Experimental Short: The Caretaker


What happens when all that is left is the quietness? No pounding of gavels or black robes and unwashed wigs harassing the hallways? Of murderers on trial, of justice-seekers and curious peepers? No one really knows, but the old man who cleans, cleans, cleans.

Length: 3 mins 37 seconds

In the eyes of the Caretaker, the great Magistrates’ Court is nothing but a place wherein he succumbs to his loneliness.

The project is my first foray in the Experimental Film genre. The piece is a poetic, abstract reverie of what the place is to the invisible character of the Caretaker. I wanted to give meaning to the space and the place occupied by the building itself (the walls, halls, doorways, rooms) and how the Caretaker gives meaning to the place that has become mundane to him for he is always never seen; in the silences, when the doors are locked and no other soul is about.

The short film is to be incongruous, hence, it being experimental in its genre. There is no narrative to follow, but the clips, both found-footage and recorded, are deliberately placed to allow the viewers to freely interpret what is being told.

Produced, edited and directed by me.
Thank you to the Ghosts of RMIT team on the day of the shoot for helping with camera problems (there were heaps).

The making of this short film definitely came with its problems. My first dilemma was where exactly to place the captured clips and videos in a sequence that will encapsulate the concept I have of putting meanings to the spaces through the eyes of the Caretaker. This was my biggest challenge in the production of this film. I went about in finding a resolution to this by going through some of my video inspirations with an addition of Ballet Mecaniqué by Fernand Leger, who gave me the idea of repetition as a motif to represent the distress the Caretaker is experiencing in his bouts of imagination due to his lonely job.

The production began quite smoothly. I followed the work timeline I prescribed to myself stringently albeit with the surfacing of aforementioned dilemma of the delivery process. Nevertheless, the filming went really smoothly. On the day, I took as many shots as possible of the interior of the Magistrates’ Court but what I found that inevitably helped in my final storyboarding and editing process was the visit to what is known as “The Plant Room.” It was an old, decrepit storage room located in the far recesses of the main court behind two supposedly locked doors and an eerie gaol cell to fit the bill. It was an atrocious sight and Jackie and I would not have dared to enter the room if not for Rachel (thank you, kindly) and a fellow student, Linh, who ventured on, turning the lights along the way.

The room was forlorn, dusty and a treasure trove for all things old-fashioned. But what got me the most was the single chair that sat in view of the open door. It was curious, it was lonely, and I knew then and there that the Caretaker, his character, his soul, whoever he may have been in the past, was an incredibly lonely character.

This epiphany drove me to evaluate my draft storyboard, which then also allowed me to appropriate the concepts I learned in class to the differences between space and place with place as a space that has meaning. In my video, I applied the techniques of opacity and scaling to the very extent of my skill in such. I’m thankful to our guest lecturer, Jeremy Bowtell for the basic tutorial for Adobe Premiere Pro, but mostly, I thank this class for allowing me to test my skills, add on to, and really push myself to my editing limits (and that is an incredibly short limit, f.y.i.).

The final outcome, eventually, after much harassment from a very neutral-looking editing suite, turned out as hoped and planned and even more. The chosen music, ghostly and haunted with the appropriate title of “At the end, everyone dies” by the ingenious Kai Engel (I bow to you for the royalty-free) was inspired by Abigail Belfrage who made certain that I think about what fits well with the overall thematic I had. The colours are minute black-and-white, easier to manipulate to encompass the ghostly, almost macabre message I had in mind with the Caretaker’s loneliness. It also worked really well with the found-footages.

An abundance of improvements include mastering Adobe Premiere Pro as the go-to editing suite. Finding out how plug-ins works, particularly subtitles, is a must too. I was to include subtitles in this piece as opposed to narration (in the final film, I utilised titles as subtitles), but Premiere’s built-in closed captioning were stiff and incredibly frustrating to handle. I decidedly gave up, but I plan on experimenting with that medium in the near future. I uses titles and “subtitles”, albeit vague, to give the piece texture as well. And the only colour is during the “poisons” scene…appropriately. And before I forget, incorporating images would be quite helpful too.

The class has taught me to appreciate spaces and places in a whole different way. Through The Caretaker, I was able to give meaning to places as opposed to simply admiring its architecture and the echoes of its past. I was able to wander through the halls and assess the cracks and fissures, the importance of the little nooks and crannies and what they are used for and most importantly, the people who give meaning to the space, particularly, the caretaker in the Old Magistrates’ Court in this case.


Experimental Film: Pitch Suggestions

Some post-pitch notes/suggestions thanks to the awesome panel we had last week!

