Final Reflection

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Shortly after commencing the RMIT Media Studio ‘Ways of Making’ I wrote a blog post noting my initial aims for and expectations of the course. It is interesting to look back at this piece now that I have finished the university semester, because I see how it may have shaped the way I went about completing the course work.

I chose ‘Ways of Making’ essentially because, out of all the other studios, I knew it would offer me the most freedom within the realm of filmmaking. Although I had no idea what I wanted to actually make in the studio, I just wanted to be able to have the option to do anything. In retrospect, it is very lucky that I did have this freedom as there is no way I would have been able to do the project I did in any other studio. Having had Paul Ritchard as a Studio Leader before also helped, because I knew that I would be learning about film industry practice, as well as improving my technical camera and audio skills. His guidance also ensured that the studio would be ‘hands-on’ and I would be able to do research-through-practice, which I would much rather do (and would learn a lot more from) in comparison to theoretical research.

The class time for the first half of the course was spent looking at various films and concentrating on technical skills. Originally I had written that I specifically wanted to practise using a dolly, because I had never used one before. I also wanted to learn more about colour grading and studying how to use lighting setups effectively. Thanks to Paul and Robin Plunkett, at least one three-hour class was dedicated to each of these practical skills. It was great to know that everyone in the class had a say in how the studio was run and that our questions and aspirations for the course would be taken on board. All of these classes definitely helped me in the second half of the semester when I was conducting my own shoots and editing the resulting footage. In fact, I employed all of these technical lessons into my final project: I used a dolly, I essentially had to light the shoot I was working on myself and I colour graded my own edits.

Which brings me to explaining what I actually did for the second half of semester. About five or six weeks into the course I was searching for something to create or to investigate, through making film. I work at a cinema that is infested with creative staff members: actors, filmmakers, writers, production designers, musicians etc. So initially I thought I would make the most of this and ask around to see if any of the writers had scripts I could use to create a scene or short film. The first one I asked had just started planning to direct his own short film and needed a cinematographer. Without even thinking that I could somehow mould this into a project for university, I agreed to be the Director of Photography. Luckily I spontaneously brought this project up in a meeting with Paul, of which he said: ‘go for it’; so I got to make the cinematography for the short film my investigation for the course. Although I am still not 100% sure it was the best thing I could have done this semester, (particularly because the class had been warned of the disadvantages of creating an entire short film), I would not have had the time to be involved with the production had I done a different investigation for this studio, and it ended up being one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Therefore, I am still happy I shot the film, which came to be called Touch On/Touch Off.

Aside from shooting some video for my previous university and school projects, I had never considered myself as a Director of Photography and I was not confident that I could pull off shooting a whole film for someone else. So I decided that in preparation I would storyboard all of the scenes for the film and I would also do test shoots for a number of the scenes. This definitely helped when it came to the real shoot day. However, even though Max, the director, and I had shared our various ideas for shots, by sending each other storyboards and having face-to-face meetings, when it came to the real shoot day, I realised that it was him who was going to have the final say on how things would be shot. As always, the lack of time was a limitation of how ‘creative’ we could be, so we often found ourselves resorting to the traditional two shot, shot, reverse shot method. This is efficient, but as a cinematographer, rather boring to shoot. Maybe this would not have been a problem had I decided to work on a project individually; but in reality that isn’t how the film industry works. Although filmmaking may not be totally ‘collaborative’, per se, it is almost impossible to create a film completely on your own. Ultimately, the film would have been far less interesting without the amalgamation of various ideas from the cast and crew who were all amazing. I specifically enjoyed working with the production designers and I realised how much more beautiful shots can be with good props, costuming and makeup. The production designers made my job a lot easier because they positioned the props in specific ways so that there would be a balanced composition within the frame. They also made the images really ‘pop’ with the use of garish colours, that suited the feel of the film. It has been really fun to grade the footage because of this, although difficult to not go crazy and saturate the colours to make them stand out even more.

Even though I do not explicitly say this anywhere in my original posts for the semester, it is evident that what I really wanted to do was test myself: Could I make something that I was proud of? (Because I never really had before). Did I really want to be an editor? (I had come into my degree believing that all I would ever want to do was edit film and thus I spent the majority of my time devoted to editing in my first two years as a Media student and as an intern). Could I potentially be a cinematographer? Do I have the skills to do it? Could I make something full form? (Because I hadn’t ever made something longer than a scene in my degree before).

