Industrial Media Goals and Desires redux

From Industrial Media, I expected to learn skills which are applicable across different medium – knowing how to operate a camera, knowing how to operate lighting, and sound, and in general, being more or less knowledgeable about how to produce an entire film – but I didn’t really think about how I could apply my skills across different subsets in the industry. While the skills are immediately usable in film and/or television, I realized that the knowledge I gained from learning how to edit means I can edit and create short videos that can be for clients in marketing, advertising, sometimes even just for presentation where the video is a backdrop to the main event. From the lessons on camera use, I can now assess an environment with a critical eye, and know if the lighting conditions are optimal for the work – again, this is transferable skills across different aspects of the media industry. Most interestingly, having had hands on experience, I now watch television and film with a new eye, and am able to discern bad lighting, bad sound, and bad edits – even from a professional production.

The most important thing, from that, is now I’ve learned that I’m fully capable of, given enough experience and doing it more and more, producing works that people can watch and experience as they would any other work. At first, coming into the subject, I felt that my biggest strength was only in pre-production, but from this course, I’ve learned my strengths in post-production, and my interest for it too. Conversely, I’ve also experienced my lack of enthusiasm and skills in dealing with the production stage itself, choosing jobs that tend to focus on one technical field, rather than having to worry about everything at once.

Alex.

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Color Grading Exercise

The following show some of my experimentation with color grading, both in terms of trying to change the lighting/mood of the clip, as well as to play with stylized images:

Before 1

Before 1

My first clip was under outdoor lighting, mostly warm sunlight.

After 1-1

After 1-1

After 2

After 1-2

After 1-3

After 1-3

After 1-1 saw my first attempt at doing some minimal, subtle color grading. I tried some purple hues in the shadows and midtones, and left the highlights mostly orange/yellow (skintone).

After 1-2: I wanted to try averting the daylight by artificially trying to use color grading to emulate night time – or at least overcast skies. To do this, I tried to cool down the colors as much as possible with blue to light blue everything but I don’t think I put other factors into mind.

After 1-3: I thought more about what overcast lighting had, and for this try I also played with darkening the midtones through Luma and input/output, as well as desaturating the highlights. I also tried more subtle color grading, and the result is slightly more realistic.

Before 2

Before 2

Clip 2 is also outdoors lighting, however the lighting is focused on back-lighting, with the shadows on the face.

After 2-1

After 2-1

After 2-2

After 2-2

After 2-1: I wanted to emulate the vintage filters commonly seen on Instagram, so I used red shadows, orange midtones and blowing up the highlights to a really light yellow, to overexpose the clip. This created a burned, summer tone, and also the orange midtones meant the shadows on the faces were able to be brought up to more natural skin tones. The skies weren’t as evenly graded, and the edges near the leaves are still very blue. I think this could have been fixed if I’d been able to do a secondary color grading, where I picked out everything blue and pushed it to a yellowish-white, however that may have changed the color on the singlet.

After 2-2: In a similar attempt with the first clip, I tried to change the entire tone of the clip – whereas it was sunny and warm, I wanted to create a cooler, wintery feel. To do this, I first made the shadows bluer, but also selected less tones to be considered the shadow. I also pushed down the midtones, giving more tones to be considered highlights, then gave it more blue, meaning the sky even bluer and colder. Finally I desaturated the very small scope of midtones that I had, but I think that probably wasn’t as successful as with the first clip.

Before 3

Before 3

Clip 3 is indoors lighting, with a very bright background.

After 3-1

After 3-1

After3.2

After 3-2

After 3-1: I wanted to make the clip look as if it is filmed in outdoors lighting, so I used yellow/orange midtones, and also brought up the brightness of the clip a little. I didn’t do much apart from that, but I think perhaps some tweaking of Luma to make the highlights brighter would have been effectively.

After 3-2: Feeling like making something ultra stylish, I purposefully used contrasting highlights vs midtones (opposite ends on the hue wheel), and also a purple shadow, much like the retro-pop art styles.

Before 4

Before 4

Clip 4 is overcast outdoors lighting, but my focus was the solid red in the foreground and the small reds throughout the mid-ground and background.

After 4-2

After 4-2

After 4-2

After 4-2

After 4-1: Using the secondary color grading tool, I opted to select only the red (using show mask), then inverted the selection. With everything but the reds selected, I desaturated everything. I think it worked very well, and if I had taken more time to more carefully select more red, I wouldn’t have the jagged lines of color.

