Formats: Broadcast and interactive doco comparison

This blog post looks at two different styles of documentary in order to compare the filmmakers approaches to story structure, editing, style and audience experience. Additionally, I will be discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each platform. To do this, I will be examining the VR film Bashir’s Dream (2016) directed by Angel Manuel Soto, as well as the Oscar-winning, Netflix original Icarus (2017) directed by Bryan Fogel.

Bashir’s Dream is about a 14-year-old Syrian refugee who wants to play basketball, get an education and travel- but, above all else, he just wants to escape his situation. However, Bashir’s health, environment and refugee status is preventing him from getting the one thing he needs to chase his dreams of a better life, surgery. This documentary takes audiences on the characters inner journey, by virtually placing us in his world. In the first act, we are told his backstory and, in a way, experience his environment. The second act depicts Bashir’s lowest point which is then lifted by his aspirations that are shared in the third and final act.

The filmmaker uses a childlike hook to approach the ‘heavy’ story through emphasis on the use of animation, VR and Bashir’s fantasy of becoming a basketballer. The advantages to this VR style of documentary making is that the audience is privy to more of the story and message. In this case, the message being conveyed relates to social awareness, specifically geopolitical matters and the VR nature amplifies the subtextual meaning by implying a sense that these issues cannot be escaped. The downfall of this platform, is that audiences aren’t going to see and comprehend everything on first viewing. Not only can they miss things, but they can now choose what they want to see rather them exactly what the filmmaker wants to show them.

The filmmaker uses a childlike hook to approach the ‘heavy’ story through emphasis on the use of animation, VR and Bashir’s fantasy of becoming a basketballer. The advantages to this VR style of documentary making is that the audience is privy to more of the story and message. In this case, the message being conveyed relates to social awareness, specifically geopolitical matters and the VR nature amplifies the subtextual meaning by implying a sense that these issues cannot be escaped. The downfall of this platform, is that audiences aren’t going to see and comprehend everything on first viewing. Not only can they miss things, but they can now choose what they want to see rather them exactly what the filmmaker wants to show them.

Icarus, on the other hand, is presented on a more typical platform, streaming. The Super Size Me style film is a participatory documentary whereby filmmaker Bryan Fogel sets out to uncover the truth about doping in sports. The audience watches on as Fogel takes his journey to a whole new level following a chance meeting with Grigory Rodchenkov, a Russian scientist. Rodchechenkon helps Fogel carry out his doping experiment which transforms the film into, yet another, geopolitical expedition.

This documentary encompasses the codes and conventions that audiences expect when viewing this particular genre. The rough footage and handheld shots convey the raw and real style which is defiantly an advantage of this platform as audiences get what they expect.

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What is Documentary?

By dictionary definition, documentary as a noun is “a film or television or radio programme that provides a factual report on a particular subject”. While this loosely describes the widely accepted nature of such storytelling, filmmakers and academics in the field alike delve deeper into the genre and further explore its elements. According to Bill Nichols, Author of Introduction to Documentary (2001), documentary is ‘not a reproduction of reality, rather it is a representation of the world we already occupy.’ He believes that documentaries represent a specific view of the world, one of which we may be unfamiliar to us, despite being presented with recognisable aspects.

Pepita Ferrari’s film Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary (2008) features some of the world’s most influential documentarians as they explore and share the distinctive power of the genre. Offering an insight into the creative processes that are undertaken to produce non-fictional films, Capturing Reality begs the question ’can film capture reality?’ while cleverly reporting on the filmmaker’s quest for an answer.

The general understanding conveyed by these documentarians in relation to the unique genre is that it provides an opportunity to emotionally engage audiences through real life stories. They portray documentaries as visual archives of human experience that lend themselves to a personal voice and/ or comment on society. Director Werner Herzog- a contributor to Capturing Reality who is known for his challenging shoots as demonstrated in his film Grizzly Man (2005)- expressed his belief that ideas force themselves upon him like “unwanted guests” that won’t leave him alone until he translates them into films (Ferrari, 2008).

Drawing a comparison between the definition of documentary as presented in Nichols’ book and in the film, it is evident that there are more similarities than differences. Both sources of information bring to light the genres power to share genuine human experiences and real-life stories.  Furthermore, they both have a central focus on the purpose of documentary as a story telling tool as opposed to the various conventions and modalities within the genre.

When looking at documentary as a genre, there are many aspects that set the film style apart from others, such as drama. For example, a drama can be identified as films with “serious” plots whereby the settings and/or situations portray ‘realistic characters in conflict with themselves, others or forces of nature.’ A dramatic film heightens the reality of human experiences showing people at their best, their worst and everything in between (Film Site, 2018).

