Scene in Cinema Final Post: Summary and Reflection

The “Scene in Cinema” studio has been surprising, engaging and inspiring. I had very little idea about what I could expect from the class, my only hint being a short paragraph, describing it as an in depth look into the construction of a scene. I had assumed that we would be looking at scenes from a theoretical stand-point, without any practical work. How wrong I was, first class had us group up and set out to shoot a single take scene given to us from a small vague prompt. This first class really foreshadowed what the rest of the semester would be like, even though the outline for the studio was exploratory and prone to change. For the early part of the semester, we would tackle these exercises with varying constraints and aims, before, in the latter half, given the initiative to set out on our own (dramatically speaking) to incorporate our knowledge and experience to produce scenes of our own.

This method of learning was, and still is, very exciting to me. As I am in my third year of university, I am anxious about what comes after. My dream job is to direct feature films, and this studio struck me as a crash course in the fundamentals of quality shot construction. Furthermore, the entire studio experience felt very collaborative. More than simply working together on exercises, each of us were given the opportunity to contribute our individual ideas or anxieties to the class, through class discussion, an in-class presentation, as well as having access to one another’s blogs. These ideas didn’t need to be consistent with one another to be inspiring. For instance, Mia came up with a fantastic idea of experimenting with directorial methods of established directors such as Nicholas Winding Refn and Alfred Hitchcock. Rein’s style was particularly interesting to me, as I love his heavily stylised films, in how he shoots chronologically with very little storyboarding. While I like the security and clarity a storyboard affords, I also like to work in a spontaneous way. In contrast, Jason had the idea of exploring realism in cinema by working off a prompt, with little to no script or storyboards. This, as a creative and experimental method, was inspiring. Completely abandoning structured production in favour of obtaining an organic and immediate performance reinforced, for me, the idea that there is no one way to create film.

Through analysing scenes by filmmakers I admire, and working on specific elements of filmmaking, I developed a clearer understanding and vision as to how I work, how I would like to improve, and what kind of style(s) I would like to portray in my work. Moreover, through class discussion, I obtained a broader view of aesthetic styles and practices that would not have come to my attention otherwise. I have started a list, which grows faster than I can keep up, of films and directors I would like to watch or have been recommended to me by others. I often reflect that I do not expose myself to enough material outside of my immediate interest, so this is a good exercise for me to keep up throughout the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, unless I am working on something personal which I intend to make available for others to see (and judge), I tend to lack the motivation which was required of us this semester. I found maintaining a steady work ethic hard, procrastinating and also simply forgetting to keep up with my written reflection and analysis. This is a major shortcoming on my behalf and is not to say that I did not value the exercise. Reflection in one form or another is necessary in any profession, and having the blog as a visual historical reference of my thinking process has been as beneficial as the act of writing itself. Furthermore, the practical work of doing independent exercises has brought to light what I am good at and what I still lack. I feel as though I am am efficient director, who generally has a clear vision which I can generally obtain to some degree. I have acting experience and this helps me articulate my vision to the actors. Yet as I said, I can be lazy and complacent, and need to become better at networking and working with others if I want to be successful and produce quality work.

In the final part of the semester, we were asked to refine the ideas and aims we projected in a proposals. I had spoken on film coverage in production and post, and the relationship between the two. This was to general however, and to me just sounded like “how do you shoot and edit?” After a time, and a few independent exercises, I refined my aim to investigate the question: “How does coverage captured during filming influence coverage through editing? How do these different stages influence and dictate style?” I do not think that I have obtained the answer to this question, rather, I think that this is going to be a question I should reflect on for as long as I am making videos. In saying that, however, I have garnered some small semblance of understanding coverage and the post production process in terms of its practicality and influence on style. For instance, in one exercise I did everything in chronological order, and the shots I framed did not compliment a method in which I cover the scene from every angle. In contrast, in my second independent exercise, I shot an excessive amount of footage, covering the action and dialogue from a variety of different angles with different camera movement. In the end I axed the majority of footage in favour for simpler coverage, however the exercise emphasised the idea that more coverage obtained by the camera allows for a more creative post-production process.

Post “Scene in Cinema”, and post university, I intend to continue making video’s, as my ultimate goal is directing. I have given myself a vague outline of progression that this course, as well as other units such as TV 1 and 2, has helped me formulate. Immediately after graduating (or even before, I still need to work some things out,) I intend to make a short film (4-7 mins) and submit it to a variety of film festivals. Should I fail to be accepted, I will continue to make shorts with this time constraint until I get one accepted and screened. Once this happens, I intend to progressively increase the length of these films incrementally, only increasing should one get accepted. Following this trend, I will accumulate a solid show reel, excellent experience, a more confident and consistent style and hopefully identify and harness a group of people who I work well with.

