Why do people love zombies? How could someone enjoy watching these rotten walking dead that only want to tear us apart, eat us alive and destroy the world? We have zombie comics, movies, games, TV shows, walks — literally everything. They have become so popular that people have been adapting classic novels to incorporate with them.
In fact, I disgusted zombies for the first time I watched one of their low budget movies years ago. I started to have interest in the zombie genre when I managed to pick up the hidden meaning behind these diseased creatures. Most of the time, people talk about how Dawn of the Dead (1978) addresses the America’s obsession with consumerism. Others who do more research shall know that zombies had been used to make social comments long before Romero. White Zombie (1932), the first known zombie movie, confronts the slavery labor during the American occupation of Haiti in the period of 1915-1934. In the digital era, there are arguments that point out the addiction of technology leading us soulless being just like those walking dead.
Form my point of view, zombie culture offers consumers an alternative life in which they can experience and step out of their ordinary selves: no homework, no stress or future goal. What impresses me is that the world created by zombie culture not only provides audiences a place to hide from the reality, but also satisfies the aggression of human nature. From the ethological perspective, Lorenz (1966) suggested that humans have evolved a ‘’fighting instinct” which is unavoidable and a part of human identity. In the real world, we are restrained from hurting other people by the law unless it is a self-defense situation. In “The walking dead”, characters are free to kick, smash or kill zombie with whatever they have in their hands to survive. Normally, we are attracted by something which represent a part of us. In other word, media consumers see the reflection of their aggressive instinct in this particular culture. Watching zombie genre somehow satisfies our urge to commit violent actions.
“Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society…and our society’s station in the world”, said Robert Kirkman who is the creator of The Walking Dead. Horrified zombie and gore scenes are just side dishes in this show.The main course is watching how Rick survives, how humanity of our society is being destroy and how sanity is being stripped away in the name of survival. He is willing to do anything and kill anyone to protect himself and the ones he cares about. Indeed, this shows not only proposes the violent nature of films has changed due to contemporary media triggers, but also how society have to struggle with the aftermath of disaster, how we individually cope with the devastation of world events.
Lorenz, K & Latzke, M (1966), On aggression, London: Methuen
Zombie update 4 – Collaboration
Collaboration is an initial part of film making. No matter how much the budget is, producing a film or just a clip normally requires people with different skills. I started the zombie project with Helen. We were both interested in the zombie genre and we did a series of experimental shots during the mid-semester break. We were quite satisfied with those shots, but we could not push it further due to the lack of cinematography knowledge. I was lucky to attend the consultant with Paul, Reza and Sem in week 9.Their experimental shots of an abandoned building showed me their shooting skills. Paul told them that they had the technical skill, but because of the lack of “meaning”, their clip seemed not to be “true to form”. In the end, the purpose of cinematography is to tell a story or say something to the viewer.
On the one hand, I thought it would not be very convenient for 4 people working on such an experimental project. On the other hand, we were still in the process of learning film making. Four heads would be better than one and we could learn from each other. I decided to propose a collaboration with the pair to fill up the holes where one would lack skills in.
Collaboration itself consists both upsides and downsides. Organizing a suitable shooting day for the whole group was pretty difficult. Reza and I had to work at least 3 days a week. We also have our own study timetable to follow. In addition, Melbourne is well known for its crazy weather. But it all worked out well. Each of us had to sacrificed to achieve a common goal. Moreover, our we were able to raise our opinions and excuse them freely because we do not have to produce a final product. We gathered as much footage as possible to edit our own pieces.
Sem and I used our DSLR to shoot 2 shots at once from different angles in a multi-story carpark in the city. I enjoyed and learned many things from the 2 short shooting days. In terms of technical things, Sem obviously had more experiences than me since I had mostly used my DSLR for photography. Although I was familiar with the 3 elements: ISO, aperture, shutter speed, framing was another aspect that would want to invest in the future.
I was constantly asking myself:
“Who is she running away from?”
“Does she know he is zombie?”
“What angles should I take to emphasize the girl’s fear”
The funny thing was zombie was not real (not yet?), but we all had basic ideas how it would walk. run and growl. This made things easier when it came to directing. There were no more than 5 takes for each shot. I was totally happy with the collaboration.