With this in mind, I think the biggest and most insightful aspect of documentary that sets the genre apart from any other, is best summarized by filmmaker Kevin MacDonald:

“Real life is so much more interesting than anything you can make up” (Capturing Reality, 2008)

As a whole, this film, Capturing Reality, highlights the fundamental purpose for documentary filmmaking as well as how they are made and the impact they have. As a budding filmmaker with interests in the realm of documentary, this film was enlightening.

Reference:

Capturing Reality : The Art of Documentary (Clip) [Video file]. (2008, November 19). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPavxiKKT2w&feature=youtu.be

Ferrari, P. (Director). (2008). Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary [Motion picture].

Film Site. (2018). Drama Films. Retrieved from http://www.filmsite.org/dramafilms.html

Herog, W. (Director). (2005). Grizzly Man [Motion Picture].

Nichols, B., Nichols, & Bill. (2001). Introduction to documentary. Bloomington, Ind.

Specialisation

This Trimester I would like to specialise in Directing and post production editing.

With a focus on these specialisations, I would like to learn/ gain:

      1. Specific: How to create a successful interview environment. (Directing)
        Measurable: My progression in understanding the effect of an interview environment on the quality of content will be measured through a written reflection (ie. What I know now vs. what I have learnt at the end of trimester), incorporating research and interview extracts.
        Attainable/Action-Oriented: To achieve this learning goal, I will research three examples of good and bad documentary interviews and compare/ contrast to determine my own ideas. Alongside this, I will speak to three industry professionals (lecturers) to gain their views on the topic based on their real-world experience. Finally, I will apply these insights to my own documentary of which I will include excerpts in my reflection.
        Relevant/Realistic: This goal is relevant to me in terms of building on, not only my directing skills, but my journalistic practices.
        Timely: I aim to have this reflection completed by week 10.Response:
        Having never been a part of creating a documentary before, let alone directed one, I had no idea what I had signed up for. In fact, it wasn’t until our documentary got to post that I realised just how important a good interview is to the overall success of a film. While workshops definitely helped me to prepare in terms of the technical elements such as lighting, framing, camera placement and audio, I never expected the hardest part would be the interview- as naive as that sounds. With a background in the field of communication, I think I underestimated how interviewing for a written piece is different to an interview for film. By this I mean that a successful interview for film has the subject open up on camera as audiences can only see what you are able to show them. This becomes problematic when the subject struggles to open up at the best of times and you want them to do it with a camera in their face. Interviews for print, I find, are much easier to get what you need from the subject to construct the story as they tend to open up more when it is in a one on one situation. With this, you are able to describe their reactions and paraphrase things that aren’t necessarily said during the interview. With film, they can simply ask you not to record and there goes your story. This was something that I didn’t actually consider going into the production of our documentary Uncaged.Building on this, I would have gone about the interview with Jackson very differently and would have scheduled either a longer chat or a follow up interview to fill in any blanks that we had. However, the biggest downfall for me was not having a clear direction thus I failed to hone in on the certain details which lead to the lack of depth in the finish doco. It was through this small failure that I was able to achieve my goal of discovering the impact of a successful interview environment. I learnt that it is not so much the environment, but knowing your talent, your relationship with them and asking the right questions/ leading the right conversation.
      2. Specific: I aim to better my skills in all aspects of filmmaking to make myself a more informed director (Directing).
        Measurable: I will measure the success of this goal with a reflection on my practices throughout the trimester where by I will include key findings, lecturer/ peer feedback from viewing sessions and examples of my efforts.
        Attainable/Action-Oriented: This will be achieved through actively participating in workshops and completing assessment items ranging from camera operation, lighting, sound recording and directing.
        Relevant/Realistic: This goal is relevant in that I will be improving my skills and knowledge on a more general basis which will only help my become a better filmmaker and director.
        Timely: This will be achieved by week 7, after completing the minor doc tasks.Response:
        Throughout this trimester, I was given numerous opportunities to work on a range of skills.Throughout this trimester, I was given numerous opportunities to work on a range of skills. These were developed through the audio workshop with Alicia Eames, interior and exterior interview lighting workshops with Nick Payton and Scott Hamilton, Vox pop workshop with Dr. Jody Taylor and through the individual audio and visual projects.

        I found the biggest point of learning for me came from the solo projects whereby I had to take the equipment out on my own and put into practice all of the skills and knowledge I had picked up throughout the coarse. Being the editor on most projects, I have never really had to worry about camera or audio techniques as I have always had someone with me to help when I got stuck or couldn’t remember what to do next or fix the problems encountered. So as much as this was a challenge, it was a great chance for me to show that I can actually do these things and that I’m not completely useless in the areas of film production that I don’t specialise in.

        The workshops were extremely helpful in my progression this trimester as I was given a refresher course on things I had previously learn but hadn’t practiced in a while and picked up some new skills, especially in the way of three point lighting setups and location sound. Having facilitators who are real industry professionals to lead these activities and mentor us is reassuring in that I know what is being taught is practical and reliant to my future endeavours.

        Bellow are some examples of my efforts from this trimester.