  • Audio (samples): footsteps, keys jangling, creaky footsteps, light shining thorough the door, evoking presence
    Movie to see for inspiration: Gallipoli by Tolga Ornek. A documentary wherein it never shows any battle at all; just the sounds i.e. flatter of dust and some slight movement of the camera
  • Music: 
    • how literal do I want to portray the caretaker will inspire my music choice
    • getting into their character a bit more into what you want
    • subjectivity contrasted with sounds
    • what’s their little space like
    • making some of their work more interesting (images: eg. cleaning tools, where he resides in the courthouse)
  • The Caretaker (as a character) – keeping him invisible, but at the same time, making his presence known throughout the six Acts
    • Another term for caretaker: Custodian – something to think about as an alternative way of calling him/her
    • I’m probably decided on doing a “him” for this one but shall look into it more in my research
    • What does he do as a go-to type of person – research property services or current cleaning services managers of the Old Magistrates Court and of RMIT
  • Finding some employee records: town clerks correspondents at Public Records Office
  • Images/Shot:
    • Payslip – how much they get paid per day is evocative and tells more about how they work and how their home lives are like
      • Are they supporting a family? Where do they live? In a cottage, a small house, etc. What are their motivations?

Going through all my notes and the suggestions above over the weekend, I came up with things to do for this week:

  1. Acts – 6 Acts may be too ambitious so I’m going to have to reduce it. I’m thinking of dividing it up into three Acts instead of six:
    Act I: I am
    – the introduction of the Caretaker as the main character
    Act II:  Gavel
    – life in the court
    Act III: Ghosts
    – hauntings of the presence; what does the place mean, what does it make him feel?
  2. Research – Employee Records
    Abigail Belfrage, a historian who works at the Public Records Office suggested to look into some employee records to see those who have worked at the Old Magistrates’ Court as a historian at its time. She’ll be coming down this Friday so I’ll talk to her about that.
  3. Style – Music
    The general atmospheric theme I want to portray in this piece is sobering, haunting, nostalgic and reverential. I’ll be looking for music that really encapsulates that spirit.

I think that’s all for now. Off we go then, for some found-footage scavenging!

Experimental Film – The Caretaker


What happens when all that is left is the quietness? No pounding of gavels or black robes and unwashed wigs harassing the hallways? Of murderers on trial, of justice-seekers and curious peepers? No one really knows, but the old man who cleans, cleans, cleans.

The Caretaker
Format: Experimental Short Film – documentary, found-footage film, use of archived videos, recorded shots of Building 20 itself, use of sounds
Length: 5-6mins (approximately)

This short film follows six acts or segments of the life of the caretaker, a poetic reverie of the court as a place and of him as an occupant of the place.

I chose this idea for two reasons:
1. Character – the Caretaker
Why I chose this idea is galvanised by the photograph I took of the the signage just outside of the establishment: CARETAKER PRESS TO RING.
It immediately gave me the perception that someone else, apart from your usual magistrates and judges, jury, clerks and court-persons, was also present in the area albeit mostly overlooked and unknown. The caretaker is an unknown character, but he is vital for the running of this great bastion of law. I felt that his life, who he is and what he does needs to be known and explored more.

2. The Court – as a place
First time visiting the Court, I marvelled at its architectural grandeur, and on my second visit, the holy reverence the place has towards what it was before: A Magistrates’ Court. I’ve been to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in Williams Street, having done some work experience there beforehand and though it is a lot more architecturally-progressive and forward-looking, I could imagine the same hustle and bustle of activity happening in the Old Magistrates’ Court as well. This time, however, these sounds are now reduced to honourable silences, simple echoes of the past, punctuated mostly by natural, diegetic sounds.

The caretaker as a physical character of the court, and my own impression of what it feels like to be in that building is what made me chose to do this idea. Visually, I believe that finding appropriate stimuli to what I am trying to convey both using found-footage and own recordings, scavenged and edited, alongside the sounds of the place, will be both a challenge for me as a future filmmaker but also an opportunity to explore the nuances of what this great building used to stand for.

The main concept of which my idea is inspired by is found in Shelley Hornstein’s “Losing Site: Architecture, Memory and Place.”
Quoting her, “Architecture exists as a physical entity and therefore registers as a place that we come to remember…and [architecture] can exist to be found beyond the physical site itself in our recollection of it.”
She states that the physical object itself, in a spatial framework is the “vehicle” that connects us to our memories of that place.

I work around this concept in two ways:
1. The architecture can exist or be found beyond the physical site itself in our recollection of it.
This is where the idea of scavenging found-footage works well. I’ve been to the physical site of Building 20. I’ve seen the architecture and framework, smelled the musty, carpeted air and heard the sounds associated to the building (muffled voices and violent footsteps on such an austere, quiet dominion). Therefore, the challenge now is finding works of the past, these found-footage that is associated with both the memory of the place, the physicality of the place itself, and the reverence to what the place stands for then, as the Old Magistrates Court, and of now.

2. We being capable of “orchestrating in tandem at least two parallel images of places.”
The character of the Caretaker comes into play here. I’ve read novels, watched movies and television shows and seen photographs wherein the setting of the Court is magnified and used. This is where the character of the Caretaker, what I imagined him to be based on what I’ve read plus my own experience traversing the corridors of the building, is being explored. What does he feel walking along those quiet hallways when everyone has left? What are his thoughts with the squeaking of the door hinges and the loud rapping of his feet on the floors?