My Method #(I’m not sure anymore; too many joint posts)

Something which I have become increasingly aware of is that I tend to work very quickly. I don’t like to dwell on the same shots for too long; for the sake of the actors, crew, as well as the point that I feel that often the best performances happen within the first few takes. This is a true observation, given that in all of the work I have done that has had some sort of deadline, I have generally finished exactly on time or earlier. I’m still not sure if this is a positive thing or not. Should I be more of a perfectionist with my work? Am I missing something, letting mistakes through unnoticed which will affect me further down the road? The important thing is that it seems to work for me, and those working with me can hardly complain about it.

My Method/Reflection

I have not been as diligent and pro-active as a should have been this semester. Ideally, I would have liked to have at least 3 practical exercises completed by this time, at least one of which was of a reasonably high quality. Instead, I have put off work, in part as a result of laziness, but also due to the convenience of those I have asked to help (generally friends, which I have discovered can not be counted on with work such as this). Though it is probably too late to have another exercise done by the time these posts are assessed, I still intend to wrangle some friends together this weekend to complete one final exercise (though I might tackle this in 2 different ways, or different locations). This is primarily because I do not want to embarass myself at the screening with just having one, somewhat, half-baked exercise to show.

In my screener, given that I will have less to work with than I would have liked, I will experiment with what I do have in premiere to create a different sense of “style”. I believe this will make for an interesting exercise as well as be more interesting for an audience to watch. I will play with things like colour, contrast, pacing and sound to create differing tones from the same footage.

My Method/Reflection: Scorsese

A long time ago I stumbled across this series, Dinner For 5, hosted by Jon Favreau, which sits 4 people from the hollywood community at dinner where they discuss filmmaking and the business in general. I recently re-dicovered the series and have found it very enlightening in the sense that these people are giving first hand accounts of their experiences. One episode I found particularly interesting is a special featuring Martin Scorsese, not at dinner but in front of an audience.

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I drew from this interview:

Fevreau highlights a number of elements in Scorsese’s style, in particular, his  subjective camera style. Given that Scorsese’s films are so character driven, he generally shoots from there point of view, not always literally, but with an intimacy with the character that grounds his films in reality. This is different to what Scorsese refers as “classical style”, which is much more objective as opposed to subjective.

Another signature of Scorsese’s style is what Favreau refers to as “needle drops.” This means not using a score, but instead, sourced songs to instantly create a mood. Given that sourced songs are generally already known by the audience, they have a pre-association which grounds the film in reality, and are often used in juxtaposition with what is happening onscreen, for comedic purposes or otherwise. The right song creates immediacy and allows the audience to relate to the characters. Often score is overused, it is detrimental when the music undermines tension. Scorsese says that it is almost condescending for a filmmaker to insert music to relieve tension for the sake of the audience. Instead, Scorsese argues that if there is tension then it should remain tense, as that is the reality which should be portrayed. It is more honest. This attitude is reflected in the works of many other film makers I look up to, such as Tarantino.

Fevreau asks Scorsese to discuss the differences between story and plot, in reference to Scorsese claiming that he prefers story of plot. While Scorsese doesn’t make a specific point of the difference, he raises an interesting point. He argues that it is not plot, but character which is most interesting, and characters within the world they inhabit. He says that the movies which have deep character as apposed to a intricate plot are much more re-watchable, if you know the story, you are no longer interested.

A small but interesting point is that Scorsese often skips frames to make action look slightly unreal. He claims that it makes whatever is happen onscreen look hyper-real. This is a stylistic choice, and quite a bold one at that, for someone who champions realistic portrayals. its the energy, he argues, not the reality which he is trying to portray, which plays into his subjective style of filmmaking.

Scorsese is probably the most prolific auteur of our time, so any discussion he is involved in deserves our attention as student’s of film.

My Method/Reflection: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

I recently watched the Iranian-vampire-western film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the feature debut of director Ana Lily Amirpour , and was blown away and inspired. The film is a powerful yet simple story of a female vampire who lives in the fictional town of Bad City who meets and consequently falls in love with a boy. It is heavily stylised, in black and white, with an amazing soundtrack which drives the film. Indeed, Amirpour has directed a number of music videos which definitely comes across throughout the film. I found this interview from vice, who helped fun the film, fascinating and inspiring, so I made a few notes of inspiration and advice to take away:

Amirpour came up with the character when she tried on the costume which the vampire wears in the film. It was a traditional Iranian garb which an extra wore in a short film she made a few years prior. Amirpour speaks about how the costume made her feel like a badass, and that she immediately felt compelled to skateboard (which is incorporated into the film). This illustrates the unlikely places which inspiration can come from. It came from a feeling, which was then given a character, context, and finally a story.