Zombie Update 5 – Color Grading
There is no Award for Best Color (yet?), but this less-celebrated initial element of filmmaking is widely used to convey and propel the plot. The spiritual purple, the death and sickness of green, a violent red. There is no accident when we see a color in a film – filmmakers have carefully compose each frame a make color decisions that affect our experience of watching consciously or unconsciously. They use color to deepen the narrative of the film.
I began to step into the world of color grading with my favorite shot during the mid-semester break: the shaking hand
Adjusting the color and light in Premiere Pro was very exciting. It was a discovery in video editing. I tried to touch all of the panels, drag them to their maximum and minimum value. I planned to use one of the above grading for my final edits, but I gave up in the end. looking at them again after finishing the 2 shooting day with the group gave me a “Meh. What have I done?”. But I think it was a normal process of learning how to use an editing software. It is very easy to go overboard like a child playing with his new toy for the first time. I sat down and asked myself a load of questions:
“Does it benefit my clip in any way? Or just because I can?”
“Does it add or convey any narrative?”
“Does the color serve its purpose?”
“Is it True to Form?”
I looked closely to the Plutchik’s wheel of emotion to carefully pick the most suitable colors for a zombie clip. To make it faster and easier, I created an adjustment layer and graded on it, then applied it to the whole clip. In the end, it was a bad lazy idea as Paul pointed out that every single shot needed a different grading. Additionally, the colors of the footage were basically different because we used different camera: Sem’s Canon, my Nikon and the school Sony. There were no easy way to achieve a good outcome. I made a duplicate of the clip and graded shot by shot with different versions as Paul taught us in class.
The rewarding process took a lot of time. I put myself in the audience’s shoes while adjusting the value little by little. The dead green worked well in the zombie genre. I also tried the vintage effect to draw the viewer attention into the scene.
Zombie Update 6 – Final Edits + Studio Summary
The end of a fantastic studio is finally here. I am very happy to able to follow my investigation until the very end. I have achieved the goal which I set for myself from the very first consultant with Paul: learn how to use Premiere Pro, color grade my own footage and create a soundscape.
Regarding to the audio, I already collected and build a soundscape which would fit in the subtle horror of the zombie genre before hand.
In week 12, I used this piece as a guideline for the rough cut. Even though, it served its purpose as a guideline while cutting, there were changes had to be made to match it with the plot of the clip.
For the presentation, Helen and I decided to make a 45-second clip rather than a 22.5 one. I did the rough cut and gave it to Helen to color grade it. We made some changes in terms of the shot and color grading afterward. I desaturated and darken the light to make the environment look like a post-zombie apocalypse world. I finalized the clip with a matched soundscape using the jump scare trick.
For the Friday screening, I concentrated more on color grading. Green, blue, orange and red were the core color. I came across with more difficulties than the presentation one. I have not got the skill to adjust the color of a specific areas yet. For some reasons, Reza’s face was warmer than Helen’s hand in the shot. If I had desaturated the color to make Reza look like a zombie, it would have resulted in Helen’s hand look paler than a dead person. Leaving the redness on the zombie face was the best option. I also made a different version of the soundscape. I am not really satisfied with this piece of audio due to the lack of sound effects (foley). I should have added the footsteps to make the clip less “forced”
Thanks to this great studio, I have made one step closer to my filmmaking career. This is the only studio which actually taught me practical skills in terms of shooting and editing a video. I am now more confident to pitch my idea and propose a collaboration to other people. All of the class exercises, consultants and collaborations made me realize that there are more than one way to achieve a goal in filmmaking. I don’t need a fancy camera to shoot an amazing shot or an expensive steadicam to have a good tracking shot. As long as it is “True to Form”, there are ways of making an amazing video.
The White Zombie (1932) is a brilliant piece of the zombie genre. Robin suggested me this film and I should have watched this sooner. The use of cinematography and sound design are interesting despite its age. White Zombie were able to utilize the art of suggestion which many modern horror films lack.
The opening scene is a wide, non-descript shot of a local ceremony. This shot is literally stamping the western audiences on to an unknown ritual. It is impossible to see clear any specific face or object due to the blurry nature of the shot and the title words addressing the fear of an anonymous collective fear.
