This Is Serial – Reflective Blog Post #26

FINAL REFLECTION

Dear This Is Serial studio,

An entire semester has passed, and I would have never guessed how much of it would involve both a physical and emotional investment on my part. Literally waking up at 5am to make it to a shoot on time. Overcoming my introvert tendencies and actually coming to class to communicate with my team. Spending sleepless nights worrying about what could be done differently. Back pain from all the standing around on a set. You’ve been a hassle for my immune system.

I make this sound like I had a terrible time, but really, despite everything, I would do it all again. Because without this, I wouldn’t have learnt everything I did in class. How to act professionally on a set. What each production role entails. The hierarchy on a set. To avoid testing script writers. How to use a certain camera. How to book equipment. How to use the sound equipment. How to storyboard. How to book a room at RMIT (that one took a while, but we got there).

It was truly, a useful experience that I wouldn’t take back. It’s the only class I’ve had this entire year that reminds me of why I selected this media course in high school. I was reminded of why I love making short films. It’s a thrill to work so much on a project, and then watch it be transformed into something tangible in front of you. Watching all the planning turn into footage, then into an edit, then into a video. I’m grateful for getting the opportunity to take part in this class. In fact, before I began I was considering leaving this course to study economics. It’s a subject I also enjoy. However, I realise now, that I don’t love it as much I do learning about, and working on, a set. Economics does not fill me with life, and a sense of purpose, like making a web series does. This studio, my favourite course of the year, has shown me I’m in the right place. A combination of working with other people and then working independently, is what suits me best. Something that challenges me, but that comes together in the end with the right amount of work and open-mindedness. Something that is constantly evolving (as technology and art does, what I believe are the components of filmmaking) and thus will keep me on my feet and constantly learning. There’s so for me to learn here.

This may be a goodbye, but it’s only a goodbye for now, because every time I use the knowledge I have taken from this studio, I will be reminded of This Is Serial. This class has set me up for the projects I will work on in the future. Not only have I learnt new technical skills (one of my goals at the beginning of the studio), but now I also feel comfortable with almost any role that may be thrown at me. I feel far more confident than I did when I entered the studio, and this means more to me than you think.

We have to part for now, but don’t worry. It’s me, not you. I’m the one who needs some space, and  enough time to reflect on everything I’ve learnt this year (and maybe time for a nice vacation). Thank you for the lessons you have taught me. This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and it’s certainly set me up for the rest of it.

From,

Kelly

This Is Serial – Reflective Blog Post #25

EPISODE REFLECTION

Episode 1: “Pilot”

I directed half of episode 1 and was on sound for the remaining half of the episode. I’ve critiqued the original half of the episode in a previous post, but now the new additional scenes are my main focus.

Overall, I believe this episode has a less goofy quality to it. The new scenes in the hallway offer more insight into the company and Duncan’s approach to his job (doesn’t act above others in the office despite his title). However, I found that there were often awkward silences that I would have preferred to fill with dialogue or with a backing track. The music in the background of the beginning of the episode is not seen again until the credits. I think it would have been useful to add music in the background of the other scenes because it would reduce the prominence of the echoey sound in the hallway. Due to the re-editing, the first scene in the reception area has less ruffling noise. The compromise is that the dialogue is lower in volume, but I think it sounds better than to have loud sounds from clothes ruffling. A result of this, was that I recommended to Matilda not to have lapel microphones in our outdoor scenes of episode 2. There was supposed to be a lot of movement (and even falling) in this episode and I felt I should capture clear audio with the boom mic instead. The handheld style was continued, but with less zoom-ins which we were told were ‘dated’. However, we had initially said that these pan-ins should be improvised, not planned. Relying on the the intensity and events in the scene, rather than forcing it. I think this worked however, because now in our entire episode, we have less of these zooms overall. The removal of my favourite shot was so the episode structure would make sense – introducing Christian at a later time. However, the shot of Duncan looking over his shoulder at the end of the reception scene was my favourite because it introduced the handheld approach we were using. The use of handheld cameras, as opposed to using stabilisers, seems less appealing to me now unless I have a trained hand. The camera is very shaky as Liz and Duncan move along the hallway. Usually I wouldn’t notice, but I was watching the episode while walking around my house, and the extra shakiness made it very noticeable. I’m not a fan of the purple filter placed over the scene in Duncan’s office. I understand it’s to help differentiate between the two offices – Duncan’s and Liz’s – but I still think it looks too artificial. And part of our use of a handheld camera, and trying to use as much of the lighting in our locations as possible, is to maintain a sense of realism. I find that the lights are too dark in the hallway, lighting only parts of the characters’ bodies. Here I considered the episode’s (or rather, the hallway scene’s) ability to be translated across different modes of viewing. The first time I watched this scene was on my phone, which, I have set on the option of regulating its own brightness. I almost couldn’t see the characters’ faces. The second time was on my laptop, which changes brightness according to level of battery. Finally, out of curiosity, I set the episode up on my smart TV. The scene was slightly dark, but bright enough to see everything in the shot. My TV is set up so the brightness has to be adjusted manually. If our intention was for the episode to be watched on devices like a phone, tablet or laptop, we should have made it to be much brighter. That’s what videos on Facebook are often doing, using white borders so as to brighten up the screen and attract attention. This is something we should have discussed more, but I’m still thinking about now.