After 4-2: This time, without inverting the selection, I rotated the color wheel so that all reds became purple. This actually brought out a lot of the inconsistent color selections that I didn’t notice before – when things look purple, especially in the skin, it becomes more apparent to the eye.

From the color grading exercise, I learned a few basic skills to change the tone and mood of a clip, as well some more artful techniques such as selective color grading. However, I feel that successful color grading – at least, color grading that either realistically emulates the chosen tone or achieves accurate matching to a previous shot – occurs only if the editor has a good grasp of not only how light and color works, but also how to best manipulate it. For example, making things bluer doesn’t necessarily make it colder, but desaturation of highlights do.

Note: The girl and boy featured are my friends, who have given me permission to publish their image. The footage used are from a series of videos that I took for a separate subject.

Alex.

Shooting and Editing Abstract Video

Click here for the link to the video.

The shoot

The shoot was difficult for me to achieve, because I wasn’t quite sure of what was expected, nor did I have the time to properly experiment. My biggest issue was trying to achieve good white balance. In this sense, I experienced great technical difficulty in my attempt to capture a well color balanced image. However, because of previous chances to use the Z5, I had little problem setting up the camera in other aspects.

I also had problems capturing abstract footage. It was further impeded by the fact that I had to leave early in order to do filming for another subject, and also due to the aforementioned white balance issue. I only had about 10 minutes in the end to choose and shoot some footage, most of which was around the vicinity of the classroom. However, looking at some of the footage from other classmates, I could see how I also boxed myself into thinking only about camera angles closer to my eye level, and mostly wide shots which would include lots of different movement within the frame; some of the other groups used close-up shots, or extremely low angle shots, which only captures one small movement, and not try to have a dozen things happening at once.

The edit

Editing abstractly is a new process for me which included more lateral thinking. It was helpful to have a framework of haiku to work with, however I found it easier to create an abstract meaning between the images and other images and sound. For example when the climber is seen climbing, I overlaid text about Climb Mount Fuji, and images of the traffic being stuck at the lights are juxtaposed with free flowing water through a grate. In this way, I allowed the relationship between the images, that is, the closure created by the viewer, to tell the narrative instead of forcing a story onto them. This way of storytelling also allowed me to use the individual parts to tell their own stories with the clips and audio around them, rather than the entire part telling just one story.

Video pw: industrialmedia

(Please note: At time of publishing this post, I was having an issue with Vimeo where it shows I was still uploading the video despite having begun uploading it 2 days prior. I am aiming to try re-uploading the video when I am on campus again on Wednesday. I’m not quite sure why this was happening as when I was uploading from uni, it said upload complete, and therefore I’d left it as done and dusted. I apologize, and I hope you don’t consider it a late submission.)

The Director and the Actor/Notes to the Cinematographer

While previously I’ve focused on technical aspects of pre- and production, this time I will examine the importance of actors during production. Also, I will engage with the creative and technical differences between focusing on sound and sight.

In my reading of Mackendrick’s ‘The Director and the Actor’ (2004), a few points stood out to me as interesting. The idea that actors should have a general technical idea of how production works, and the usage of props to enact a more natural performance from the actors.

The idea that an actor should be able to have “the unselfconscious and automatic ability to adjust to the position of the camera, a sense of its place…and an understanding of continuity” (180) is a concept which I have only read in print for the first time, but something I’d always thought should be the case. Similar to a stage performer’s need to understand voice projection or blocking, a screen actor’s repertoire of skills should include the aforementioned awareness of camera angles. While obviously there are dedicated roles for these factors in filming – the camera operator, the continuity person etc – it would make the process a lot easier if the actor acts like, as Mackendrick suggested, an athlete in their automatic physical response when acting. Similarly, because of the ability to cut closer or intercut between visual aids in screen, actors need to be aware of constant scrutiny across every facet of their visual presentation as possible; they have to not only be “imagining” their characters (179-180) but they also have to perform and act out every part of that character in relation to the camera, and more importantly, the possibilities that the editor may create from their acting. As Mackendrick noted, subtext and nuances created in post-production editing does rely on the actor understanding that a meaningful glance needs to be conveyed through a series of cuts, not necessarily a moment of silence as the action is performed (181), and so the actor would have to, in this example, understand not only camera angles, but also how their action could be utilized to the maximum when cut between different angles. In this sense, Mackendrick’s assertion that an actor cannot not be informed in facets of technical production is incredibly insightful.