After a brief establishing shot of an approaching of a horse carriage, the scene cuts to a close-up shot of the two white characters. The initial close up of these two protagonists emphasizes the audience’s identity as they drive through the voodoo ritual. The wide shot of a unidentified Haitian natives, the very first characters we see, is replaced by the close-up shot of the white Westerners. The narrative has shifted from the native perspective to the “colonizer’s perspective” (Shohat & Stam, 1994).
The introductory sequence of the sugarcane mill begins with a wide shot overlooking the sugar processing. We can only see silhouettes of workers who slowly carry baskets of cane to the thresher and push the millstone in order. The machines are operated entirely by unidentified manpower although there is electric lighting in the mill. There is no grinding sound of metal gears or chatting between the workers, only the creaking wood. The sound effects emphasize the low-tech of the factory. It might not be scary for the modern generation of audiences, but I bet people in that era would have a nightmare after leaving the cinema. In my opinion, the whole sequence was dominated by sound.
Going back to the money shot which is my most satisfying shot (I suppose) in my area. This is a different way of scaring people compared to White Zombie. The experimental combination of the black screen and the subtle horror sound worked quite well. The short sequence would scare viewers in a different way. It slowly built the tension of audiences, then suddenly slap them in the face.This trick is normally used in jump scare scenes in horror genre. With a small dose, the trick would make a huge impact on the film. If we overused it, audiences will get tired quickly. As a result, they will forget almost everything about the film after the screening.
Shohat, E & Stam, R 1994, Unthinking Eurocentrism, NewYork: Routledge.
The zombie team (Helen and I) finished a day of experimental shots. Although we did not have a clear vision, we managed to have interesting shots. In comparison to DSLR (crop frame), the Sony EX3 is a great video camera, especially in low light condition without lighting kit. We were not used to using the EX3, but quality of the clips were quite satisfied except our last shots. We did not pay attention to the grain level, so the night shots were not smooth. There are many things that I learned from our shooting day.
Lack of physical strength (aka muscle): This is a harsh true that I have to accept. Spending 4 hours carrying around the bulky camera and its tripod was not easy. The current state of my body is not fit for the role of cameraman. In the long run, I have to start working out as well as other skills if I want to a job in media field.
Transport: Carrying the gear to my place by public transport ached my arms. Things would have been easier if one of us had a car. We could also load more equipment to try something else.
Unwanted Attraction: Our rig was so attractive because of its size. The more it was getting, the more people started to come. It was not uncomfortable at all until a group of hoodie guys pointed us. We quickly packed things up to avoid further trouble.
Learning color grading is a major part in my plan. First thing first, I need to understand how colors are used in cinema before touching it.
Blue is widely used in cinema as it is a natural temperature of dim light, which is why it is a apparent choice for sadness or loneliness. It is also a color which is highly representative of cleansing. We will see characters that are going through an emotional transition that take place near the ocean or a swimming pool. Furthermore, blue is often associated with discovery and the infinite. On top of that, filmmakers commonly use blue in night shots where light levels are low and blue highlights can make the object stand out on screen.
Purple represents royalty and spirituality. It is commonly found in animations more than live action films due to its unusual nature. Purple indicates a gateway into another world, as it creates a distinct contrast between the reality and imagination.
Green represents both life and death at the same time. Green not only ties to growth and lifecycle because of its reoccurrence in nature, but it also make a character look sick. In many instances, it symbolizes the subconscious state that surrounds life’s most pleasant surprises and its greatest mysteries. Just as Leon in The Matrix (1999) was living in a fake world.
In both film and advertising, yellow is very popular because of the broader spectrum of light that appears as yellow to human eye. Most of the time, yellow is used to indicate the joy and warmth of a sunny day. However, darker tones may signal an underlying tension as we can see the dominant yellow in Moonlight Kingdom (2012).
Orange is mostly used as an complimentary color for other colors. I usually see it in shots with the appearance of sunset. In addition, it is a dominant color in sci-fi as characters exploring the cosmos in dusty landscape or as they walking through a dessert. Filmmakers also use orange to signal that a character is flashing back to the past as well as to symbolize youthfulness.