Episode 2: “Slippery Business”

For this episode I was exclusively on sound.

I’m a big fan of the over-the-shoulder shots in this episode. They look much better than the front profile shots we’ve used before. They offer a sense of merely observing the madness, rather than being in the midst of it. Usually I’d prefer the latter, but in this instance we get to see the stance (and thus relationship) between Duncan and Liz. I do believe that we need some sort of transition between all of our scenes. It’s not noticeable in the first episode, but in this episode the cuts are too different. It reminds me more of a compilation of shots, which, if this were the first time I was watching the episode, I wouldn’t be sure if we were being shown the episode in chronological order. Are we crosscutting to different areas of the office? I very much like how Jen managed to cut the footage of the garden into the gaps of the bathroom door. However, while the intention was to make this look like some sort of mystical garden, the shots with the cars and buildings in the background lost that for me. Even the other park-goers in the background made the garden seem less like a magical toilet and more like a park in the city we chose to film in. When I was in the park I recorded a lot of atmos so the scenes could have smooth cuts. Unfortunately, the jump cuts are still noticeable through the differing levels of sound. The lack of music is also something that stands out for me. I would have preferred it with music because there are so many reaction shots without dialogue. It would have also helped with covering the jump cuts. The argument between Christian and Arabella in the garden is also cut off suddenly by editing. It would have seemed more natural if it had continued. We didn’t notice it would be a problem in post if the argument, which was mostly improvised, continued too long. From this I learnt that if I’m ever shooting a scene like this, I should encourage the scene to continue for a longer time, and then another take that’s shorter, and another take even shorter. These varying lengths of time should mean that no dialogue will have to be cut off. Obviously the dirty camera lens was a problem, but for some reason it’s not as evident as I thought it would be when I watched the footage in the editing suite. Perhaps that’s a lesson to always export the footage before you freak out about something wrong with the footage. My final note was that I wish Liz was carrying an office bag in the first scene rather than her purse. That’s something for production design to look into, however all of us should have noticed that she was coming into work without an office bag. The episode goes for 3 minutes and 48 seconds. I think we initially planned for our final episode to be longer at about 5 minutes. However, I think it’s a good length that an audience would be entertained. Long enough to establish different parts of the office, but not so much that it makes a viewer on the internet (expected to have minimal patience) bored or stop paying attention.

Despite straying from our original plans for our web series, our final product reflects our hard work. The two episodes are definitely not perfect, but if they were perfect we would have nothing to learn from them. With all the scheduling, location, availability, and technical problems we went though, I’m proud of the episodes we managed to put together. If I had no part in the production process I wouldn’t have any idea that we underwent so much trouble for six minutes of content. For that reason, the production of web series content continues to interest me and the next time I create something for the web, I will reconsider all of these critiques, and produce something within the wide constraints of a web series.

This Is Serial – Reflective Blog Post #24

WEDNESDAY 18TH OCTOBER

The day I’d been dreading came, our shoot – outdoors, in 30 degree heat, for several hours.