      3. Specific: Can incorporating VFX in a documentary create more interest (Editing).Measurable: The attainment of this understanding will be measurable through three short test documentaries which will take place throughout the trimester whereby I aim to compare the before and after VFX pieces. To determine the success of the visual effects, I will show a number of different people the edits accompanied by a survey to gain their feedback in relation to which cut they found more interesting and why.
        Attainable/Action-Oriented: To answer this question, I will use the footage from our post production editing task from week one, the short visual documentary project and the opinion project. With each of these three projects, I will create two edits, one with VFX and one without. These will be shown to people
        Relevant/Realistic: This is relevant to my practice as an editor as I want to add as much value to  my films as possible.
        Timely: This will be achieved by week 9Response:
        In pursuing an answer to this question, I learnt that there are a lot of visual effects that can be used to create more interest and larger entertainment values in documentary. For instance, the various platforms that allow for interactive and VR media or, something more attainable for myself, motion graphics and parallaxes. Motion graphics have never been my forte and a parallax was a whole new skill I had to learn, though I did enjoy it. I created two variations of a title sequence for ‘Uncaged’ and for both of these I created one with parallaxes and one without. To determine weather or not they made a difference to the audiences viewing experience I showed the non-parallax sequence against the parallax sequence. I did this twice throughout the trimester as the second variation was created after refining the first. I shared these with a selection of peers and friends outside of SAE to test both of these simulations. I started with the non-parallax versions first and on both occasions (one during week 7 and another during week 10) the viewers were more engaged with the VFX. When asked why, the common response was along the lines of “there’s just more to watch” and “the still images are a bit boring.”

        To further my research on this idea that VFX can improve ones interest throughout a documentary, I compared my viewing experience from two different documentaries. A Plastic Ocean is a documentary which sheds light on the detrimental effects of the worlds plastic waste epidemic on the environment, particularly the ocean and sea life. This film is largely dependent on visual imagery though makes little to no use of visual effect elements. Making A Murderer, on the other hand- a film exposing the inner workings of convicted murderers- used a number of VFX techniques to emphasise important details, legal documentation and key events. With out these elements, the audience is left watching just images on a screen which lack purpose/ meaning and sometimes even context. By adding such effect the audience attention is captured and drawn to the specific details that make what we are seeing meaningful. This is not to say that A Plastic Ocean is an unsuccessful film, rather it lacked the same level of visual intrigue. So, it is based on these tests and comparisons that I now believe there is a large place in the documentary genre for visual effects as, if used appropriately, they do add value to the viewing experience.

         

      4. Specific:  Grade footage to give the ‘raw’ feeling that is associated with doccumentary while deepening visual interest and assisting the desired angle (Editing).
        Measurable: This will be measured through a small analysis comparing the three tests with their before and after shots.
        Attainable/Action-Oriented: I aim to achieve this goal by completing three separate grades throughout the trimester (the visual doco, the opinion doco and the Post-only short doco edit). For each, the brief I have given myself is to create a look that is natural yet cinematic. When I have finished, I will put together three before/after samples and discuss the outcomes and success/ failure of my attempts.
        Relevant/Realistic: This is relevant as colour grading has a large impact on the feel and message conveyed by a film which is something I believe an editor should succeed in.
        Timely: This will be achieved by week 12.Response:
        With a goal to work on my colour grading, I used my project this trimester to achieve it. From what I have discovered, there is no right or wrong way to colour a film, regardless of genre. Obviously, colours can be associated with different feeling and emotions however, this is dependent on the film and the directors vision. If anything, I think the trimester has helped me refine this idea that documentaries need to feel “raw” in order to meet the genre’s conventions. Through the analysis of several documentaries, I found that there are so many different ways to approach this style of filmmaking such as through animation, interactive platforms and even virtual reality. It was during these screenings that I realised, colour grading a documentary is not really that different to grading, say, a drama. Colour grading primarily a stylistic element which is used to help audience know how they should be reacting. For example, Bishar’s Dream used quite a dark and grim grade on the animation between act 1 and 2. This was to push the reality of the characters story- shot and in need of medical assistance in the middle of a conflict-stricken zone. The darkness represented his future. In other films like The Monolith whereby the character used her dark environment to created bright artwork- it was light therapy for her. This was also translated through the grade. The point is, you should grade to fit the story, not to fit an assumption such as the film needing to look raw in order for it to be considered “real.”

        While colour grading was not a key focus throughout this trimester, I practiced where ever I could. My first practice was on the Bad Blood project. This footage was not supplied in log so the corrections were only minor to emphasise a specific style. I played around with some masks in DaVinci to give the interview a vignette effect. When I was happy with the look, I exported it back into Premiere only to find that something had gone wrong in the process and I some of the clips I graded were not the right grabs. I spent hours trying to figure it out, importing and exporting timelines over and over again to see if I had solved the issue. With no luck, I spoke to facilitators and finally got to the bottom of it. Turns out, DaVinci does not handle .AAF files that well, so I learnt the hard way that .XML files are the way to go when transferring between Premiere and DaVinci. I also graded my visual doco and the major. I found grading the major doco rather challenging, as my vision for the film became clouded by too many ideas which meant that I wasn’t able to use the colours to assist any particular angle.

