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.

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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.

Media Objects Edited Sequence

For my edited sequence, I chose the theme Impact. I approached Impact in both the sense of the moment of impact, as well as the editing style, which featured sharp, distinct visuals and quick tempo audio.

I am extremely attracted to the idea of non-linear editing as outlined by William Burroughs in 1964. Burroughs would cut up or fold together pieces from entirely different narratives, put them together, and create a completely new and interesting narrative from the mix (Packer & Jordan, 2001:277). I attempted to emulate this style in my work, in that there is no immediate discernible continuity, and yet the narrative is formed via human inference and closure between non-sequitur elements juxtaposed against one another. I find it fascinating that the human brain can create a narrative by finding a relation between two different visuals, or two different audio, or a mix of both.

For that reason, I chose to rarely use the accompany audio in the video clips that I found from the Internet, instead mixing it with the sounds that I recorded for the audio assessment. For example, juxtaposing gunfire with dog barking and car honking invokes the narrative of a disruptive neighbourhood, or other such negative imagery, even though the context within which all three elements originally existed were all controlled and peaceful.

Then, the non-linear introduction and re-introduction of the thief from the single-shot assignment bookends the example above, and coupled with a scream that’s entirely removed from the visual, would then move the viewer to a different narrative.

My editing does not intend to create one meaning only, rather creating a context wherein many different means are meant to be inferred, and countless segments of narratives formed and reformed depending on the viewer themselves. However, I do purposely introduce and reintroduce similar elements – the barking; the bookended sirens; the before-and-after of crashes – to place these different narratives within certain confines.

I also chose to edit together short, sharp segments, as the feeling of Impact can also be created from the quick introduction of new elements, such as a new visual, or new sounds. As a result, the video was rather short, as I did not want to overload the viewer with too many elements.

As this was my first time editing with moving images, and my first foray into a non-linear narrative form, I feel that the piece lacked technical sophistication. While I experimented with transitions between materials and clips, and attempted to mix the audio in a more subtle and sophisticated way, I still could not achieve the sort of effects that I wanted, such as panning sirens, or smash cut transitions.

Working with different formats was also a challenge: I only learned the basics of encoding files to be the same format on the same medium, and could not fix the difference in aspect ratio, resulting in the black bars around the frame.

References:

Packer, K. and Jordan, K., (eds.) Multimedia: From Wagner to virtual reality. New York: Norton, 2001. Pg 275 – 278

Videos:

Drone POV Crash in Highlands Bowl by Vital Films, under a Creative Commons Attribution license http://vimeo.com/96320135

Extreme Snowboarding Crash in Switzerland TRT 1:50 by Fusion TV, Inc., under a Creative Commons Attribution license http://vimeo.com/95322091

Request to Blow Up a Company Logo for Marketing by Ryan Morris, under a Creative Commons Attribution license http://vimeo.com/93104412

Test Firing an Heckler & Koch MP7 PDW at Lock and Load in Miami by Dan V, under a Creative Commons Attribution license http://vimeo.com/78314176

Audio:

Sirens‘ by Trinity101 is available at FreeSound.org, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0

Smoke Alarm Piep Piep‘ by Jan18101997 is available at FreeSound.org, under aCreative Commons Public Domain 1.0

Car Breaking Skid‘ by Iberian_Runa is available at FreeSound.org under aCreative Commons Attribution 3.0

 

Touching on Touchups

In this post, I will engage with Dr Jenny Weight’s introductory post on using photo editing software. In particular, I will draw on my own experiences with both GIMP and Adobe Photoshop, and examine the issues that may come with using said software for image editing.

Before I start, I should clarify that I’d had intermediate knowledge of PS (Photoshop) from a previous VE&T course, and have long since ingrained the knowledge into my brain-space. That means that it’s become a little difficult for me to thoroughly and critically engage with such a basic overview in digital image editing, because none of the knowledge occur to me as new, nor do issues register on my radar because I automatically know how to fix them.

Before I launch on my tirade on GIMP, it is important to note that the software is completely free, and, for most casual intents and purposes, has all the features of the extremely pricey Adobe Photoshop. GIMP also has an extensive community that discuss and help each other out on the forum, where almost all the questions a new user would possibly have (mine usually began with “where can I find…?”) are answered.

In one of Jenny’s lectures, she mentioned that GIMP has a steep learning curve. To that, I say: yes and no. For someone who got used to the way Photoshop worked, and where things were and what they were called, the learning curve wasn’t so much steep as frustratingly ‘almost’. Toolbars and menus were almost but not quite in the same place, and the UI (user interface) was almost but not quite identical, meaning I sometimes found myself hitting “B” repeatedly to access the Brush tool, only to have nothing happen.

But for users completely new to the image editing scene, I think GIMP would be as confusing as a first session with Photoshop. It’s simply a new skill to think in terms of Layers – “what, you made a mistake drawing on the image, and when you erased it everything was gone? Yeah, should’a used layers” – and all the menus with “Curves”, “Color Balance” and oh, the FILTERS! Not to mention all the doo-dah over Opacity, Layer Styles, Vectors…GIMP doesn’t do anything to ease that initial vertigo, but neither did Photoshop, for me.

The major difference, at least to me, was the way in which Adobe set out an intuitive UI once the ball had successfully been rolled. Once I learned how menus were organized, and some keyboard shortcuts, Photoshop suddenly became quick and easy. GIMP (and again, this is tainted heavily by my PS leanings), on the other hand, was not. The very fact that I had to download and install scripts to use a few functions were testimony to that. (However, the additional script-fu and plug-in community is actually pretty awesome, and I wish I had explored them more.)

There’s not much to engage with in terms of Jenny’s post – the basics are the basics, and there’s not much to say about it. Yes, YouTube tutorials are amazing, but once you find yourself among this league (video below), it’s probably easier to just turn off your computer and go throw a stick for your dog.

One thing I will say: LAYERS! LAYERS LAYERS AND IF YOU’RE NOT SURE, THROW IN ANOTHER LAYER! If you want to test two different types of brush strokes…use two layers! Delete the ugly one! It’s so much easier to delete a layer than to press Ctrl+Shift+Z (er, I use PCs, but I’m pretty sure it’s Apple+Shift+Z on Macs) a million times.

Finally, here’s a (repost) of the images I edited in GIMP, and its counterpart in PS. The focus should be on the colors, not the speech bubbles, because the GIMP version had me do speech bubbles in GIMP, but the PS one had me do them in Illustrator.

GIMP

PHOTOSHOP

Please note that the images are hosted by Tumblr, but are made by me. I didn’t rip off someone else’s work, but the dog isn’t mine personally. I have permission to photograph the dog, who is a minor.

Alex.

P.S. It would seem that my broad “RMIT” category will soon be insufficient. If any tutor reads this before the final due date, but sees no extra categories, please note that I will be adding and organizing more specific categories extremely soon. I know in a professional space that this is inexcusable, because once it’s out it’s out. I apologize.