However it was a great experience. We had a nice time with the actors, we managed to get all the shots covered in time, and left with no sunburns! The gardens had nice lighting that wasn’t too harsh either.

My role was in sound again. Irene wasn’t there to help me with it, but it was okay. I explained to my media group that it was actually much easier for me to handle the equipment by myself because if I heard any problem through the headphones, I could adjust the boom mic myself. The issues I had to overcome in this role were the sounds of airplanes, tram bells, and background voices from other park-goers that would overpower the actors’ dialogue. There was a background noise involving birds, water, and a breeze, that the director liked and wanted to keep. I’m grateful for this because I can’t think of anyway to correct this besides in post.

Another issue we had was the crew and actors having coughing fits due to all the pollen in the air. There was so much of it in the atmosphere, it looked like a cloud coming towards us. It meant we needed to take water breaks and ensure the actors were okay to continue. Lesson learnt: never shoot in the spring. Also, never shoot outside. Heck – don’t even go outside, ever.

After getting back and uploading the recordings to the media server, I joined Jen and Amber in the editing suites. We found, unfortunately, that all the footage from today was shot with a dirty camera lens. It produced a cloudy look that was very noticeable. It seems that the lens was covered with the pollen we encountered earlier. While Jen said that she would just work around it, it definitely serves as a reminder for me to ensure the camera is getting clean shots. However, I know that while an audience may be forgiving of bad visual quality, they tend not to be so forgiving of bad audio quality. From the playback I heard, I think I managed to get good quality audio – though background noise can be heard, the actors’ voices were the loudest and clearest thing being picked up. Hopefully I’m right and this can make up for the slightly foggy video quality.

This Is Serial – Reflective Blog Post #23

MONDAY 16TH OCTOBER

Monday’s shoot was awesome. I couldn’t feel my feet, legs, back and arms the following day, but that’s a lesson to wear shoes with better support.

My role was in sound again. Amber didn’t join me today because I think something came up for her. Unfortunately that meant sound was up to me alone. Irene was already doing production design by herself today, but she still agreed to help me with the boom mic.

I’m not sure whether I did a good job, but the playback seemed very clear so I’m going to assume it was. The first location we shot at was the common room in the media portal. Usually there’s not many people around, but today there was an event going on right in front of this space. Some kind of event where they had to make a lot of noise. Lots of potted plants being thrown around, plastic being ripped, and machines whirring. A lot of the time this noise was overpowering the sound of the dialogue, so our second AD explained our situation to them, and for the most part they shut up during our takes. Then came the huge groups of people being toured around who stopped and stared at us like we were an exhibit at their local zoo. I think it made some of us uncomfortable because, well, why were they laughing? But it made me realise I’m not always going to work in an ideal location. I need to be adaptable to work in any situation.

We did exactly that during our second shoot. It was in the hallway of a – usually empty – science building. For a while I thought that this building was no longer used because I had been in it about 30 times and had never seen anyone else. Boy, was I wrong. It was as if someone started a rumour that Oprah was in the building, handing out free cars to everyone who walked through our set and was really, really loud as they did it. You get a free car registration if you slam a door unnecessarily loud. At first it didn’t bother us, we understood the consequences of not booking a private area. But then it became frustrating to have to stop right in the middle of a good take. We could have embraced having random people in the background, but they looked at the camera each time so it wasn’t happening. Another lesson to shoot somewhere you’re certain you won’t have much traffic. But I still think this has been our best shoot yet. We even had a nice lunch together, and because it was indoors, we didn’t feel any of the heat. But that just makes me nervous for Wednesday’s shoot, because I’m not going to be prepared for the hot weather.

This Is Serial – Reflective Blog Post #22

FRIDAY 6TH OCTOBER

I woke up with a completely different mindset. Maybe it’s the clear immune system. Maybe it’s the knowledge my dog made a new friend. Maybe I’m just coming to my senses.

I’m so excited to take part in sound department for this project. I can finally say that I did sound for something, and that it’s gone to post production (I’ve done it before but not in this class).