         

      5. Specific: How to find and execute an appropriate pace for an unscripted film.
        Measurable: This will be measured in a comparison of a project from the beginning of tri and one from the end of tri. In this comparison, I will incorporate feedback from both peers and lecturers as well as excerpts of the two edits.
        Attainable/Action-Oriented: I will achieve this goal by creating two edits, one at the beginning of tri and one at the end. I hope to see an improvement in the success of the pacing between to two tests as I will have had a number of practices between them with the completion of the visual, audio and opinion documentaries.
        Relevant/Realistic: This is relevant as I want to create interesting films which maintain a pace that keep audiences engaged rather than bored or distracted.
        Timely: Week 12Response:
        I met this goal through the process of editing both my visual documentary Training Day and Uncaged. Following multiple feedback sessions with peers and facilitators I was able to find a pace that was appropriate for the respective projects. In the case of Uncaged, I discovered that the pace of the edit was largely dependent on the interview material as there were a lot of cuts made in order for the story to flow. The B-roll was used to hide those cuts and thus set the template for the pace of the film. Through feedback sessions, it became apparent that the pace felt slower during dialogue heavy scenes. This was for a few different reasons but mostly came down to the fact that I was attempting to incorporate too much information in the screen time. To overcome this, I remover some of the dialogue that wasn’t progressing the story in any way and, in doing this, I was able to ramp up the pace a little to keep the audiences interest. I also spent a fair amount of time gathering ideas and inspiration from other sporting documentaries such as Icarus (2017) and Team Foxcatcher (2016).

        Icarus followed a relatively slow pace with longer, drawn out shots. While the content was genuinely interesting, I found that the two hour film felt more like three hours which could be a result of the experimental, participatory nature. Team Foxcatcher resonated more with me, I think this is because the content- being based around wrestling, a form of martial art- aligned with what I was creating for Uncaged. This film maintained a faster pace than the other and, among other reasons, kept me more engaged. I didn’t find myself getting distracted as I did during Icarus.

        I want to create films that draw the audience in and capture their interest. Obviously this comes down to a huge range of elements from content to visual style, but knowing how to pace the edit around the content to further progress the story as opposed to being guided by music cues or a set script can make a significant difference to the way an audience responds to your film.

         

 

Product Shot

Product Shot

Just 15 seconds, that’s it-  How hard could a 15 second product shot be?

Apparently VERY hard! Personally, I believe this project was the most challenging task we took on this trimester. Though, this was not my way of thinking going into it. In fact, my thoughts were the total opposite. As a team, we chose to shoot a fragrance as it was easily accessible and none of the other groups had chosen to do one. Upon some deliberation, we decided on the Katy Perry fragrance “Killer Queen” from her Royal Revolution line. This particular product stood out to us due to its vibrant blue colour and diamond like shape.

During preproduction, I was under the impression that we were going to breeze through the filming of this product shot with ease, maybe even get a bit of an early mark if all goes well. How wrong I was. Based on previous productions, I knew how imperative, yet difficult successful lighting was to achieve but I have never had to light a product for such a close-up footage. For me, lighting has always been a struggle and I feel that it is still a weakness. In terms of composition and framing, I knew we had to be on our A-game on the day of shooting as the product had to shine, especially being the only thing in frame. Until this shoot wrapped, I had never really considered the resources that go into creating the tight, polished frames in product television commercials. As naive as it seems now, I thought majority of these advertisements were produced in post-production, with a limited amount captured in camera.

Our final cut for this project was something I don’t think anyone in the group expected from our planning in preproduction, and even whilst filming. Originally, we had taken inspiration from the official television commercial for one of the other fragrances in the Royal Revolution line. This TVC expressed themes from royalty in the medieval era with rich imagery of red velvets and brassy suits of armour. In true Katy Perry fashion, the sense of stately tradition, portrayed through set/ production design and costuming, was shaken up with the edgy, vivaciousness that is carried throughout all of the popstars work. This idea of ‘breaking tradition’ is a notion that we wanted to stay with. Another great thing about this existing commercial was that it included a singular shot of our chosen product at the very end.

From this image, we were drawn to the cool, icy feel and took great inspiration from the title graphics. The idea of having a similar title at the end of our 15 second commercial was possibly the only choice made in the initial conceptualisation that followed us through to completion. Initially, we thought we would start with the product seemingly floating in the Palace of Versailles to echo idea of royalty and grandiose. We were planning to break this up with cool, sharp imagery of broken mirrors, cracking ice and frosty diamonds. This idea was somewhat short lived following our test shoot the week before actually filming. The background wasn’t working in camera from the TV, rather the setting was just an unidentifiable blur. Furthermore, during this test shoot, we discovered that, whilst this bottle looked great to the naked eye, it was a nightmare to light and film. With so many reflective surfaces, began to get a better idea of how much effort it was going to take to pull off this project.