Overall, I’m not sure I would say I am proud of what I’ve created. I’m proud of how much work I put into it and I definitely like parts of the film, for instance the chaotic pan/dolly shots and the closeups that I took with my favourite 50mm lens. But I still have so much more to do before I can say my final edit is ready and that I am happy with it. I’ve only gotten through about a third of the film, because it’s taken a lot longer to edit than I thought it would (I was hoping to have the whole film edited by now). Nevertheless, I would rather do a good job than a quick job, so I will just have to keep myself motivated and keep editing throughout the holidays, because I want the film to be something I can show future employers. The creation of Touch On/Touch Off was incredibly rewarding because I learnt a lot about the making of a short film and I also had the time of my life shooting it. For this reason, I am seriously considering moving my concentration away from editing and onto cinematography in the future.

Reflection on final edits (thus far)

So far I have edited 5 scenes for Touch On/Touch Off: scenes 1, 8, 9, 11 and 13 (joining 8 and 9 together and 11 and 13 together in the clips below). On average it was taking me about 1 hour to edit together 30 seconds of footage. Aside from initially looking over all of the clips for each scene, the time-consuming part was really editing the audio rather than the visuals. (I had already edited together the visuals for my test shoots of a few of these scenes, so I already knew what would work in terms of ordering). Although Premiere Pro is incredible at automatically syncing up bad sound from the audio recording on my DSLR with the good audio, it still takes a bit of time to do. In addition, adjusting levels became a problem once I realised how different the audio sounded through my good quality headphones in comparison to speakers in a room, or the bad quality speakers in my laptop. Thus, I had to keep testing the audio levels through different kinds of speakers to find a ‘happy medium’.

In saying that, as soon as the scenes were played in the cinema environment the audio levels sounded completely different again. This was the same for the visuals. To be honest, seeing the film on the big screen was a bit of a slap in the face, because everything seemed to look far worse when it was blown up to that size. The colour grading looked wrong – it was too white, too overexposed and far too saturated; even though it had looked seemingly natural on my computer screen when I was editing. There were also a few shots that I hadn’t realised were slightly out of focus, which degraded the overall quality of the scenes – all of these shots were (of course) shot with my wide angle lens; I’ve got to stop using it. Through this process I have realised that it is just as important to do test runs with the final footage (whether it be on different screens, or different speakers) as it is do test shoots, because you just don’t know how it will look or sound in an alternative environment. It has also left me pondering how I may be able to combat this problem from the start: from when I’m actually shooting. I have mentioned this before, but it is very difficult to get focus and exposure absolutely correct when you’re looking at a screen or through a viewfinder which is only a couple of inches big. No wonder I only picked up on a few mistakes when I watched the footage on a big screen: it’s literally 1000 times bigger than the screen on my camera! In the future I will definitely consider using a monitor to shoot with… all I have to do now is figure out if there is some way I can hook the monitor up to my DSLR without losing the display on my camera screen.


I had already edited this scene before, but I thought I ought to re-edit it after the feedback I got from Paul and the rest of the class. I decided to replace the tilt up shot with a wide angle shot, because the closeup of Will’s face was too out of focus (not that the wide shot is much better in the end). I may need to play with the audio levels a bit more as well because the sound of Will putting the phone back down on the table is too loud in comparison to everything else.




For the purpose of making narrative sense with using just these two scenes I actually put scene 9 (the cafe scene) in front of scene 8; however, the order will be reversed (back to normal) for the final edit. I am happy with how the three cutaways at the beginning of the scene establish the cafe environment. The crunching sound effect for the toast eating shot is a little bit out, so I will need to fix that up later, but otherwise the initial soundscape is pretty good; I particularly like how the dialogue about Metamorphosis comes in before we see who is talking (thus creating a J cut). I think I could have continued in this fashion by moving onto the next shot before the character finishes his lines to make the scene flow slightly better.

I can’t believe the big pan/dolly shot for this scene worked. Although we did many practices before Bridget (who plays the waitress Claudia) had to actually carry the tray of full coffees, it was still a scary shot to shoot, because we had to do it in one take. There’s one part of the shot where I wish I had’ve moved the camera a bit faster to keep up with Bridget as she walked, but overall, it’s pretty good for only getting one chance to shoot it. I made the decision to cut from this long take to the mid shot of Peta slightly early (i.e. before the camera finished panning), because otherwise it showed too much of the background of the set: there was a washing line next to the ‘cafe’ and I wanted to avoid displaying any remnants of the actual house we were shooting at.

I think this scene would dramatically improve if I added some diegetic background music to emphasise the chaotic vibe of the cafe; maybe something manic and jazzy. This would further highlight the tonal differences between the crazy cafe scenes and the relaxed and dreamy scenes of George wandering around Melbourne. To an extent, the ‘slower’ editing and acting/staging style of the park scene differentiates it from the cafe scene. We purposely didn’t include any camera movement in the park scene so it would feel more calm and ‘stable’, in comparison to the cafe scene/s. Nevertheless, I think some ethereal music for the park sequence would also strengthen the tonal contrast between the two scenes.

