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

The Aussie Affair – A Review

A group in my class produced a wonderful short little documentary on the experiences and lives of a few international students, here in Melbourne. Please have a look below!

Perhaps my favorite part of this video was its visual production quality. It was a joy on the eyes to watch – at no point was a scene lit poorly, and great care was taken into the cinematography. I mention this, not to be condescending, but because I was so impressed, I could not believe this was done by amateurs for a university project! The only parts that gave it away were some aspects of editing during the interviews, where words or sounds were clipped too early. There were also some jarring edits when it came to the B-Roll ground footage, but the beautiful cinematography made up for it.

In terms of content, I was very impressed with the selection of interviewees. I enjoyed that we got to hear the story from someone from a completely different language and cultural background, and someone from a very similar background, with whom we locals wouldn’t normally notice any differences. I was pleasantly rewarded with little anecdotes about navigating the accent, or the search for the best replica of a good home-cooked meal (spoiler alert: it doesn’t exist), or the fact that Melbourne cigarettes cost almost as much as a car in Indonesia! (But not really.)

(I suppose, though, if I had to be absolutely nit-picky, Yuri strange and unsolicited interpretation of an African American accent was a touch awkward. The thing is, I know Yuri, so I wasn’t even confused!)

I think that the video touched on the issues that a university  student faces very well – it’s not about a migrant family, or someone on exchange; it’s about youthful international students living here. The issues that they faced were akin to issues all youths face when in a new environment: isolation, loneliness, the cultural shock…the JET-LAG. The video focused on these aspects, rather than more mature issues like “job hunting” or “house buying”. It was refreshing to see that the problems we locals face are reflected in our international counterparts.

I use “we locals” and “them internationals” very, very casually, because the most well constructed part of the video was that it did not segregate based on the passport that the person holds. It was more about the differences in cultural habits, rather than the fact that they are from another country, or that things here are so different. At no point, watching the video, was I made to feel that these characters didn’t feel like they could proudly call themselves Australians if they were so inclined. This is an aesthetic that many, many projects that tackle the issue of nationality seem to never be able to grasp.

Great work, guys!

Alex.

Megatron the Stinkbutt: A Digital Story

I have finally finished the digital comic that I had set out to do nearly 12 weeks ago. The following is the reflection on the process, and this post also functions as my masterpost for where everything is, for easier submission. Jenny and James, when you start reading this, please click on the prompted links below to be taken to the final products. You have a choice between two platforms, but please look at both!

Megatron the Stinkbutt on Tumblr

Megatron the Stinkbutt on Medium

As mentioned previously, I had been debating on whether to publish the comics on Tumblr, or on Medium. Then, as the wise Old El Paso said…’por que no los dos’? I was hoisted upon the shoulders of my ambitions, and I proceeded to publish on both platforms.

Platform

In my ‘Hosting Issues’ post, I talked about how Tumblr has ‘built in’ gutters, but Medium didn’t. To combat this, I had to separately upload differently edited products onto Medium in order to get the same feeling. I created one comic with gutter, and one without: ultimately I prefer the one without the gutter, for even though it doesn’t look like a traditional comic, it went well with the aesthetics of the rest of the comic, which also didn’t match traditional comic style.

Drafting

Speaking of which: I tried a rough cut of my project a few weeks ago, to which I received the feedback: Do you want your audience to know immediately that it was an edited photograph?

This was a major point of concern for me, for it was the reason that I chose to take on the project in photo form, rather than draw it. Yes, I do want the audience to know that it was a photo, because the focal point, apart from the story, is also Meg’s appearance. But I do not want it to simply BE a photo – that would look a little boring.

In the end, I opted to edit the photos with high contrast, then use a filter Poster Edges to further posterise the colors. That way, the image has a cartoon feel, without losing the aspects of the subject. Then, taking on board some advice from Jenny, I overlayed the photo with a gradient filter, creating a (dare I say) CSI Miami look.

Collaboration

I must say, working with myself has been a joy. Even though I did not hit the target dates that I strictly told myself to keep, we still came through in the end.

That was a joke – the reflection criteria mentioned collaboration for group projects, but I went solo.

I will talk about working with animals, though. I haven’t worked with a professionally trained dog before, I have worked with unprofessionally trained humans, and now that I’ve worked with an unprofessionally trained dog, I have to say: the dog is still better than people.

When it’s the dog, every mistake; every bad photo; every useless material, it’s all my fault. There is no ‘but’, the bottom line stops very quickly with me. With humans, you can always blame a lack of cooperation or communication, but with a dog, it’s literally “I didn’t plan, and now I stuffed up”. This was the case with my first photoshoot, where I didn’t bring an auto-focus lens. Meg was fantastic, she grinned, she panted, she sat, she begged – I just didn’t catch any of that in focus, because I stuffed up. So, when it was time for the 2nd photoshoot, I made sure I had every setting just right, before I even pointed the camera at the subject. As a result, the photos were much better. Plus, I learned a lesson in taking responsibility when things go awry.

Social Media

I used Tumblr and Medium for the reasons I listed in “Hosting Issues”, but my plan was to also let people know about the project through other means. I shared a Medium post onto my Twitter:

And I also shared the Tumblr posts and Medium posts to my Facebook, where the largest portion of my most likely first readers will be. (My Facebook is set on private, so there’s not much point in my linking here, but you can extrapolate from my Tweet what it would have looked and sounded like.)

I also tagged the projects on Tumblr with popular and relevant tags, such as #cute #puppy #digital comics etc. However, I believe that my active linking on social network brings more traffic than the hashtags.

Critical reflection

I feel that the end products were a mix bag of success and mediocre. The one of Meg in nature was my favorite – the dialogue was on point, and the images were engaging to look at. My least favorite was perhaps the bath-time comic, which went well in planning, but was executed poorly in terms of the lighting in the original photos. Finally, there was the issue with the online dating comic, where the 2nd image appears warped on Tumblr, but when clicked on loads perfectly. I could not fix the issue.

The most important part of the comics relied on my writing – there were times when the writing were not punchy, but as stated before, the nature comic was strong, and I felt that the treats comic had a good premise.

I’m glad that this project is finished – and I feel that some of the ideas and skills I learned in this can be used in future, similar premises. I will never stop loving and wanting to show people photos of Meg, so I will always have material!

Alex.