The feedback we received from facilitators during this trail run was to ditch the digital backgrounds and try using printed ones. Additionally, they suggested we create a real Katy Perry music video vibe for this project. Following this session, we went back to the storyboard and made the necessary alterations and incorporated more VFX (an aspect of editing that I am not overly strong in). On the day of our actual shoot, there were a few hiccups. Firstly, our printed backgrounds were too small for the lens sizes we were using and the desired depth of field. I had this resolved with new, larger backgrounds delivered however we ended up deciding to use that glittery material background that had been recycled from our experimental film. By the time we had set the scene, camera and lighting, half the day had disappeared. We struggled a lot with reflections and the bottles shape and in turn lost a lot of precious time.

Coming away from this project, I have a new-found appreciation for production designers. Storytelling in camera with the use of actors, costuming, sets and locations is one thing, but storytelling with nothing but an inanimate object and the limited amount of space in a macro frame for props and production design takes it to a whole other level. And, while “fix it in post” or “just add some VFX” can help to elevate some faults in filming such as a lack of props, these (not so) quick fixes will never outweigh the importance of good cinematography.  What is captured in camera matters to mood/ vibe of a production and, while this is not necessarily a new insight, it is a storytelling tool that I now understand can never be replaced.

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, sitting and indoor

In regard to improvements I feel our team could have made to better our production, there are a few things that come to mind straight away. One: it is better to be over prepared than underprepared in the realm of set and production design. Two: you can never have too many variations of shots. This was particularly evident when we got to the edit and realised that we basically had only four differing shots. Overall, it was an interesting experience and next time I will be choosing a product with four flat sides and no reflective surfaces!

Acting Masterclass

I have always believed that the relationship between a director and talent/ actors is undoubtedly unique. Having never been on the receiving end of acting directions, I had never really put too much thought into how one interprets what is being asked of them. Based on previous workshops and projects that I have undertaken, I did have some preconceived notions regarding the way in which a director communicates with their subjects. Throughout my studies, there is one director whose approach really stuck with me and helped me to understand just how important this relationship is, and that is Peter Weir in the production of his film, Dead Poets Society. Through interviews with the cast and crew members, it was made very clear that it was Weir’s connection with the actors which empowered the success of their performances. In addition to such researches, I also come into this masterclass with the knowledge of action verbs and beats which was taught during Studio 1 and recapped leading up to this class. From these various sources of information, I feel that the best performances are achieved when the director knows every detail of the story and is able to direct the actors in a way that is relatable to their own experiences and/or life events. Furthermore, there needs to be a level of understanding and trust between the two parties as a director will need to tailor their approach depending on the actor and/or scenario.

Image result for peter weir directing dead poets

Prior to this workshop, the importance of a director’s ability to identify and understand beats within a script was apparent to me though only to a limited extent. I thought that a scene and/or characters objectives and motivations were superior to the story, emotional and character beats in terms of directing a successful performance from an actor. I formed this assumption base on the script analysis process which we have previously used to determine the motives and objectives that drive a particular scene or character. I did not realise how these three elements could all be used simultaneously in the productions process, rather than separating them- i.e. The script analysis undertaken in preproduction is solely for the purpose of identifying the beats to determine motives and objectives, and only the motives and objectives are taken for direction in the filming process. With this said, I think it is clear the importance I placed on directors understanding of objectives and character motivation. In preparation for this workshop, I focus motives and objectives in relation to the list of action verbs provided and the given script, not so much the beats. In that sense, I suppose I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been.

Having now experienced the workshop and gaining a greater insight from both the stand point of a director and an actor, I can see just how imperative it is for a director to be able to understand and use beats, objective and character motivation concurrently. I have since realised that the idea of any one of these elements being ‘forgotten’ about in the actual directing of actors within production is misguided. This was a significant ‘lightbulb’ moment I had during the workshop when the objectives and motivation of my scenario were changed, and I had to identify different beats on the spot. Identifying the somewhat new beats dramatically changed the result of the scene I was directing. Hence, any changes to these key elements have a domino, or flow on, effect.

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When reflecting on this masterclass, I think the biggest challenge I faced was my scepticism of the process and my anxiety toward the thought of having to “act” in front of my peers. However, in biting the bullet and giving it a go, I was able to see firsthand why it is an absolute must for the director to know exactly what they want from a scene, the ins and outs of the script and have a mutual understanding of the story and character with the actor. I found that, in a few of the scenes I was in, I had to ask a number of questions as the director was either unclear or unconfident with the directions that they had given.

