This week I decided to just film. Not so much worry about what the footage will end up doing or how it will work in the editing room but to just film. I feel it is very important to just get a start on my project. I decided to select one of my proposed scenes, which was my parents sitting around watching TV. At first, in my mind in terms of framing I had always pictured it as rather symmetrical, with the TV down the middle splitting the frame, while also acting as the key light source. However I found that the lens wasn’t wide enough for the camera to be placed relatively close behind my parents, so I decided to go a lot further back, into another room actually, and shoot on a very long focal length. What I found from doing this was that although, I couldn’t get both my parents in shot, I found I could frame very nicely if I just focused on one of them as the subject. I eventually got to the frame of my father watching TV, where I decided to include a lot of the household objects in the frame, which to me, doubled up to give the frame greater depth as it added layers of dimension. It was something that I felt was very in tune with Ozu’s framing, which is fitting seeing as how the theme I set out to achieve with this project was family.
After I had got a frame the I really liked, I next worked towards figuring out the lighting. At first, all the room lights were on, and, while this looked pleasing, I began to experiment with turning on and off the many different lighting configurations that were available, as my living room is directly connected to the kitchen without any walls. Eventually I turned all of the lights off except a small kitchen light and the light from the other room that I was actually shooting from. This left it so that it appeared as if the only light source was appearing from the TV, but in reality there was actually enough light coming from behind the camera to light the back of my father’s head and his hands.
I have yet to edit any of this together as I will need other footage to match this with. Next week when I have other footage filmed I will see how this works in conjunction with editing in a black screen.
This week I spent time with my nieces so I decided it would be a good time to get some footage of them. I had shot a lot of footage of them, from them watching TV, to them eating ice-cream to them drawing, to them brushing their teeth. I think that I got mostly decent footage, but I was extremely fortunate to get footage of them playing with a flashlight in the dark. This was by far my favourite thing that I filmed, as the colour of the light against the complete darkness of the room lead to some very interesting lighting dynamics in the footage. I think that the constant switching between complete darkness and the light shining will somehow fit well into how I edit this with the black screens in my final project.
I haven’t editing anything together yet but I will begin to edit the footage shot this week with the footage from last week.
This week I have decided to make a significant addition to my project. I have decided to add in an audio conversation that I recorded with my father about a year ago. Originally I had recorded this audio with the intention of making a film very similar to how this current project is turning out: scenes from my family with my father providing a voiceover. Now I can use my father’s voiceover for my current project. I also think that this works well in conjunction with my exploration of black screens, as I think that the result of my father speaking over a black screen will turn out interesting. I also shot a little bit of footage this week, the most notable being my mother cooking and preparing some food, as well as footage of my father sitting at his desk working. I think that it would be best to wait until I have gathered sufficient footage before beginning editing, as right, when attempting to edit, it feels too sparse and disconnected. I would rather have the feeling of enough footage, which would help me conceptualise a through line with my editing and have it be more focused.
The major piece of footage that I shot this week was a family dinner that we had at home. I had many different options for what to film during this event. I shot everything from master shots of my family all sitting at the table to my father and sister talking to each other to my mother preparing food again. The most striking scene that I shot was a shot of my father talking about his life while drinking wine. I was really interested in the content of what he was saying, and after deciding I was going to mix in audio from a recorded conversation I had with my father, thought that the relationship between what he said in the solitary audio and what he says diegetically in this scene might turn out to be interesting.
On another note regarding the audio, I decided, somewhat out of circumstance, to just use the low-quality on board mic to capture audio for the scenes that I filmed. I had made the mistake of not using my Rode Video Mic Pro for all the footage that I had shot, so I thought that it would be better to keep the audio low-quality and consistent rather than to have some scenes capture high-quality audio and others to capture low-quality audio. Furthermore, the lack of need to set up the microphone meant that I had more flexibility and mobility with capturing scenes on the fly, which is a trade off that I don’t mind.
This week I finally began editing. I pretty much spent the entire week editing and refining my project after having a more clearly defined idea of what it was going to be. It was very a relatively smooth process, one where I could clearly recognise what needed to be changed from iteration to iteration. The biggest challenge for me in the editing process was deciding when to cut to and from black. This is a really tricky thing as there are not real signifiers for when you should cut, and it is almost a purely instinctual decision. It felt like because there I could literally cut at any time, the fact that I had all the options in the world actually meant that I had no obvious options to cut. Eventually I decided to just go off of what felt best. A lot of times this would be by listening to solely the audio and cutting where I thought I expected a cut to take place.
This week I focused on refining the rough cut that I made in Week 12. The only thing that I decided to reshoot after having a rough cut of my project was a scene where my parents are sitting around the living room with the sunlight streaming through, with nothing but complete silence. I reshot it as the previous footage I use was very poorly framed, with the ceiling in shot and the two subjects (my mother and father) having very uneven spaces within the frame – overall it was a very flawed and imperfect shot. I reshot it this time with a certain composition in mind, my mother and father sharing equal parts of the frame, with the TV splitting the frame down the middle, quite similar to what I imagined the ‘Parents watching TV’ scene to originally look like that I talked about in Week 8.