Amirpour and Sheila Vand, the lead actress who plays the vampire, discuss how they new each other for 5 years before making this film. Later in the interview Amirpour says as an aside that she knew all the actors, though this is probably an exaggeration. The fact stands that Vand’s performance is confident and powerful, and this is perhaps a reflection of her commitment to Amirpour and consequently her commitment to the story and character. This made me reflect on how important it is to form strong relationships with actors. Many film-makers use the same actors over and over again, most likely because they know each others method and can communicate easily. This highlighted the importance of engaging with actors and remaining in contact with ones that I find particularly good and hard working which would consequently make the casting process much easier and the production process more inspiring and enjoyable.

The research and development process for this film was deep and precise. An example is that Amirpour had created a timeline, complete with significant events for the character of the vampire. According to Vand, she had stack upon stacks of DVD’s from which she gathered inspiration. It is also mentioned that Amirpour knew exactly what song would go with what scene prior to production (and possibly prior to the final draft). This reaffirmed the idea that research and development is crucial to the creating a script or film of quality and substance.

Very briefly, Amirpour states that she has 12 scripts that she has written, and was considering making a film the normal “shitty” way, that is by giving a script to a studio which would then make arrangements for casting etc. etc. Instead she asked herself, “What is cool? what do I love?” and wrote A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, cast her friends and bypassed the “shitty” method by avoiding studios and working with a smaller budget. This illustrated that the means by which one can make a film are not set, and that there are other ways by which one can achieve their vision, potentially more effectively and generally better than the normal “shitty” way.

It is mentioned that a short was made first. This is exciting to me as my focus now is on making short films. Obviously I do not have the reputation or the money, let alone the experience, to make a feature film, so I find it gratifying to know that this film existed as a short first. I can use more short films as blueprints of inspiration for my future endeavours.

The crux of the film, is about what each character is going through and why. Characters have to be real people, each of them have a story. This is excellent advise for a writer AND director. Too often films introduce characters who serve no other purpose than to allow for exposition or to motivate an action, however we know very little about who the character is and way. All the characters in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night have a purpose and motivation.

The interviewer later asks if Vand was finishing a sentence that Amirpour had started. And responds in the affirmative, in a way. Saying that it is the role of the actor to become the character, to give part of yourself to the character, a thing which the director cannot do FOR the actor.

Finally, A very basic, and corny, idea which comes out is that they argue that the best stories are always about love. It’s easy to shun this statement but it carries a lot of weight. What motivates us? generally its others more than events or circumstances. As a writer, this is important to keep in mind when developing plot and character. For a film maker it is important when constructing a shot, and directing your actors. To have an ultimately complicated story to be rooted on a singular abstract concept, it helps root the film and keeps it on track.

Independent Exercise #1 Reflection

The intention behind this exercise was to capture a scene developed from a script out of context. Originally, I had storyboarded these scene for a different room in the house I was using for the shoot, however, recent re-decorating prevented me from capturing exactly what I had storyboarded. My main focus in storyboarding was to avoid having the interaction of the two characters being simply a shot-reverse-shot sequence, which is generally unimaginative and would not be engaging to watch as a short scene. I decided to experiment with characters entering the scene from outside of the frame. I also decided that tracking shots which would be a good way to add dynamic movement and pacing, as well as build suspense.



My first challenge was adapting the storyboard to the space. The bungalow in which I shot this was an interesting space in the sense that there was a bookshelf built into the desk, as well as curtain, plants and other knick-knacks with which I could occupy the frame. It is, however, significantly smaller than the original space I had in mind which was an obstacle which had to be overcome. A key shot I wanted was to have one character in the frame already, looking about, then have the other character enter, creating a dynamic two shot. I ended up flipping the first frame of the storyboard, having the character enter from left of screen as opposed to the right because there was no space right of screen. The actor (Nadine) entered from offscreen where she was waiting in the doorway, I had her standing just off-screen rather than walking through the door because had she walked through the door it would have indicated she was coming from an outside space as opposed to being present in the room.