In my own experience as the director in this workshop, there is one specific criticism that I gave myself, which I believe the facilitator also picked up on. I noticed that I put so much thought into the scenario I was going to create and the action verbs that I was going to give my actors that when they performed the scene how I wanted the first time, I didn’t have any variations up my sleeve. Looking back on the very little directing experience that I have had, I can now see where my approaches had faults. These are predominantly due to the way I communicated with the actors and the words that I used. Rather than giving action verbs, I was giving result actions/ direction- telling, or even showing, the actors what I want from them.

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In Future, this knowledge, criticism and challenge, will be in the back of my mind when I am directing or even just working with an actor. Next time I am given such opportunities, I am going to pay greater attention to the way in which I communicate with the actors, using action verbs rather than result action/ directions, and ensuring I have a firm understanding of the character, emotion and story beats. A key tip that will assist me in correcting these things that I learnt and found most useful from this whole masterclass experience is to always have a “what if” or “as if” in mind. These hypotheticals will provide the actor with more direction without being told or shown exactly what to do. This approach makes for a more natural and successful performance.

Major Project

For our major project, Dark Horse Productions presented a 30 second television commercial for Hugo Boss’ men’s fragrance, “The Scent”

This project was an eye-opening insight into producing client-based work. Having originally selected the production of a music video for a local band, we were able to experience a taste of the delicate balancing act that is the collaboration of two creative parties. Unfortunately, due to scheduling and conceptual differences, we were unable to move forward with this project. Following this decision, we reconceptualised and came up with a television commercial for Hugo Boss The Scent, initially pitched by Henry. As his pitch was rather unachievable given our short timeline (of which we had already wasted weeks planning for the music video) and our low budget, we dedicated a considerable amount of time to reworking the core ideas to come up with a small scale, achievable project. Having narrowed our idea, we had to put a lot of thought into how we were going to accomplish the same classy, sleek look that the Hugo Boss brand prides itself on. This is one of the biggest realisations I had about client-based work and the largest difference I found from the projects I have previously produced in my studies. Confining your creativity to the specificity of a brands guidelines is the key to success in these projects and working relationships.  

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As already motioned, we faced a number of challenges throughout the major project process. The biggest challenge was the transition between the music video and the television commercial. However, each one of these projects had their own set of events and issues. In the lead up to the decision to move away from the music video, we went through three separate treatments, each building on the other to overcome the potential of creating a “boring” film as suggested in WIP classes. With the improvements we were making to create visually interesting elements, the band was starting to become restless and uneasy about the direction we were taking as it was not what was first pitched. We did take steps reassure them that the changes we were making were for the best, meeting up with them to discuss ideas though they were somewhat indecisive, and their feedback was less than productive. This brought on a fair amount of stress within the group as time was starting to get away from us and we were still struggling to lock in a date for filming. The stress of this further impacted our team work and communication with one another.

In preproduction for the Hugo Boss commercial, we had a much tighter timeline to work to. We managed to scale the shoot down to one location and settle on a smaller idea. In the next WIP class, we presented our new idea and it was suggested that we scale it down even further from three models down to just one. This simplified the casting process and we were able to lock in a male model from the Gold Coast whom we found on Instagram. While we did have to offer him more money than we had planned for the talent, we all agreed that it was well worth it.

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In terms of meeting the brief and client expectations, I think we did the best that we could with what we had. Generally speaking, an official Hugo Boss commercial is a significant production with an extraordinary budget and featuring an A-list celebrity such as Chris Hemsworth or Theo James. I think we did extremely well to cast a model who was able to look the part. While our approach to locations and production design will never be seen in an official Hugo Boss television commercial, our choices were solely situational and based on funding, or our lack thereof. However, I believe we were still able to achieve an adapted version of the brands classy, sleek style through our lighting, cinematography and editing.

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Regarding the brief for this project set by SAE, we were successful in creating a client-based television commercial according to the brief set by our facilitator acting as the client. We have delivered a high-quality product that I believe reflects admirable production values.

In hindsight, I think there would have been a vast difference in our final product had we have chosen the Hugo Boss pitch at the beginning of this whole project. Having to change projects more than halfway through the trimester was a large hindrance on our preproduction. Had we have had that extra time to work on the Hugo Boss commercial, we would probably would have produced something very different and more typical of the brands marketing. Furthermore, the group could have improved on the major project process in its entirety through better scheduling our time and priorities as well as through our communication as a collective.

Overall, this project and its process was a great experience and an interesting insight into the world of client-based productions. One thing I take with me coming away from this, I think I will try my hand at producing in future projects as it was a role that I assisted in a lot throughout the trimester and have never considered before.

