Lenny – Alex’s Cut

Lenny was the first time I ever filmed in a very industrial setting, with camera setup, boom mics and crew roles, and the first time I used traditional editing methods when editing. Below are my reflections of the process.

(You can watch Lenny here.)

Pre production: We as a group tried to plan and block out the three shots – OTS 1, OTS2 and Double Shot – without first looking at the location. We wanted to achieve a shot where we see Van walk in while being able to see Lenny at the same time. It was a little difficult to communicate this idea visually to the other team members who weren’t sure what the other half had meant, and drawing
it didn’t clarify it either. It was because of this that we decided to go to the location and physically block out what we wanted. At the location, we realized the geography of the location meant that the shot that we wanted to achieve would be very difficult to achieve while keeping cinematography in mind. In the end, we decided it would be simpler as a first exercise to do a classical OTS shot without anything fancy. We also took images of the location to get a framework of the different shots we might want to achieve. Matt did sketches of how the characters will enter, as well as roughly where we will place the camera to film.

Production: Unfortunately, all the preparation wasn’t enough for us to achieve an efficient shoot. Part of the issue was the set up of equipment. Our group was 2 people more than the other groups, meaning we had more voices trying to determine what we had to do. Furthermore, not a single of our group had actually done any filming before in terms of using a proper camera and boom setup, so
it took nearly half of our allocated filming time to set up everything, including focus and white balance. As a result, we took the advice of the tutors and filmed our two-shot first, so that we have everything on film that we may need should we not be able to do the other two shots. The situation was made more difficult in the constant changing of roles – for some reason, no one decided to take charge, but when we did appoint someone as director or AD, others would suddenly try to take over the role as well. As a result, time was wasted working out who should use the slate, who should say ACTION, etc. The takes themselves were not too badly done – it was a simple scene – and despite the time constraints, we were mostly able to do at least 2 takes of each shot. I feel that overall group cooperation was what pulled us through the lack of previous experience, but a lack of organization meant we wasted a lot of time establishing roles and process.

Post: I feel that post production is the most interesting and fun part for me. To me, choosing and editing shots together is extremely interesting, because I can have control over aspects which I couldn’t during the shoot. So far, what we edited was mostly for technical reasons, ie to clean up and cut bad shots, for continuity, etc. It was extremely rewarding to attempt J and L cuts, where
even though the voice doesn’t match the actor, there was still a sense of continuity. If anything, continuity was even smoother when J and L cuts are employed correctly, and I learned a lot about timing when editing – that is, to watch for when I made a cut, and try to replicate that movement in the next one. This was also the step where I truly appreciated the effor that had gone into Pre
and Production in terms of blocking, rehearsals and camera angles, because some of this wasn’t so well done in the Lenny test videos, and no amount of careful editing can make it look natural.

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Nostalgia of the Light – An Analysis

Watching a small clip from Guzmann’s Nostalgia for the Light (2010), the most captivating moment for me was when the black and white contrasted images of the craters on the moon fades to a black and white kaleidoscope of the shadows of the leaves on the kitchen window. It was at this point that I properly understood the power of visual juxtaposition in this piece.

Nostalgia for the Light relies very heavily on montaging juxtaposed clips with a voice-over narrative. The images are composed with superior cinematography in mind, and are mostly of still subjects, with hints of movement only available when there is actual movement of the subjects in the background, such as shifting of the light and shadows, or the leaves on a tree swaying in the wind. This adds a stillness to the aesthetic of the film, because while the cuts are not long, they are not rapid or dynamic either. The framing is extremely intimate, with close to extreme closeups of the inanimate subjects. The lighting on these subjects (which are all either everyday homely items, or astronomy instruments) are very warm, and even though sometimes there are strong shadows, they are never rendered alienated or intimidating. The colors are also very vibrant and saturated. This is contrasted very strikingly with the highly stark and monochrome images of the moon at the beginning of the clip.

The audio is extremely minimalistic, with the focal sound being the narration, or when there is no narration, diegetic foreground noises – eg the grinding of the gears on the telescope; the squeaking of the hatch opening on the roof. Furthermore, in ground sound, there is the sound of nature, to complement the environment of the frame during the montage of household items. These
nature sounds included the chirping of birds and some light breeze noises, and may or may not be diegetic, but is more likely to be mixed in during post-production.

Narratively speaking, it was a little confusing when trying to understand the contents of the narration in relation with the visual. Logically speaking, there is little correlation between what the narrator is talking about (Chile, astronomy and social revolution) and the images that we are shown (household items such as furniture, pictures on the wall etc). It isn’t until the location of the montage moves onto the dusty remains of the observatory that I can begin to form a more coherent correlation between the visual and the audio. Alternatively, it is possible that the visual media and the audio isn’t meant to have an immediate correlation, but exist to complement the tone of the other – that is, the intimate and comfortable visuals complement the reminiscent nature of the narration, and the calm slow tones of the speaker complements the softness of the images.