Pink is perceived as a feminine color since 1930s. Even though pink has a strong relationship with girliness, it is use to address the rebellious characters like the Pink Ladies in Grease (1978). Pink is also widely associated with the emergence of cherry blossoms which represents a time of renewal and transience.
Most of the time, red is the color of violence, of lust and of passion. It suggest or impends that danger is up ahead. In cinema, it is not rare to see an extremely angry “red” character overwhelmed by anger. There are many articles mention about warm color like red make people feel hungry.
I have worked with audio for a while, but not much with visual. For the rest of the semester, I want to obtain more hands-on experience as well as theory about producing moving images. The theme I want to work on is the zombie apocalypse world. Let the Right One in gave me a huge inspiration for this project. Although the film is not zombie movie, it sent chills down my spine due to its amazing cinematography and sound design, not the bloodshed.
For location scouting, I have roamed around the city and some suburbs on weekends to find a place with a sense of abandonment. The area where I am living turned out to be a suitable location for a post-apocalypse world. Most of the buildings around my area (including my one) are already run down. I have done some of the testing shots.
I have not satisfied with the dirty kitchen shot. I have tried to create a dirty kitchen but in an aesthetic way. It is difficult to create something beautiful and dirty at the same time.
Personally, these two shots are so amazing, especially the wide shot of the bridge. I have found some of interesting bridges in Flemington and Ascot Vale area. However, the problem is I will have to shoot very early in the morning ( 4am-5am) when the road is nearly empty to avoid the traffic. In addition, I will need another person to accompany with because for safety reasons.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. I was still thinking about what exactly I would pitch in week, then Helen told me that she was interested in zombies and working on it. It was like a “boom” in my head. She is into creating a scene, I am into creating a soundscape and we both enjoy zombies. We would be a great team.
We received inspired advice from Paul after having a chat after class. We are planning to create a short sequence from stills and soundscape for the coming pitch. Here is what we need to do at this stage:
It is a lengthy process but it is quite essential nowadays.
Permission from the City Council
Permission from Deakin Uni (if we decide to film their car park)
Scouting around for an empty place in the city (nighttime prefer)
Deakin car park
Note: I am planning to go scouting early on Sunday morning (4am-5am) to avoid the street lights. Probably, there is no street lights in the post zombie apocalypse world.
Take tram 19/57 and watch out for places along the route.
Indoor: Make a dirty but artisticscene of an abandoned house
I have not figured out how to make it look artistic. Dirty ones are pretty simple.
Dirty bathroom (probably)
This might be a problem because none of us can drive. We are thinking about using a lighter camera or a DSLR with a wide-angle lens (17-35 mm) instead of the one in class.
Making fake blood is not as simple as I thought. I find out that film makers have struggled with this since the beginning of cinema, particularly challenging for color film. The commercial fake blood might be toxic, so I will use recipes which are safe, simple, cheap and eatable if possible.
A case of cheap pancake syrup. Then go buy$2 or $3 worth of Koolade (black cherry and tropical punch).
Red Food Coloring – 5 drops Blue Food Coloring 1 drop. Add it to one Bottle of Karo syrup (it is clear) and will look like blood. Add water slowly. It will dilute the thickness but color should stay. If need add a couple drops more at a time.
The first consultant with Paul was really helpful since it helped me clear the cloud of confusion floating around my head. I have figured out that I want to investigate how soundscape and color changes the mood of a particular scene/sequence.
My plan is to practice editing a scene or a short sequence in Premiere Pro, then overlay it with different soundscapes and colors to see which combination is more suitable. However, I have not been into shooting, so I do not have enough footage to play with. I am thinking about joining other groups that are planning to shoot something from Thursday, 30th of March onward to gain more more insights into cinematography as well as to have footage for my experiments.
I hope that I am capable to to shoot something short but good based on my interest after these experiments. I have a feeling of nervousness and curiosity like when I started to work with audio. It is definitely a good sign for learning process.
Our group started the expertise exercise with a professional gear and nothing more than “footsteps” as our idea. My first lesson from the exercise is: even if I possess all the fancy filmmaking equip, I can’t produce anything good without a plan. Be organised.
