Friday, 30 August 2013

Assignment 4 - Constructing a narrative (Documentary)

Notes on the shooting and editing process: The process of planning this final assignment will be long and complex. I have decided to make notes of the process to give and idea of how it is progressing.
Introduction: I have chosen to use the historic Dutch three masted topsail schooner Oosterschelde as the location for my documentary narrative. I have filmed life on board over a one month period from 1 April  to 1 May 2013. These are the notes that I made on board to give myself a skeleton on which to hang my story:
10 April 2013 Tell story with voice over narration from crew members? Three threads:
  • Thoughts on the ship, have they been before? What are their impressions?
  • Arrival and experience of Tristan da Cunha
  • Anticipation and arrival at Cape Town. How was their overall experience?
Record interview to camera, preferably outside with off camera mic. Start on camera and cut to voice over of activities over the voyage. Short questions, encourage narrative answers that can be edited easily into short chunks. Ask fellow watch members to help and others to fill in i.e. Permanent crew, other watches. (external mic cable broken so rely on on camera mic and audio editing) Example script: 1. Please tell me your name and why you are making this trip, whether or not this your first voyage and your impressions of the Oosterschelde. 2. We are about to, have just or are unable to visit TdC. How did you like the island? How disappointed are you that we were not able to visit? 3. Now we have reached/are nearly at Cape Town, have you enjoyed your voyage? What was the highlight of the experience for you? Will you return to the ship for future trips? 4. Ask Alice to talk about her project on making the anchor bell cover to go over the footage I have. Include a final shot of it at the end of the film. Inter-cut the to camera interviews with footage that includes the speaker, shows time passing or general fill in shots. De- edit the Oosterschelde promo videos for ideas on narrative. Tips from 'Documentary Storytelling':
  • Write an outline to plan and diagnose.
  • Sequences, like chapters in a book, should feel complete within themselves. Use to help in the editing process.
  • How many? 20 minute film about 5 or 6.
Who's on board? Crew
  • Capt. Floris
  • First mate. Maarten
  • Engineer. Jana
  • Cook. Wouter
  • Boatmen. Peter, Jakob
  • Trainee.Yorick
  • Film maker. Daniel
Red watch:
  • Richard
  • Simon
  • Jan
  • Alice