However, if an actor is not skilled, or as Mackendrick puts it, too “self-conscious” (or, inversely, too over confident) (186), there are ways in which the director, in working with said actors, can create a natural frame in which the actor can be in relation to the camera. With props, the director can essentially direct the actor towards a certain mark, and have them stay there for the duration of that mark while using or interacting with the prop. This, Mackendrick describes, has no inherent significance to the narrative, yet can occupy the actor’s focus and/or overall body-language in a more natural way (186). For example, when fiddling with a bottle top, or doing something like dressing themselves, the actor can much better pace and organize the way in which they shift focus from and to their co-star, and the prop/action at hand. It can also negate any over-the-top or unnaturally dedicated focus the actors may have with each other while on screen, thereby avoiding a “pretentious” cinema moment (187). This I feel to be a point that I would take on when I watch TV or film from now on. Especially in important dramatic moments, or even in innane dialogue, I will be watching for the existence of props that have no narrative meaning – ie, drinking coffee in the morning may have some narrative meaning in the sense that the character is tired, but picking at their toast would probably have no narrative meaning – but instead help create a paced and natural way that the actors speak to each other. This is also something which I wish I had read sooner, because in my short film for another subject, which featured dialogue heavy chunks, I didn’t direct the actors to focus more on their prop (or, for that matter, provide much prop) which would, in the next few weeks, provide a challenge when editing.

In Bresson’s 1986 ‘Notes on the Cinematographer’, a clear distinction is drawn between the virtues of sound, and that of vision. “What is for the eye must not duplicate what is for the ear” (50), especially, draws attention to the separate but equally important roles each plays in a screenplay. This was something which was mirrored in screenwriting lectures, where I was told to not say what can be acted. This in turn translates to sound and sight, respectively, where we do not hear what can be seen (dialogue vs action), yet we don’t have to see what can be conveyed much clearer with sound (a series of actions where we can just hear the sound for it). Having not had much experience when dealing with sound, thinking about both visual and sound as separate parts of a greater whole is something I missed out on doing productions this semester.

Bresson also makes a point that “the ear goes more towards the within, the eye towards the outer” (51), which extends upon the idea that sight and sound speak to different parts of the mind. Using this logic, that means if the scene calls for a lot of emotion, whether to reflect the character on screen or to evoke one into the audience, the is more effective to focus on a richer sound track than to, for example, show a lot of emotion-evoking imagery. However, the two should be working in sync as well – to explain that a character is energetic and cheerful, it’s better to show both the character being upbeat, using dynamic shots and cuts, and also an upbeat soundtrack with a fast tempo or a series of sounds that are quick (ie not long, slow sounds).

These ideas, while new, are ones which in some ways I’ve already implemented in my work. However, in future works I plan to pay even closer attention to these factors.

Riding the Clown Train

Clown Train (Jaime Donnelly, 2009) uses a mix of discordant and minimalistic sound, as well as hard and manipulated lighting to create a tense, eerie and terrifying atmosphere.

The sound used in Clown Train is mostly non-diegetic, atmospheric sounds, such as a high-pitched whine – much like the squeal of brakes – and a strange, rhythmic drumming – like tapping on a window. It also featured very minimalistic dialogue from the two characters. There is no background train sounds, such as wheels running over tracks or the sound of engines, alluding to the fact that the train is stationary. There is an echo to the voices that doesn’t exist in the buzzing of flickering lights and the rhythmic tapping, which would suggest that the latter two are intentionally added in post-production.

This sort of minimalistic and highly discomforting mix of sounds is most prevalent in horror-thrillers, because the lack of background sounds, or soft background sounds, lead the audience to pay closer attention, and feel more vulnerable. However, whilst in traditional thriller films, the stretch of quiet sounds is usually punctuated by a sudden loud bang, in Clown Train, aurally there wasn’t a sudden crescendo, save for when the clown shouts ‘BASHES his head in’. Yet this line wasn’t the climax of the actual scene.

Visually speaking, the color palette was extremely stark and de-saturated, meaning the introduction of the overly colourful clown was even more pronounced. The director and cinematographer must have made a conscious decision to ensure that everything but the clown is in a neutral and lowkey color – both costume, set and lighting – so that the clown is extremely standout. There is also an interesting usage of lighting to further the story and help with transitions – a sudden flicker of the light sees the clown move across space, and also moves time forward during the plot. Therefore, the light acts as both a plot device, a transition device, and an atmospheric device.