I think the edit for this scene is fine, but I really need to fix up the sound effects. At the moment some sounds are too loud and others are missing altogether. The problem is that we only got one wild audio track for this scene and not all of the sounds I need are there, so I may have to get some royalty free foley off the internet. My only other considerations for modifying this scene is possibly taking out the high angle shot of George falling onto his back (by cutting back to the wide shot) and maybe using a different shot of the tree canopy because the current one is quite shaky.


Again, I have played with the order of these two scenes. There is meant to be another scene between them, but I liked how they fitted together, so I decided to edit them next to each other, even if it is just for the studio screening.

Depending on how this cafe/angry customer scene fits into the final edit, I may cut out the first shot of the sequence with Claudia scrubbing the concrete where she dropped the coffee. Even though it is a nice continuation from the cafe scene prior to this, I don’t like the shot because the background is very overexposed (because I was exposing for the foreground). We also don’t have enough audio to play over this shot to continue it on into the next shot of the customer complaining. (For some reason we only recorded the part of the complaint that was in the script and did not think to do some improvisation to start the angry customer off on her rant). I think it will work better if we cut straight from scene 12 to the mid-closeup of the angry customer mid-protest.

Scene 13 was simple to cut together visually, but the atmos, foley and soundtrack creates a complex soundscape. I think I could improve the transition into this scene for the final edit by getting rid of the fade from black and bringing the background noise in a bit earlier. I think the song works well to create a ‘Melbourne wine bar’ ambience and helps to establish a relaxed vibe, which reflects George’s state of mind at this point in the narrative. I may need to alter the EQ of the mosquito foley to make it sound more like it’s actually coming from within the wine bar environment and maybe also figure out a way of making it look like the mosquito was actually squished onto Will/George’s arm, but I’m not sure if people notice this or not.

All in all, I don’t mind the edits, but I think I still have a long way to go until I can safely say they are ready for a proper screening as part of the film.

Reflection on day 3 shoot

Shoot day 3 consisted of filming both of the scenes at the train station and the short scene at the coffee shop. Even though we only had three scenes to shoot, two of them were the longest of the film, so it still took a whole day to get through them. I had test shot part of scene two at the train station and scene four at the coffee shop before so these were slightly easier to shoot in terms of framing and camera positioning.

My main problem for the day was exposure when shooting scene two. Again, we were shooting under a verandah area at the station, which was cast in shadow. Thus, exposing the shot became difficult because the actors were standing in the shadowed area, but we had to do a few wide shots where the sunny platform was in frame. We made the conscious decision to expose the actors correctly in the shade and let the sunny areas outside the shelter ‘blow out’ a bit. This was a shame, but it was either that or underexpose the actors, which looked odd because they were the focus of the scene. Letting the background blow out has never been a preference of mine and I don’t think I’ve ever had it happen, never mind, made it happen. However, I don’t necessarily think it matters so much in this scene, and it doesn’t look too bad losing detail in the background, when the main focus is the character anyway. Overall I’m glad I chose to overexpose the background, rather than change the whole location of the scene, because I think the staging works well. The location was perfect for the script because there was a myki machine right next to a bench, where the characters could sit, and you could also see out of the shelter to the walkway. Ultimately we will be able to adjust the exposure (to an extent) when we colour grade the film as well, so it shouldn’t look as bleak by the time we’ve finished with it.

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I am particularly excited to edit scene four, because the performances were inspired: well timed and genuine (I believed them even just watching them through the camera). It was great to work with semi-professional actors (like Will who plays the main character) and professional actors (like Eddie who plays ‘The Ex’ and ‘The Handsome Stranger’), because they know a lot about film, they treated the production process with the respect, they were used to waiting around for crew to set up and most of all, they look natural and sound great on-screen, rarely needing more than one take to nail a line.

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Reflection on Day 2 Shoot

Last weekend I had shoot day two and three, out of three, for Touch On/Touch Off. Not that I have attempted editing any of it yet, it seems to have turned out well. We were (again) very lucky with the weather: no rain and clear blue skies, which means that the scenes we shot on these days should look consistent with those that were shot on day one. Although we had less scenes to get through per day for these shoots in comparison to day one, it was just as exhausting, because we were shooting on location and were thus moving around a lot more.

On the Saturday we shot five scenes, which were all set in different areas of Melbourne, mostly around Carlton and Rathdowne street and around Princes Park. These scenes were, in general, much easier to shoot than the cafe scenes on day one, because we had a smaller cast and crew. In fact, all of the scenes we shot on day 2 either featured just Will (who plays the main character), or just Will and one other person. Thus, I expect that editing these scenes should be a smoother process than editing the cafe scenes, in terms of continuity.

