to join us in class and we need to begin immediately.

They have promised to work on these things in class as much as they are allowed to. Which makes me wonder, what are the writers doing in their class? We have been working on providing prompts and learning how to work professionally on a set, and this is still centred around our web series. I really hope the writers are also working on something to do with the web series.