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Green Screen, Tracking & Compositing

The green screen, motion tracking and compositing masterclass was a very unique experience in that it gave us an opportunity to work with respected industry professionals, DOP Nick Paton and editor and owner of the Post Lounge, Steve Cooper. Our task for the day was to create two moving shots- one with the camera tracking across the set and the other with the camera dollying into the window- of the set with a green screen outside of the window. The second half of this, was to shoot some static footage of an outdoors environment. So, we commenced the day by designing the set, carefully placing props in the space with focus on one particular vase which sat on a table directly in front of the window. The next thing we did was place roughly 6-9 tracking markers (two small trips of black tape crossed over to form an “X”) in the shape of triangles on the green screen and three on the vase. One of the greatest things about having Steve and Nick with us for the day was that they really wanted to make sure that we all knew what was happening and why.

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Being a post student who has done very little work with green screens, the highlight for me was having Steve take the time to not only explain the green screen and tracking process but to show us (especially the posties). Being that there are only two post production students in our class, he had us placing and moving the trackers, checking through their positions through the split monitor and guiding us to fix them as required. This was a really great feeling to have someone like Steve show interest in teaching us new skills. From this, I learned that the purpose of tracking markers is to provide extra information for editors and post-production software to create an effective image replacement. In our case, we would be replacing the green screen with the footage shot of the outside environment. In the edit, these trackers are used to more precisely key out the green screen and identify/ match the appropriate distances to create a realistic finish.

While on set, there were some technical elements that were taken into consideration to assist in achieving this sense of realism. These included the height of the camera from the ground, the angle at which it was sitting and the distance between the camera and the vase. Additional considerations were made for the direction of the lighting in order to emulate the natural light that would come through a window. These details are significant to note as together they provide the foundation for a seamless integration and edit between the plate shot and the set footage.

In terms of filming, the hardest part on the day was trying to get the lighting right, however having Nick on set really helped to speed up the process and fine tune things like reflections. The edit for this project was definitely the most challenging and involved process.  I wouldn’t day that this post work difficult as such, it was more so just how time consuming and fiddley the steps were that made it challenging. Being a post student, I had two tasks to complete using the footage. The first one, being the same as the production students, was the replacement of the green screen with the plate shot in the sideways track. The second was to replace the background and the vase on the dolly into the window. With post production facilitator Alex Adam, we stepped through the keying processes. I found the first edit to be much more manageable than the second, the reason being that I had to learn new software in order to replace the vase with the provide 3D gnome. This software was called Cinema 4D and I had never used, or even heard of it before. However, after having a bit of a play, I was able to get the hang of it and could relate some aspects of it to another program that I’ve used in the past for an animation class called MAX 3D.

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The other program we used for this project, actually the main one, was Adobe After Effects. One of the good things about these software is that they can be used in conjunction with each other through dynamic linking. This makes the flicking back a forth a little less ‘clunky’. For this particular 3D task, the process went as follows: We imported the required footage into After Effects then added a 3D camera track to the shot of the set with the green screen. Following this, we applied a couple of solid layers to the objects in the room to help with the placement of the, soon to be added, Cinema 4D layer. After making a few sizing and positioning adjustments to the gnome, we added Keylight on the base footage.

It took a bit of fine tuning to get the scend running smoothly with the gnome, but I did get there. To finish it off, we went back to the footage in After Effects we went through and masked out all on the black trackers on the green screen. This was a small and easy fix. Finally, to tidy up the gnome, we went back into Cinema 4D to change to direction at which the light was hitting the statue to match the light of the scene. Last but not least, we used Photoshop to remove any red spill and leftover glimpses from the original vase.

Overall, it was a great masterclass whereby I learnt a new program, was taught some things I previously didn’t know and was able to practice my compositing skills.

 

 

 

Experimental Film

Experimental cinema or avant-garde cinema is an art form like no other. It is a great liberty to explore film form and various techniques that are not explicitly used in mainstream cinema. While this freedom of expression is exciting, it can also be somewhat overwhelming in the creation process. In the production of our experimental film, Consumed, there were definitely some challenges that we, both individually and as a group, had to overcome. I had two roles in this production, they were production design and editing. In terms of production design, the hardest part was finding the right balance between having too much in the frame and not enough. I think this is just something that takes practice and experience to finesse. However, for experimental, there really no “right” or “wrong”.  For the editing process, the most difficult part of this project was pulling myself out of the mindset of traditional, mainstream film making. As the editor, I had to try to let go of my restraint and refinement. Rather than cutting specifically to the beat, editing to drive a story or avoiding the use (or over use) of digital effects and transitions. Our film went through a number of passes, each time becoming more intricate and less linear. I put a lot of thought into the addition of stock footage and used it sparingly in the beginning, though I was much more confident and open-minded in my use toward the end. I also struggled a lot with adding visual effects as I have had very little practice with this aspect of editing.  28336845_160949071230060_6510824476229083512_o.jpg

With these insights that I gained throughout this project, I will definitely try to implement them in my approach to filmmaking in the future. I will do this by being more experimental in my use of props, costuming and set design and will think outside the box a little bit more. I feel that some of the choices that I, and the team, made for the design of this film were things that I would not normally consider. In my projects to come, I will be more confident with this and not be afraid to try ideas that may seem different or out of the ordinary. With regards to how I can use my editing difficulties and insights in my style of filmmaking, I will no longer shy away from using visual effects or stock footage. These can be great assets to any film when executed well. Again, I think it just takes practice. One of the biggest things I have taken away from this whole experience though, is that being on set doesn’t have to be stressful. You can have fun and enjoy yourself while still following a schedule and achieving the goals that have been set for the production. I believe that having a good working environment and positive energy on set really does carry through to the screen and final presentation of the film.