This approach is explained by the following examples:

There are two main video references:
1. Alter Bahnhof Video Walk – Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller
Check it out here: http://www.cardiffmiller.com/artworks/walks/alterbahnhof_video.html
The participants watch things unfold on the small screen but feel the presence of those events deeply because of being situated in the exact location where the footage was shot. As they follow the moving images (and try to frame them as if they were the camera operator) a strange confusion of realities occurs. In this confusion, the past and present conflate and Cardiff and Miller guide us through a meditation on memory and reveal the poignant moments of being alive and present.

I was inspired by Cardiff and Miller’s exploration of both the past and the present in the video walk. This is one of the reasons why I chose to this particular medium as an inspiration. There’s a strange confusion of realities, and I plan to highlight this with using found-footage and real footage of the court itself.

2. The Illustrated Auschwitz
Check it out here: https://vimeo.com/100185502
“A small, cheap personal film, shot on super 8 . . . it is a documentary that completely avoids talking heads and the usual parade of facts and figures . . . the film poses the question, it is already implicitly there in the title, of how to illustrate such experience, of how to represent the unrepresentable.

Similarly, this documentary talks about the experience of a woman who survived the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp as a child. The film documents her story while providing a collage of images, most not directly linked to the story.
I will use footage to both directly link and not link it to the story I’m telling in, providing the abstract of emotion in the court.

One main sound reference:
3. Nocturne – 360documentaries
Check it out here: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/360/nocturne/5617366
Mainly the beginning sounds, diegetic, introducing the setting. I’m going to be utilising the same entry in my piece before the visuals begin.

4. Other
archive.org sounds and reels.

1. Video – 
I went to Building 20 with my trusty Everio HD Camcorder to film myself walking through the buildings and room in Building 20. I specifically chose to use this camera just so I can see what a “grainy” footage would look like.
For the final recording, I will be using the JVC Pro HD camera.
For editing, I will be using Adobe Premier Pro and thanks to George, special effects.

2. Footage – archive.org, sounds, photographs, etc.
I’ve started compiling some footage that I will be using in this folder.

3. Six Acts:
I’ve also come up with the six acts or segments that my video is divided up in which helps in categorising and organising production:  

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 11.38.24 pm

Each Act explores a different aspect of the Place. i.e. Act I – I am introduces the character of the Caretaker, Act II- Gavel is about the utilising of the court and so forth.

Act Length:
30-40 seconds each, max 1 minute


Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 11.40.59 pm

Filming – may need to use tracking equipment for the tracking shots; people to help out on the day of the shoot

Adobe Premier Pro – general editing queries

Check out my Ghosts and Spaces page here for past and up-and-coming blog posts and constant updates about the film!

Ghosts & Spaces: A preview

note: plagiarising myself because I can.

Original post date: 14 days ago

I have returned from the land of the living and no, unfortunately this post does not contain a Vimeo trailer of a sophisticated thriller film from aforementioned title, but it’s relevant, nonetheless!

Second year university is just around the corner and I’m bubbling in a cauldron of giddiness because finally, I breathe out in deep suspiration, finally, the routine-learning, assessment-crying and busy-fun is back back back.

This year and for the first time in- I’m not even going to finish that, my course is implementing what is known as “Studios.” It’s our media term for subject, really. An elective specifically chosen in regards to what we want to learn about most. And here’s a hypothetical bag of gold for those who guessed which studio I’m in.

Ghosts and Spaces : Mediating Place

In this studio we will examine how place is conceptualised and represented in many forms across a range of media and how these are applied in a variety of contexts such as galleries, museums, archives and augmented maps.

I am almost always on a state of fernweh, feeling homesick for a place I’ve never been. Does that sound strange? My missing a place I’ve actually never been in? Is that even possible? I believe so. Truly. How many of you have watched a film, seen a television show, read a book that made you somehow feel like you’ve been there already but of course, you haven’t really, and thus, you feel an ache to return to it?

I’m definitely not the only one.

As a media-peruser, I’m curious as to how exactly books, media, print, music mediate place. Define it. Emotionally tag you that you cannot escape it. Those feelings, emotions that a certain place evokes. I love this quote from Tim Creswell:

“When we write ‘Calcutta’ or ‘Rio’ or ‘Manchester’ for instance, even those of us who have not been to these places have some sense of them – sets of meanings produced in films, literature, advertising, and other forms of mediation”.
(Tim Cresswell, ‘Place’ in The International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, 2009) 

I have a similar connectedness to New York City, Rome, and Paris. I could name a hundred more countries, cities, capitals, but those three have been there before my eyes traversed the digital globe.

I’m to explode into my atom counterparts because who gets a chance to philosophise such a nebulous idea that is the sense of place? To test, experiment and play with all kinds of media forms and platforms in order to represent place?

Man, I’m burning up.

What places have you felt fernweh for?