Although I worked alone, I still had to collaborate with those who appear in my film, most notably my father. The first act of collaboration came from those who appear on screen in the film. For my mother and my father, I didn’t really give them any directions, but rather just filmed them doing their everyday activities. My nieces were the same as well. I was very fortunate that they were not camera shy and acted naturally in front of the camera, not acknowledging its presence much. The opening shot of them playing with the flashlight was perhaps the only thing where I had some form of direction, and even then, all that was was telling them to continue doing it, as they were already doing it before I had even begun filming. Overall in terms of filming, the nature of my content did not require much on set direction, as I wanted to capture people being themselves, my family being how I see them, and to interfere with any direction would interfere with the authenticity of what was filmed.
What I think was more in line with the concept of collaboration was recording audio of my father speaking about his life. I found I had to guide him so that he could best explore and speak about the topics that I wanted him to discuss. I learned throughout the conversation that I had with him that sometimes I had to wait and let him run out whatever topic he was on, even if it was a digression and not directly pertinent to what I thought would suit the film, but in doing so, he might say something unexpected which would be better than anything that I had planned or had in mind. Although keeping this in mind, I also had to know when to end a certain digression and ask him a question to let him begin a new line of thought. This conversation with my father felt like a very collaborative process as we had to both sculpt and shape how to get the most interesting conversation we could together. It was an aspect of collaboration where, although I was not the primary subject, I still played an active role, which was the role of the listener. I took away the idea that the listener is not always a passive subject, and can steer the conversation with more control than you would think.
I think that my final project answered a lot of the curiosities I had about my initial research question, the experimentation that I had with cutting to black and black screens in general turned out some very interesting results. I am glad to say that the final project turned out a lot better than I could have ever imagined, and that it made direct and appropriate use of black screens.
The big turning point and change in my project was when I decided to include the audio recording of a conversation that I had with my father. This helped the project progress from just being a bunch of strung together technical exercises to something that had some real emotional and thematic value to it. In the process of this addition, I also believe that I began exploring something else just as deeply as the study of black screens and could be another research question: the study of my father, his life and my family. I became just as interested in this other aspect of my process, and I became even more excited when I realised that I could blend these two interests together, to allow the black screen to inform and accentuate my father’s story and vice versa.
I became interested in forming a narrative, and knew that the through line of this narrative would be found in my father’s audio, and what I would select from it. At first, I gravitated towards the very dramatic aspects of his life, really searching for the things that I knew would capture or shock an audience, something entertaining. My father’s life had been very difficult, and initially I wanted to capture the immigrant experience through him. So it was all about his struggle to try and build a life for himself when he moved to America. But slowly, as I began to listen to all the audio again and again, and to look at the footage that I had shot over and over, I realised that I wanted something different. I began to not find these very dramatic parts of my father’s life as the most interesting things that he said, but instead I began to really hone in and listen to what he was saying whenever he talked about his family. Whenever he talked about his childhood, or the first time he met my mother, or the first time he had kids, for some reason that stuck with me a lot more than stories of him wandering through California homeless or his feelings of alienation from American society. I realised that I didn’t want to paint my father as an immigrant that had made it in America, I wanted to paint him first and foremost as a man who had struggled, a person who contained flaws and a lot of virtues, as my father and as a person.
So with this in mind, I wanted to touch on the four bits of conversation I had with him that really interested me, and that also fit into the theme of family: his childhood, when he met my mother, his experience parenting and his views on death. I began to form the narrative not just with the audio, but how the audio fit into whatever image was playing. The very first shot in the film arose out of convenience – I was exploring black screens and the scene contained a very obvious dynamic between light and darkness, so it fit into the form I was experimenting with. The scene also worked on a thematic level and created a juxtaposition between how my father was describing his broken childhood and my nieces playing without having any apparent worries.
Before starting this project I thought that the black screen would accentuate the beginnings and ends of whatever image it bookended, but the biggest thing I learned about black screens while making this project was that there was meaning and emotion to be felt while the black screen was actually playing. I realised that it made the audience consider what they were looking at, even if it was a pitch black screen, with a sort of intensity. I think I came to this realisation because of the effect that only a black screen and audio produced, it really made you listen very closely to the words that my father says, and from this I realised that even when there was literally nothing but a black screen playing, you still paid attention with a sort of intensity. I acted a little bit like an inversion of the black screen serving as bookends for the image – once a rhythm became established, the images became bookends for the black screen. This realisation that the black screen could carry as much excitement and meaning as the image put me at great relief, as it laid to rest my worries that when the black screen would be playing, that people would switch their minds off. I feel that I have very sufficiently explored what I had initially set out to do and even explored other areas that I found just as interesting as my initial question.