One other interesting moment is when specks of light and dust becomes super imposed onto a shot of a tree blowing in the wind. The colorful image (blue, yellow and green) starts fading into a almost monochromatic and impossibly detailed shot of specks of dust and bokeh floating in the air. This leads me to think that the dust and bokeh were treated with special effects. It is also a
beautiful transition from the urban setting of the house to the more foreign settings of the observatory. In a clip that is heavy on cuts between changing visuals, changing physical location using a fade seems to be a conscious effort to minimize a jarring transition from home-life to astronomy.

Nostalgia for the Light contains many layers of deeper and inferred meaning, drawn from both aesthetics and content. It beautifully incorporates photographic cinematography and slow camera movements to create a sense of calm and stillness, and mixes this visual with a continuous but non-discordant audio narrative and other background audio materials, both diegetic and non-diegetic
to the visuals.

Conventions of Sound

Sound production, manipulation and mixing is something which I do not have much prior experience in. Ruoff (1993) outlines some interesting and important factors when working with sound in media, which I explore below.

Having come from a linguistic background, Ruoff’s outline of how conventional spoken conversation and dialogues differ greatly from scripted or written dialogue, purely because the spoken dialogue will always contain interjections and “hemming and hamming” as a natural and necessary part of lingual semiotics. However, it was very interesting to then expand on this knowledge to the scope of documentaries, within the discourse of audience understanding of conventions. For example, if a conversation that was supposed to be candid, or observational “fly on the wall” was too clean, or too organized and orderly, the audience would immediately feel that it was put on, regardless of whether the camera frames the subjects in a ‘hidden camera’ manner, or any other visual cues. By the same token, if a face-to-face interview was too disorderly with interjections of “uh huh” or other verbal prompts, it would be distracting to the viewer or listener. This fully explains the importance of recording through separate channels (and using directional mics – shotgun mics) especially during an interview, as to minimize and have full control in post over the interjections if
they occur during the interview.

It’s also interesting to learn about interview techniques that are specific for the screen, or for audio productions. My background was in written and published journalism, so interview techniques mostly taught us to not use leading yes/no questions, or to allow the subject to tell their own story through their own words, not through your questions. This remains true for video and audio interviews, but even more importantly, it’s a matter of recording and interviewing for the answers to be used in the final product. So, the whole idea of asking the interviewee to answer in a full sentence allows the editors in post to leave out the interviewer’s question. This obviously goes against a ‘natural’ conversation flow, but this is a discourse unique to interviews, where the staged theatrics of a ‘conversation’ is how we expect a successful and coherent interview to go.

The above points are majorly important to the projects which I am working on this semester, but are also widely applicable when creating any kind of media product which may include sound.

Writing/Reflectively

I find it very interesting to read the three comparisons of Marianne’s reflections of a presentation (Jennifer Moon, 2004), because that, more than anything else before, gave me a much clearer understanding of a deep engagement with reflection and reflective writing. I find that most of my reflections fall under category B – to analyse the events somewhat, but mostly to just list them, and I don’t ever expand on my thoughts and feelings. Category C is what I should be aiming for to get the most out of reflecting on an event – to not just engage with what happened, and how it made me feel, but why it made me feel that way, how I acted in response, and why I acted how I acted. In all, I have to explore more of ‘why’, in order to better determine the ‘how’ in later times.

The other point, which I suppose isn’t entirely new to me, but seems to be a recurring point, is to not let your initial assumption taint everything else after it. I have to do this, but when I read these points made in Moon (2004)’s rewriting of Marsick and Watkins (1990), I immediately remembered the plot from 22 Jump Street where, (SPOILER ALERT) Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum realized that, because of the initial assumption that the victim was the buyer, not the dealer of drugs, that they had gotten the whole investigation wrong. Similarly, Marsick and Watkins make and reiterate the point: Never let your initial assumption or impression shape the way you view a person, item or event later on. They elaborate on this through requesting the writer/reflector to step away from themselves, and to also take on the counsel and thoughts of people around them, in order to best create a situation where there is both dialog and questions that are being raised that can challenge pre-conceived and pre-concreted notions. In this way, the best reflections can exist independently from the writer.

– Alex

Industrial Media – Goals and Desires

Industrial Media is the class that I was expecting when I enrolled in the technically focused college that is RMIT. While media is taking new and exciting steps away from ‘legacy’ techniques and styles, it would be foolish to bypass the century-long set of skills that has been dominating the industry that I wish to enter.

My goals for this class is to be able to leave with a much more confident and clearer understanding of the how-tos in film- and screenplay-making. In fact, in Week 5, this is already happening for me, as I find that I am using the knowledge and skills I’m still collecting from this class in my other classes for the semester, such as when I am thinking of how to plan my shots for Fiction Project, or recording sound for Non-Fiction Project.

I want to leave my Grad Dip with a working knowledge of how to produce my own production, if I may use a tautology. With Industrial Media, I have a stronger confidence in doing this.

– Alex