White watch:
  • Erik
  • Olaf
  • Weitske

Blue Watch:
  • Peter
  • Maarten
  • Kirsten

15 May 2013
Back at home I have reviewed the footage I shot on board. I am now making notes on the sequences I need to tell the story of the voyage from Santos in Brazil  to Cape Town in South Africa via Tristan de Cunha. I need to include a lot of the daily activities on board, the interaction of the crew members and trainees. This will give me  the feeling of the “place” and what it is like to be part of a small community over an extended period.
My first thought on the narrative is to introduce the vessel as she leaves Santos, show the interviews with Alice, Jan and maybe Simon (may need sub titles as his English is not that easy to understand) As they talk of their experiences and feelings, edit the daily activities under their narration. The anti-climax of not going ashore at Tristan can be a turning point and the anticipation of the arrival in Cape Town. I will proceed on that basis but remain open to other themes that may emerge as I go on.
I am also continuing to learn about my video and audio editing software and will include notes about this.
Rough Edit Notes:
Introductory sequence – put together shore based footage up to the point the boat is off  Santos on the first day followed by footage shot during departure.
Second sequence – introduce crew interaction and training function – safety brief?.
(Card 01-0042) voice under clips of sails as they are named by Peter.
Third sequence – First (maybe only) interview/statement – construct subsequent sequences over the dialogue. Interviews:
Jan: Card 01-0053, Alice: -0054, Simon –0055 edit carefully, cut similar ideas and look for clips to go under their selected individual comments.
(At this point I started looking at the time code, realised I didn’t really understand it and found this reference on Wiki: ) The final figure after  the semi-colon is the frame number i.e. ;1 – 29, further complicated by Drop Time Code, video at 29.97 fps using the media frame rate as default for this application)
30 August 2013
The deadline for  the submission of my final assignment is here and I will summarise my editing process over the past few weeks.
I met up with Robert my tutor at the Genesis exhibition and I asked him how long the documentary film should be. He told me to aim for 10 minutes (a comfortable length for the assessment process) and to let him look at what I had done before my final edit. With over 40Gb of HD video to process, I had an awful lot of footage to work through and to condense a 31 day voyage into 10 minutes.
I had worked out a basic three act scenario for my narrative and wanted to include most of the routine things that happened on board, introducing the ship and the crew and their motivation, the tension in the decision on whether it was possible  to go ashore at Tristan da Cunha and  the resolution of the safe arrival in Cape Town and the celebration of a unique achievement as a climax to the story.
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A lot of what I had planned was excluded and when I got the rough edit down to 12 minutes I let Robert see it and asked him about the use of sub titles, title cards and the level of finish expected for the final submission. He advised me on these matters and asked me to attend to the sound volume which should hover around –12Db and not go above –6.0Db.
At the same time I showed the rough edit to the Thames Valley Study group and got some good feedback about the use of narrators. The thought Simon Pelikan’s sequence was good as he was more than just a talking head. I cut one of the narrators out and reduced the time that Alice was on the screen as a talking head to just two in the final sequence which sums up her experience of the voyage. I also had a comment about the pace of my editing, it seemed that half way through, the shots became longer and it was felt I had run out of steam. As I was matching the shots to the narration, I quickly improved my skills in the sound editor and cut out a lot of pauses and repetitions which enabled me to tighten the whole  thing up. Comment was also made about the camera movement and without any prompting from me, several of the group agreed that this gave a realism and immediacy to the film.
Evaluation: This was a challenging assignment, not only because of the unpredictable conditions under which it was executed but also because of the sheer volume and variety of material that I shot during the five week trip.
I chose the “location” because I would have recorded my trip in any case.  This was my second voyage on the Oosterschelde and my second project for OCA, the first being a photo essay I submitted for The Art of Photography course. I was already familiar with the ship, I knew what there was to film and I was sure I could capture the character of the place, who was there and what happened on a daily basis which provided the pace and rhythm. I feel that I have managed to capture all of this by recording the daily activities of the crew as they went about their lives, restricted physically in a space 50m long and 7.5m wide over 31 days.
The narrative was easy to find. The voyage has a beginning a middle and an end. (see above) The tension existed right from the start as it is only possible to go ashore on Tristan on average 100 days a year so there was uncertainty right up until the morning we departed from Tristan waters. I didn’t make a shot list, I knew I had to be ready with my camera at any time but even then, seasickness, sleep and a 24 hour constantly rotating watch system meant that there was a lot I didn’t see. I planned to use the three other members of my watch to tell the story but Alice was the only member who was able  to be interviewed three times.
Having lived with my project constantly for the past weeks I’m not sure I can be objective. there is a lot I like about the film, some things I am not sure about. Bringing the film down to 10 minutes (and 23 seconds with the titles and credits) was hard. I took out a lot including one interview which was purely conversational and added nothing to the narrative. I am happy with the background music, it provides a certain movement and carries the film forward at a suitable pace. Wind noise was a constant problem. I misplaced the lead for my external microphone which has a decent wind baffle so I have had to rely on audio restoration software to reduce it. The constant sound and movement are features of life on board so I have left the sounds in at a much reduced level. There are places where the visual quality is lacking, below decks in particular was poorly lit. I had an LED array lamp but it had a restricted range. Filming at dusk and dawn had its problems too. I’m hoping that even within the limits of the available equipment I have managed to put together an interesting and engaging film. I learned a lot about recognising narrative from this assignment. I hope to be able to put this to use in other courses that I undertake as I work towards my degree.
Crossing the Atlantic - Three Masted Topsail Schooner Oosterschelde - April 2013 from Richard Down on Vimeo.

Reading – Documentary Storytelling by Sheila Curran Bernard

As I started planning my documentary for assignment 4, I purchased this book to get an over view of real world documentary film making. I was not expecting a text book on making a documentary films but I did find the sections on editing and narration useful. It reinforced the guidelines given in the course material and I had it with me as I planned my interviews with my fellow watch keepers, Jan, Simon and Alice. It was impractical to script the interviews so I asked my subjects to explain to the camera what motivated them to join the trip and how they were getting along. The idea to include a narrator alongside my footage to add some human interest to the story came as a result of reading this book.