Today we shot a scene in the ‘break room’. There was a loud hum coming from the vending machines, but it was the director’s stylistic decision to keep that. Gianella was like a superstar today because not only did she help me on sound, but she was also on camera. I actually had a good time because once I have my equipment set up and ready to go, I get to chill a bit. I also don’t have to look the actors in the eye – actually I was told I’m not really supposed to – and that reduced my stress so much that I think my spinal cord realigned itself into correct position.

But then it shifted again when I noticed the director, AD and producer being annoyed by some unwarranted advice. It was like we had a second director we didn’t even ask for. A second AD and a third cinematographer. But I realised that if I put my headphones on and listened to recordings from earlier I didn’t have to listen to all this going on. So this is now my new favourite role. If anyone wants to take it they’re going to have to battle me for it. Maybe the drama from last week was a blessing in disguise because I wouldn’t have switched to this role otherwise. The only issue I have is every time I call out ‘rolling’ I have to stop myself from singing that one song by Chamillionaire. But apparently I can say ‘sound speed’ instead.

This Is Serial – Reflective Blog Post #21

TUESDAY 3RD OCTOBER

So I’ve been ridiculously sick over this weekend and you know what? I think it’s the stress crushing my once strong immune system. I haven’t been sick in years. This made me really angry. But I won’t act on it because I don’t let my unhealthy emotions dictate my behaviour (unless it’s writing snarky blog posts).

So I was absent from the meeting with the media heads, and I really hope my group members filled them in enough so they understand our decision to try something new.

There was also a reconciliation with the writers but if I’m honest with you, I don’t care. After hearing all the complaints from my group members, I’m surprised, but I’m not giving it much thought. In fact, I care so little about this project that I can’t even pretend in front of the actors like I do. Matilda has agreed to swap roles with me, so while she’ll be directing, I’ll be on sound.

It’s a safe option for me. I’ve done it before and once I get a quick practice in, I’ll be confident in it. I wish I wasn’t a petty child and could act like I care about this series, but I can’t when I’m reminded that this course is costing me money. And that I am continuing to work on a project I don’t want to do. And I’m paying for it. My energy is being burnt out because of this? I’m a spiritual person and all of my peculiar spirit-body-and-mind books tell me this is really stupid of me to participate in. I’m still going to try my best in my new role, but I wish I didn’t have to push myself to do so. Usually when I’m passionate about something, the motivation comes naturally. Not so much this time.

This Is Serial – Reflective Blog Post #20

FRIDAY 29TH SEPTEMBER

Believe me when I tell you that I did not choose this studio with the notion in mind that it would be filled with drama. I’ve been told there was a fight? I’ve been told people are upset? That wasn’t the intention of our decision at all, though I can completely understand how someone that we’ve relied on, but that still hasn’t delivered like we asked them to, would be upset about us moving in a different direction in order to save our grades. Wait NO I CAN’T.

Sorry, I’m finished.

The meeting at Jen’s place started out great because we (or I, at least) genuinely thought the later meeting with the writers would lead them to understand our position. But then I witnessed an argument in our own media group and I got nervous and I realised this entire thing was causing me to experience physical symptoms of my anxiety. At this point I’m extremely disappointed with the fact that, in the time the writers were sending us long messages about how upset they were, they could have used that energy to write a second or third script.

Sorry, now I’m finished.

We constructed a plan A and a plan B. Plan A – we get to work on a new project we care about. Something with substance. One of our ideas included a video exploring the very current same-sex marriage plebiscite, which to us as young people means a lot. Plan B – after Bridie and Amber meet with the writers (woops I mean *writer – I was told the others were too upset to look at us) we have to go back to Human Resources. Sorry, I mean *Ghastly Solutions. Actually, I’m ten weeks in and still not 100% certain what I should be calling it in front of the writers.

We went around and I stated that I really, really, want to have the chance to work on something that means something to me. We have equipment, crew, actors, and a beautiful city to shoot around, and a relevant topic would be fantastic. But then everyone else seemed like they didn’t care whether we would do plan A or plan B. It surprised me after Tuesday’s excitement. I was even labelled as ‘the one who doesn’t want to go back to Human Resources’. This worried me because what if I was blamed for any problems? This is the first class of the year in which I’ve experienced any stress and from a wider perspective, it’s all unnecessary. I’m not learning anything at the moment that I find useful. I didn’t choose my media course to learn what it’s like to compromise on what I want to do. I know I should be open to work on anything, but when we are technically able to change direction and produce something meaningful, and it’s just someone’s ego getting in the way, I think it’s right to do so.