With the tracking shot, my intention was to have the character lift the book from the shelf and turn to lean against the bookshelf as she read. There was a couch just behind the actress and so she could not turn around in a way that would appear natural, so the final shot I got was an obscured shot of her face. This was not a huge compromise, although it is unfortunate that there isn’t a decent shot of the characters face in the short scene. Another issue which became more of a problem in post, was how to make the handing of the book appear natural and seamless. I opted to do a J cut as Roger passed the book to Esteban (the actors mixed up the names without me realising until after). The cut masked what would otherwise be an awkward cut of Roger standing, standing, finishing her line then passing the book to Esteban which would have appeared stilted and awkward. I opted for a two shot at the end of a scene, rather than a mid shot of Roger as she delivers her last line to book-end the scene and reaffirm the sense of space.

This exercise was useful in that it forced me to think on my feet on how the scene would look in sequence. The cramped space was challenging in how I could make the eye lines look natural. I also had a bit of fun with lighting. I had 3 lamps to work with. It made the space seem smaller and more intimate. For the mid shot of Esteban (Nadine) I turned one of them off and angled another away so as to not saturate her face. This was a useful experiment, as the light looks similar (if not the same) in the mid shot, but would have looked a lot worse had I not experimented with the lighting.

Unlecture 6 – Books vs. E-Books

Probably the most interesting question discussed in this weeks unlecture was “do you think the digitalisation of literary texts and the use of the E-reader will eventually replace the physical book completely? will the physical book become redundant”. I found this part of the lecture particularly interesting because I am rather sceptical about the future of digital publishing. While mediums like the e-reader largely simulate the physical manifestation of a published work, things like hypertext narrative make me wonder if this kind of story telling is in fact our future. It would be naive of me to say that hypertext or “choose your own narrative” kind of storytelling will never work, as i’m sure that they will become refined and embraced in the not so distant future. I am sceptical because from what I have encountered so far, alternatives to traditional fixed narratives are generally cluttered and confusing. The exception to the rule that I encounter more often than not is choice based video games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but this point is irrelevant when discussing the future of books.

It is my opinion, like a some of the lecturers, that while e-books may become more predominant than tangible books, the physical book maintains a nostalgic and almost romantic aesthetic, much like vinyl records in contrast to CD’s. The book in itself has a lot of cultural baggage attached. For example, we build large exquisite libraries to house these artefacts, and the book since its conception has commonly been seen as a symbol of knowledge and learning. This glorification of the book will not disappear, it may fade but it will never be lost, at least not for the next century.

I agree with adrian, however, when he said that while the physical book will retain its popularity for a very long time, it has outlived its practicality; for example, in regard to text books, data logs and so forth. Digital publishing has revolutionised the way we can store and share knowledge. Traditional literature will always preference the physical book however, because, as the name suggests, the format itself is traditional.

I hope, while digitised publications serve a convenient and practical purpose, that the publishers continue to distribute physical copies of their publications. If only so that I can look at and touch them. There is something deeply satisfying about a full bookshelf…

pictured: my bookshelf

Reading: Week 1

Adrians metaphor of the “Ocean of Ideas” beautifully illustrates the scope and scale of the immense freedom we are afforded in this subject. It seems to emphasise a kind of “it’s the journey, not the destination” ideal which I feel is the best way to view this subject, as well as the entirety of my tertiary experience.

While the immensity of this ocean is daunting and the fact that “There is no shore. Not at least to be seen…” expresses that there is no clearly defined outcome. The message seems that to get through, one must simply paddle in order to explore and discover our own outcome.

“unlecture” week 1

I had a fair idea that this subject would be relatively unconventional in it’s approach. The lecture conducted by Adrian confirmed my suspicions. The general theme of the lecture was an emphasis of self directed learning. Adrian made his point by highlighting the significant progress technology has made and the affordances we as students gain through the integration of the readily available technologies.

Adrian made the claim that when he was studying at university, what drove people to undertaking tertiary education was scarcity of facilities and tools one would require in a specific field. For example, Adrian stated that when he was studying cinema, the video camera was a bulky and expensive piece of equipment while the editing suit was essentially a large desk used to cut and splice reel to reel tape. In contrast, today our smart phones provide better video and editing software than what was previously available, and as such, we are no longer driven by scarcity.

This made me ponder why I decided to undertake tertiary study. I suppose the main reason would be to obtain a piece of paper that states a have a qualification in my field of study. Beyond this though, what drives me is a desire to refine and expand my ideas, skills and confidence through the funnel which is a structured degree.

This is why I am simultaneously scared and excited about Network Media. The lack of direction is relatively daunting and I can see myself floundering about trying to update this blog with interesting and relevant content. However, being forced to supply content of my own choosing forces me to take risks on my own initiative.

The concept behind the course seems to be a very organic method of teaching and learning and I look forward to seeing what I have produced an how I have improved by the end of the unit.