Project 18–Motivation

Exercise: De-edit a sequence
I’ve taken a sequence from Sliding Doors to de–edit. It has 9 frames and lasts 30 seconds.
The elements within the scene establish (from earlier scenes) that this is Helen and Gerry’s flat. There is a bookcase on the left of  the frame, the door is beyond the bookcase. A full length window with a half lowered blind is at 90deg to the door. There is a radiator to the right of the window and a garden bench with some boxes on it in front of the window. The back of a black leather chair can be seen left of centre at  the bottom of the frame. Helen comes home not expecting Gerry to be there but senses he is there when she comes in.
  • Frame 1 High viewpoint med long shot. See door open, Helen steps inside and starts to close door.
  • Frame 2 MCU of Helen as she closes the door. Looking past camera. Need to establish that she senses that Gerry is home, calls out to him.
  • Frame 3 Camera returns to frame 1 viewpoint to show Helen looking around, she drops her bag onto the floor
  • Frame 4 MCU again walking towards the camera, calls “are you back?” Is startled by Gerry's hand thrust from right of frame handing her a glass of wine.
  • Frame 5 close up of Gerry and Helen as Gerry explains.
  • Frame 6 close up of Helen as Gerry kisses her left cheek. Her attention is drawn to something beyond the camera. Looks in disbelief and asks “what are they?”
  • Frame 7 close up on Gerry. He follows her gaze.
  • Frame 8 change of viewpoint low med long shot to include flowers low in the right of the frame and Gerry explains they are for her.
  • Frame 9 Helen stares open mouthed as Gerry asks, “do you not like them?” She is recalling an overheard conversation about “guilt flowers” in the previous scene in the restaurant where she worked. Scene ends
I looked at shortening some of the shots but because of the dialogue I could only cut two seconds one each from the first two frames. This made no difference to the meaning or feeling of the shots. The rhythm of the sequence is really governed by the dialogue. There are no frames longer than 6 seconds in this sequence.
As I am unsure of uploading other artists work to Vimeo especially that which I have copied and altered, I have not uploaded my edited sequence.

Project 17 - Time

Viewing: Memento – Christopher Nolan (originally posted 10th March 2013)
A film with a non linear (i.e forward in time) narrative
I attempted to draw a diagram of this narrative but it got very messy, complex and was more confusing than helpful. Rather, I’ll just relate the plot and describe how I came to fathom out what I think this film is about. The narration of the film is restricted to the point of view of the main character, Leonard who is suffering from short term memory loss after an injury sustained when his wife was raped and murdered by two intruders (he killed one of them before being knocked unconscious). This of course provides an interesting dilemma for the film maker, how to present this condition to the audience in a way that reflects the character’s day to day experience as he seeks out the remaining perpetrator of the crime so that he can exact vengeance.
From the interview with the director shown as an extra on the DVD, it is clear that the viewer being confused and uncertain about the story and the plot is a deliberate ploy by the film maker to let the audience experience the same type of confusion and memory problems that Leonard experiences. This also reinforces the absolute necessity for Leonard to keep daily notes and polaroid photographs of people and locations to keep track of his actions and movements.
Christopher Nolan also points out that his narrative is often described as non-linear. It is a linear narrative but it is shown in reverse, compounding the audiences difficulty in comprehending what is happening. The clue to this is the opening scene when you are shown a polaroid print “un-developing” hinting that everything from this point should be read in reverse.
I watched the film in its entirety twice. At the end of the first viewing I could put together an interpretation of the narrative. The opening scene showed the killing of a man. Subsequent scenes (I assumed) would show how this final act  came about. Very soon I was confused but I was making notes so I carried on watching and established that Leonard was looking for the man who raped and murdered his wife and took away his life. He seemed to have assistance in the task from Teddy and Natalie. The two characters appeared to be playing each other off, one against the other but keeping the climactic first scene in mind you started assuming that it all worked out in the end and Leonard tracked down and executed the murderer.
Intercut between the action were scenes in black and white which told the story of another man (a client of Leonard's when he worked as an insurance investigator) who suffered from short term memory loss which helped to explain and also question Leonard’s experience, however this was also told entirely from Leonard's perspective.
My second viewing was in reverse. Using the scene selection menu of the DVD I started watching with scene 15 and worked back to 1. Something interesting happened as a result. It became apparent that Natalie and Teddy were not as they appeared. It was in fact Teddy that Leonard killed in the first scene. Natalie also manipulated Leonard into kidnapping  a drugs dealer she suspected of killing her boyfriend. It was in fact Leonard who killed him. At this point, the confusion is absolute and you realise that Leonard is being used. Often in the film he is asked why he wants revenge when he will never remember having it. The narrative is unresolved (in my mind anyway) and the film maker has made the point that with short term memory loss (unable to make new memories) Leonard could be destined to continue his search, being fed false information which targets another “suspect”.  Alternatively, Teddy may have been the murderer and Natalie helped Leonard achieve his goal. The audience remains uncertain and the plot remains unresolved………
Research blog
Memento is no longer available to me  for viewing so for the examples of expansion and contraction of time, I used “Sliding Doors” which has an interesting story line where two possible scenarios are played out in parallel after the heroine misses (or catches) a tube train home after being dismissed from her job.
Compressing time – the rush to the office – under the opening credits. A series of jump cuts compressing time (in this series) to 26 seconds.
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Slow motion – The two scenarios which form the basis of the plot occur from the moment Helen approaches the doors of the train. In the scenario where she catches the train by fractions of a second, the action is slowed as she reaches for the doors of the train to prevent them from closing, showing her squeezing through the opening doors.