We did not take Paul’s advises seriously. I handled the zoom F4 and my boom was in the shot more than 3 times. I should have been notified. Importantly, I nearly fell down the metal stairs while I was walking backward trying to record Jamie’s footsteps with the boom out of the shot. I did not really keep in mind when Paul said the AD is very important while shooting because I thought it was just an exercise. Of course, lesson learned for my whole life of filmmaking: never ever overlook the safety procedure no matter how small the project is.
Sitting alone and starring at Premiere Pro in the edit suite gave me a cloud of confusion. I had no clue what our group had done on the shooting day. They were just random shots. In addition, that was the first time I used Premiere Pro. To be honest, I found it funny as well as shameful for a media student having no idea how to operate a professional video editing program (I used Window Movie Maker in Media 1). So, I tried to follow Paul’s instruction to have a proper start. Paul is totally right about the extremely importance of organizing and naming the files. Although it is a time-consuming step, it will save you lots of time trying to find the spot later on. I did the same thing when I use Pro Tools.
This is my very first version. The exposure is quite OK, but the 2 guys are a bit out of focus. We totally forgot about cinematography aspect when we shot these guys. I used original audios from the camera for this one. The built-in microphone is bad without a doubt.
The second version is better in terms of audio thanks to the Zoom F4.
I was inspired by a one of the music pieces I had collected. It does add a sense of humor to the piece.
Third lesson: get over the feeling of “my footage is crap”. I realized that it not only happened to me, but also happened to my classmates who have no or a little of video editing experience. No matter how my footage is, I have the power to control the story while editing my own video. What done is done. It is better to deal with it than to regret. Watching the footage over and over again until the idea comes.
As far as I know, a film basically consists two main elements Visual and Audio. Film makers use those two elements to communicate with the audience. Every image we see, every sound we hear from a film has its own meanings. At this stage, I suppose that the meaning of studying flimmaking is learning how to pull apart the two essences of a film. Unfortunately, my knowledge of cinematography is still very limit. In the mean time, I should keep pushing my knowledge of audio to a higher level and use visual as a supplement. I have worked with audio for a while, but I have not seriously investigated the nature of sound in film and sound design. I decided to dig deeper.
Sounds make a scenario alive. There are three categories of sound including diegetic, non-diegetic and external diegetic. No matter how many special visual effects are used in the movie, they won’t attract audiences without sounds. “Sound perception evokes mental images.” (Gabriele Proy 2002). Sound designers are the ones who bring viewers into the world created by the film. They lie to audiences to make them believe in what they see on the screen.
Oscar Wilde, a famous English writer, establishes the idea of lying. Art which comes from being realistic is a bad art. Great art comes from deceiving and lying. It tells everybody the untrue but beautiful things. Art is an subject of deception.
“Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art”
Accuracy is not what we’re looking for. Our brain is more likely to embrace the lies. Most of the sounds we hear in a modern movie are fake, except the dialogue.
“The Jazz Singer” (1927) directed by Alan Croslan built the first mile stone of cinema evolution. The “talking pictures” were born as well as the field of post-production film sound.
Sound elements have the ability to manipulate the audience. For instance, the sound of ocean waves has the frequency of 12 cycles per minute respectively which is similar to the frequency of breathing of a sleeping human. That’s why most people find the surf sound soothing and stress free. Music is an extremely powerful sound which affect our emotion. In a paper, Larry Sider (2003) mentions that:”Music not only imbues the image with emotional or cultural resonance, it also guides the viewer’s attention.”Sometimes, sound posses 50-1oo percent of a scene ( Larry Sider 2003).
Randy Thom (2011) states in his article:”Great sound design is not something that you apply cosmetically to an existing piece of work.” In class, Paul also emphasized that we should start to collect music as soon as possible. Music can be a guideline for our video editing if we plant to use it in our work. I edited this tiny sequence after listening to my own music collection.
I am thinking about making a sequence to compliment my audio story in the next couple of weeks as an experiment. This should help me practice filming and using audio as a guideline.
Thom, R. (2011) Screenwriting for Sound; InThe New Soundtrack; Vol.: 1 No.: 2September, p.103 – 112
Sider, L (2003. If you wish to see, listen, Journal of Media Practice, vol 4, no 1, p.5-16.