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We began pre-production for this project with a team brainstorming session whereby we all researched and shared examples of experimental films that we like. Furthermore, we discussed concepts that appealed to us to help direct or research. We settled on youth and the culture of social media. The best experimental that I shared with the group was a political commentary piece which incorporated a lot of social and digital elements which I believe helped to shape our ideas and goals for this project. We decided to use our film to make a comment on the vicious façade of social media and the detrimental effect it can have on one’s mental wellbeing. We wanted to show a bright and shiny world in contrast to a darker world in turmoil. This notion formed the base of our search for visual references for which I created a group Pinterest board that we were all able to add our inspirations to. This helped us create our storyboard along with influences from the series Black Mirror and the work of previous Studio 3 students. In particular, the Pink Lady Productions experimental film.

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In order to make it clear to the audience the collision of the two worlds, without explicitly telling them, we used glitter for the perceived “glamorous” life of our character and black paint for the inner turmoil, or, the ‘real’ world. I loved the idea of having the two worlds collide, not only with the use of inter cutting but the whole concept of physically covering the glitter with darkness. I feel that this shot epitomises our purpose of this film. To support this imagery, I wanted to use stock footage that was relative to our theme and supportive of the cause. With this in mind, I chose a rollercoaster to signify the emotional highs and lows of social acceptance. The reason I wanted the footage of caged chickens and fish swimming around and around in a bowl is to infer that we are trapped and caught in a never-ending cycle of what we believe is social acceptance verse what is real.

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I feel like we all learned a lot about each other in the making of Consumed, and who we are as a group (Dark Horse Productions). Being the first project we had ever worked on together as a team, it surprised me how well we meshed and how we were able to use each other’s skills and creativity to produce something that we were proud to present. In terms of improving this project, I’m not really sure what more we could have done as there was nothing that really hindered our production or final product. I feel that we worked really well together, we had some great cinematography, the lighting looked good on camera and the set looked as we had intended. If anything, I think the only thing I would say would be to get extra B-roll of the ‘dark’ world and some just of props as there was concerns that our film was starting to look too much like a music video. However, as mentioned earlier, this was overcome in post production.

Overall, a fantastic experience and opportunity to create a great show reel piece to kick off the trimester!

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Week 13- Inner Circle Meet Up

http://www.thehurlblog.com/cinematography-aputure-flex-event-shanes-inner-circle-meetup/

This weeks post consisted of a live streaming of  the Apiture Flex Series at Cineplex in Burbank, CA. This event was open to members of the Inner Circle and streamed for the convienience of those who were unable to attend.

This is a unique method to reach audiences far and wide. Furthermore, it is effective and relevant to Hurlbut’s niche given its visual constituent. The pro’s of such elements include:

– Longer Viewing

People are more motivated to watch the entirety of live video’s as there is no option to pause or playback. If the content is engaging enough for a viewer to watch all of it, chances are they’ll be interested in other content you post, whether that be other live streams, status updates, images or blog posts.

– Greater platform options

Due to the popularity of live streaming, it is now available on many social platforms. Thus there is no need for audiences sign up to a platform they weren’t a member of in order to watch your live video. Chances are, they are already a member of the platform you’re streaming on. Research which platform attracts the greatest views by testing a live video across several platforms and noting the viewer numbers.

– Engaging
Engaging with audiences is one of the key goals for bloggers sense live streaming is an innovative way to connect and interact. Hosting a live event that fans can either attend or live stream, as Hurlbut has done, works for many different industries (ie. auctions for real estate companies, store/product launches, etc). However, this is only successful if sufficient publicity has been circulated.

With that said, there are con’s as well such as techincal difficulties, timing and the inability to save videos .

 

Week 12- SIC Podcast: Ep. 40

This weeks post comes from Shane’s most recent podcast with wife Lydia. Through out the podcast, the pair answer questions that have been written in from audience members world wide. The only catch is, you have to be a member of Shane’s Inner Circle in order to receive the content. To become a member is a weekly paid subscription.

While non-members may miss out on listening to the content, Hurlbut shares a brief  blog post outlining the information covered in the podcast for audiences to read. In this post, he has published five questions that were addressed which had been sent in from members in Montreal to Tennessee. While you have the ability to read the questions and get an idea of the topics the in podcast, unless you sign up for the inner circle, you don’t get answers to these questions.