Cutaway – There is an interesting use of cutaway in this sequence too. Helen is shown inside the train and the camera pans left to show her other self, (who missed the train) standing on the platform by the closed doors, followed by a jump cut from within the train showing her on the platform and a subsequent shot of her sitting in the train to reinforce the idea that two scenarios are being played out.

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Dissolve transitions are used to compress time in the bar sequence as Helen drowns her sorrows after learning of Gerry’s infidelity and also to show time passing as Helen sleeps and wakes after her night with James.

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Wipes (R to L) and Intercutting are used to show how time passes in Helen’s parallel stories i.e intercuts of her finding work in one life and having a makeover in the other.

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Empty Frame – is used when Helen is following Gerry unseen, indicating the delay as she tries to keep out of sight and a safe distance behind him.

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These were the only transitions I could identify in the film, fading in and out to black or white seems to be absent in this one.
Two Scene Script
Scene 1 Interior – morning  summer light
Camera zooms back from sunlit exterior showing summer growth on trees outside and pans to tennis racquet and sports bag on window seat. Girl picks them up, calls out goodbye and leaves by the front door.
Fade to black
Scene 2 Same interior – late afternoon light
Camera on front door, door opens and the same girl rushes in excitedly hold aloft a sports trophy in her free hand  and calls out to her mother, “I did it Mum, I did it!”

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Viewing–Fahrenheit 911

A few notes. I wasn’t impressed by Michael Moore nor do I care much about US politics. I have a reason for that but this is not the place to discuss it. I was grateful for not seeing the whole World Trade Centre Atrocity again. The audio track, the black screen then the floating paper and running people summed it up tastefully.
As for the rest of the “revelations” and in light of the  alleged subsequent assassination of Bin Laden, and Obama’s failure to deal with the Guantanamo Bay internees, I maintain a healthy scepticism. I trust neither politicians or journalists unless I can grip them by the gonads and look them directly in the eye.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Viewing Non-narrative films

The first film I watched was Symmetry: 2m 54s
It presented a very simple idea – balance. There was a narrative, it was just a view of life in terms of the way things go together.
  • Yes, there was a journey, or the many journeys that we take in life. This caused me to reflect on my life.
  • This was achieved by using a split screen showing a pairing of things, objects, animals, people, which in most people’s minds are associated.
  • There was a delay of four or five pairs before I got the hang of the film, from then it was very simple to understand. First I thought it was about opposites but then realised that it was more, it was about balance, i.e. one thing counteracts another.
  • The most memorable pair was the final one with a new-born infant crying and an old man lying dead on a hospital bed with a continuous tone from his heart monitor. The ultimate summary of life.

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The next one was called Record  (2m 33s) This was bit more complex at first viewing with four different scenes shown in rotation a the camera panned clockwise as if on a record turntable (the film starts and ends with the pickup arm being placed and lifted from the record.
  • Two of the scenes were do do with discord, a young couple arguing in an bedroom and two old men falling out over a game of chess.
  • The other two scenes were about harmony, a party where people were enjoying themselves and a dance studio where two girls are rehearsing a duet
  • As the scenes changed the discordant people were reconciled and the record in switched off showing the dance studio. The party winds down showing a near empty room.
  • I was trying to find a link between the scenes and the final caption “Hello,  again” forged the link and I thought, old enmities forgotten friends reliving the good times. Three act narrative.
  • The film was an advert for Lincoln Cars – a re-launch I would guess.

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  • The “making of” video is here The film was less direct in its motivation, the four scenes were different ways in which people respond to music. The lyrics of the music are what gave me my idea; “We used to be so happy, I miss you”
  • Not really an advert but an initiative by Corporate America:
“The Lincoln Motor Company is proud to partner with Vimeo to explore new collaborations with emerging artists. Join us as we say, “Hello, Again” to classic ideas. What we reveal just might surprise you.”