Finally, in terms of narrative, while the visuals and audio compels the audience to continue watching, the final meaning of the plot is somewhat lost, at least to me. However, an excellent mix of the previous two points mean that the overall tone and style carries the narrative across.

Clown Train creates a strong, alienating atmosphere through a mix of discordant sound and harsh lighting.

Non-Fiction editing and Brian Hill

In Baker’s recount of Brian Hill’s career – Brian Hill the Musical Documentary (2012) – a key point raised early in his career was that of editorial clarity and sensitivity. Unlike fiction works, non-fiction works are in fact of real people, who have lives outside and away from the narrative of the project on hand. At the same time, non-fiction works can still undergo traditional production methods, such as selective filming, biased narrator and juxtaposition in editing, etc.

For example, in the Sylvania Waters case, the matriarch was shown to be at a hairdresser whilst her grandchild is being born. Whether or not this was the case, the fact that on screen it was depicted as such, shows the power of editing in the post-production process, and in meaning making.

In my non-fiction project, my partner and I have been very upfront with our subjects and with the owner of the location of the shoot: we will show them work in progress clips, and show them samples of writing as well, because we both believed that they should be happy with the material that is being transmitted of their selves and their livelihoods. Of course, this may not apply across every non-fiction project, but for the most part, if the subject is made to feel comfortable knowing their story and identity is safe, and they feel to be a collaborator rather than a name on a piece of release form, then they may even provide better material for the project.

Baker also brings up an interesting point when recounting Brian Hill’s later work, The Club. Here, editing was done sophisticatedly, and with a great mind on what meaning is being created with the particular parallel editing style. Editing in non-fiction work does not necessarily have to be an unavoidable evil – there is room for creating narrative without inserting the filmmaker (or docu-maker) into the story. In The Club, music, images and juxtaposition are said to be utilized in such a manner as to create both tone and style for the project, but also a sub-level narrative on social class in England without having the subjects or a narrator say so. This is a unique way of creating meaning, because in most contemporary documentaries, if there is meaning to be inferred, often times there is a narrator to explicitly state that meaning. While The Club does use a narrator who speaks directly to the camera, the narrator is also still a character within the story, and is in no way omniscient or detached.

Non-fiction documentaries require a special kind of attention when filmed and edited, because there is an inherent assumption that whatever that is being depicted is ‘real’, and so the meaning that is made through the media materials have to be treated with delicacy, or if it’s a negative piece, with sophistication.

Writing the Short Film

Writing for short film can be challenging, given the short constraints of both time and possibly resources. Most importantly, short films require the utmost conciseness in depiction, as the audience is only expecting to have to stay for 7-10 minutes.

When reading the sample short films from Cooper and Dancyger (2005), the most striking point to me was the lack of dialogue, and the heavy focus on visual narration. For example, instead of having the protagonist Marty say things such as “what can I do to make my date like me?” we see a process of him researching what it is that makes women attracted to men – “TEARS=LOVIN’” – and physically trying out ways to make himself cry, and finally settling on his baseball cards. Instead of any dialogue, the script opts to show him going through his ideas instead.

As a result, the script is overall more captivating as the audience is drawn to watch the story unfold and create their own understanding, instead of being told how the character is feeling or thinking. Furthermore, it allows the writer to tell a deeper story of a character in a limited amount of time: we know a lot about Marty’s love of baseball cards, and his bachelor ways, via the visual language of seeing his apartment and his actions at the funeral.

The other important factor in a short film is to have distinct and succinct characters. In this case, it’s easier to create characters who easily fit into the archetypes – or the characteristics of classic archetypes. Each of the short films also feature very little number of characters, if not only 2 major characters and less than 3 more side characters. This allows deeper character development in shorter time frames, but also allows the audience to not be confused by too many on screen characters at once, especially since they won’t have very much time to learn the names, and so would rely on visual and personality traits (as well as continuity) to remember who is whom.

Similarly, location would also need to be visually succinct and easily recognizable: a funeral parlour; suburban street; train station; Nazi occupied France etc, are all locations with easily recognizable signs, and would require little to no signage for the audience.

These two factors are key in writing a strong short film, which will carry across during production when the director and crew are able to glean from the script the tone and style with which to convey in such a short time.