This Is Serial – Reflective Blog Post #19

TUESDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER

Last week we were in preproduction, going through the script and looking for locations. Yesterday was our designated day to shoot. With me directing again (I actually tried to get out of this job and swap, multiple times) and I was extremely nervous because I wasn’t content with the space, the casting choices and the script, and I was praying I could act as if I were passionate about this project. Unfortunately one of our actors didn’t come. Our shoot was cancelled and as a result today’s class started off seriously glum. We lost one of our actors, we wouldn’t have the whole crew available from now on, and we were still waiting on the second script.

This was about the point when someone suggested we change path and try producing a script not by the writers. In fact, if we were the ones who wrote it or at least had input in writing it, it might allow us to act in the project ourselves. Perhaps writing a script allows you to better perform it. I think this is true because it would allow you to be in a greater understanding of the character and the situation in the script. The only problem would be the execution of the emotions/expressions because none of us are studying nor working actors. There’s a reason we’ve chosen to study behind the scenes work. But the thing about this idea, is that I’d still be open to doing anything because we would be doing something. Rather than wasting valuable time waiting for everything to come together and relying on other people.

We’ve agreed to meet on Friday, and usually I’d be sad about coming into the city on a uni-free day but everyone’s energy is making me really excited about this. We’ve even started throwing around ideas that sound fresh and actually doable.

This Is Serial – Reflective Blog Post #18

FRIDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER

On my way to today’s studio, I realised I felt dispirited about having to go to class. But why should I be? I came to this class with the intention of learning about serial production and that’s what I was doing.

However proud I was of our group’s ability to work together, I wasn’t proud of the short clips that were finalised. I initially wasn’t a fan of the scripts either, and the pilot fell short for me too. But because we have to produce these scripts, the idea of redoing episode one sounded great. If we could get the writers in to work on improving the first episode script, or at least making it to our liking, it would be much easier for us to continue.

Pitching the idea to the media group to redo the pilot, I mentioned that in terms of scheduling, we should have enough time to film about three episodes – at least the two that we need.

hypothetical mathematics to justify this

If our pilot covers half of the script and goes for 2.5 minutes, the entire pilot should only go for about 5 minutes. If it looks us 8 hours to record a 2.5 minute compilation, then recording 3 x 5-minute-videos should take about 48 hours to shoot. 48 hours in 8-hour shoots means we will need about 6 shoots. This can be over 6 days. We have 5 full weeks left (not including the final week of semester for summarising). 

My reasons for wanting to start all over again is because our pilot is our draft. It can act as our practice for how to carry ourselves on a set. What to do and what not to do. Remaking the pilot while paying careful attention to the technicalities and knowing what doesn’t work, would produce something everyone in our group can be proud of. We would be able to correct technical issues. We wouldn’t be afraid to put it up on social media and label it as our work. A web series doesn’t follow the same model as traditional television production, which means we would all be able (or at least most of us) to work together on the creative aspect of the series, and together make decisions about shots, production design, and the vision to direct the actors. The bland locations of the pilot were a huge problem for everyone in our group, so getting the chance to work in another space that looks more realistic would be great as well. I imagine that we took eight hours to film 2 minutes of clips because we were mostly new to this, and thus our second time could take less time to film because we know everything we need to plan and everything to do on set. This time the actors can have a read through. The continuity and pacing between episode 1 and episode 2 should be better because there wouldn’t be a huge gap of time between the two, unlike now. For example, I was told that one of our actors had a haircut and another shaved their beard. I understand it’s only a pilot, but this gives us the chance to avoid these differences. Lastly, and most importantly in my opinion, I’ve read from Gianella’s blog post that our group works best under time pressures. I agree with this entirely. Our group members lose interest when we’re left sitting idly by, waiting for scripts or for something else to get done. It wouldn’t be a huge time pressure, but I think it would still jolt our group awake enough to, not necessarily rush things, but to participate with enthusiasm.