Throughout the process of shooting this film, and doing the test shoots for it, I have discovered how much better my 50mm lens is in comparison to my wide angle Tamron lens. Even though the 50mm Canon has a much shallower depth of field (it has a 1.4 aperture), thus making it more difficult to keep subjects in focus, it creates a much crisper image than the wide angle. I (unfortunately) used the Tamron lens for most of the shots for this film, because I often needed to squish into small places with my camera and because we needed quite wide shots to show off different planes within the frame. Shooting with the 50mm does take a bit more time to set up because of the shallow depth of field (therefore mark points for actors, as well as focus points, must be spot on), but it is definitely worth the effort because of the image quality. I am disappointed with a few of the shots that I got with the Tamron and I feel like this has let the film down a bit. Thus, in the future I would preference using the 50mm wherever it is possible to do so and I am considering buying a better wide angle lens, maybe a prime, to get the image quality to match the 50mm, F 1.4 standard. Nevertheless, the majority of the shots are usable, so the film should still come together nicely.

The first couple of scenes for the day went well, but I did find it much easier to shoot the scenes I had test shot already, for example scene 8. Although storyboarding a scene does help to prepare me to an extent, I have found that the process of test shooting is much more beneficial. When physically practising to shoot and subsequently edit a scene, you get a better idea of how shots will ‘fit’ together, how characters (and the camera) will need to move through the space and you also get the chance to trouble shoot any problems that could potentially arise on the real shoot day. For instance, I was able to think of better ways to shoot the shot of the phone in scene 8, because I had already had to deal with the reflection/glare problem during the test.

We had some problems with framing while shooting the ‘Doughnut girl’ scene, because we hadn’t been to the location before and so it took some time to get an idea of where we would place the characters and where we would shoot from. This was particularly difficult because we didn’t have a lot of room to move with the road being on both sides of the footpath/street corner we shooting on. Luckily there was a free car park in the middle of the road so I could shoot the long shots from there. The sun also became a problem because it was reflecting off the ‘free doughnut’ sign, thus making it appear over-exposed on screen (even though everything else was correctly exposed within the frame). Looking back at the footage, I think we will be able to ‘cut’ around this problem so-to-speak, if we only include the parts of shots where the doughnut girl is facing away from the sun.

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The first two park scenes went pretty smoothly because I had test shot one of them and they only featured Will. However, I did come across an issue with my tripod (that occurs with all tripods I have used) while panning. When the tripod is on a flat floor (for instance inside a building) and the camera is level, then a panning shot will generally turn out perfectly i.e. the whole shot will appear straight/level. However, when you’re on slightly slanted ground and you pan, the shot will turn out slightly ‘wonky’ by the end frame, even if you have the start frame completely level. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out a full-proof solution for this, at least with my tripod, aside from getting the base of the tripod level to the ground (rather than just getting the camera level); but even that can be unpredictable and very hard to perfect so that you get a level frame throughout the whole pan. As a result of this problem in scene 10, I decided to do a couple of alternate takes. Instead of panning to follow Will/George walking to the park I just shot two static shots – one of him on the phone and then one of him walking off into the park. This gives us options when editing, just in case the panning shot turns out noticeably wonky (which I think it will, because our eyes are so used to the natural horizon line).

Our last scene to shoot on day 2 was the slowest and the most problematic, yet the most fun (and funny). I thought we had solved the audio problem of shooting close to the fountains (mentioned in my blog post ‘Week 9 Reflection’) so I spent a while planning out the shot with Max, the director, around the pond. Once we started shooting there, Felix, the sound guy, decided that shooting by the fountains was not going to be possible (because it was so loud in comparison to the actors’ voices). This was a shame because we had to sacrifice the narrative for the audio quality, which I’m still not sure was the best decision, but it wasn’t up to me in the end, and we made it work anyway. The reason that we wanted it at the pond was because the character: ‘The Ex’, was giving his dead fish a funeral and letting it free in the pond and that’s when he would coincidentally run into George, who is hanging out at the park. We had to substitute the pond setting for a park setting (with the fountains in the background), thus losing a bit of narrative sense.

Shooting the flashback shot for this scene was one of the funniest things I’ve ever had to do and was a great end to the day. The Ex and George (played by Eddie and Will), had to lie directly under the camera on a picnic rug as I shot them from quite closeup and from directly above. I had my legs and the tripod legs awkwardly standing between their limbs as Eddie licked Will’s face. This, as you can imagine, took quite a few takes as we all kept laughing, particularly Will and Eddie who had only met once before, but performed amazingly well nevertheless.

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