Camera Work on Presgrave Place

Working on the Documentary with Sabine was completely different from the music videos with Alex. On Presgrave Place, I worked as the DOP as well as the sound recordist. For this project, though it’s been a success in the end, I felt we weren’t very well prepared at all. As the producer, Sabine worked hard to get as many interviews with the artists that install there as possible, but due to this everything else took a back seat.

So, for this reflection, I have talked about the positives as well as the negatives that I got out of the process and the I reflect on how I would handle these in the future.

Positives:

  1. The quality of the footage has been very good, with no out of focus images, good eye for details and unlike the winter project, not in one frame has any detail been lost due to lack of light. This is a big positive for me because it was the first time I handled the camera alone and I have grown in confidence and learnt a great deal from the experience – both good and bad.
  2. As I mentioned before, we have a lot of relevant footage and great interviews, enough to keep working on this outside of the masters degree as webisodes in the future, depending on the success of the doco.
  3. Team work – Sabine and I have known from semester 1 that we form a great team and have a great deal of trust between us, making the working environment fun and easy as well as very inviting for our interviewees.
  4. We did everything using natural lighting, which is what I had proposed and really wanted to try with this project.

Negatives:

  1. The lighting kept changing. Where it was great to experiment working with natural light, the sun kept changing direction or hiding behind clouds, changing the look constantly. Where this is not a completely bad thing for a realistic documentary, I would prefer to have consistency, to make post production easier and hence, use more artificial lighting.
  2. We forgot to change frames. All the interviewees are sitting on the left side of the frame looking towards the right diagonally, with the same background and the same frame length and depth, making the lack of change and movement very dull for a viewer.
  3. Bad camera. We had a Canon 5D Mark 2 which is a very frustrating camera to be using especially while shooting interviews. The main reason for this is it stops recording automatically every 10 or so minutes, which would break the interviewees answers in the middle constantly. The other is that it still uses the old block like SD cards for which we require card readers, are difficult to copy to an apple device and take ages to transfer!
  4. Sound was really good but being out in an open space meant we caught a lot of birds and had to constantly ask our very patient artists to repeat themselves.

Overall, I do not think any of the problems were major issues that we had to deal with but a more thorough planning in the future might be the key to making a documentary with much better quality.

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The Prayas Challenge

IMG_0579Prayas is an NGO based in India, for children. They work with children who have been in various bad situations, like child labour, sex trafficking, homelessness, etc. saving them from it and giving them an opportunity to grow within a safe community and achieve their dreams. Through various drives, they save these children and bring them back to the various homes around various cities in India and provide them with food, shelter, care, medical needs and skill developing education.

During my trip to New Delhi with RMIT, I got the amazing opportunity to work with Prayas in order to make a video to spread awareness about children who were under their care and had been saved from sex trafficking. I chose this particular topic because as of this year, according to census, Delhi is one of the largest hubs for child prostitution and trafficking. This is because of the high demand of children for domestic labour in Delhi which leaves a lot of them in the clutches of people who sell them into the market. Being an upcoming issue, I wanted to help in every way possible. This video is meant to spread awareness in Melbourne and is hence, tailored to cater the market here and not the very different audience present in India. The idea is to generate help and volunteers from developed countries who are in a much better position to help us overcome this problem we are facing today.

Working on this project, I had to make sure that I was suiting not only the Australian audience with their cultural sensitivities but also the needs and cultural background of my Indian clients. Initially this proved to be a difficult task when I gave it thought, but discussion with the client made the issue much easier to deal with and solve. I have discussed the differences in culture in another article and just lightly touch on my decisions to overcome these for my project here.

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Indians love long videos, the idea of a short documentary, only 2 minutes is quite difficult for them to understand. What’s the point, why not make it longer, more detailed? The point here though was that my audience belongs to a community which strives on short videos today. The shorter the better. No one really has time to watch a forty minute video talking about the hardships faced in another country anymore. Discussing this, we decided on a short length, longer than my suggested 1 minute, but we put a full stop at 3 minutes.

To preserve both cultural sensitivity as well as further exploitation of the victims, we decided against using any faces in the video and hence all shots were captured keeping that in mind at all times. Use of imagery collected from around India, bluish cold colour and sad music hint at the story behind this poetic documentary.

Even the audio collected has been through volunteers, repeating what the children told us as they were very intimidated by the camera and microphones, which we decided against using then. I am now sending my film to the clients and await further feedback. While editing the film though I kept thinking of everything I have learnt from that trip and have been thinking a lot about these differences we have in culture…

Pine Point

http://pinepoint.nfb.ca/#/pinepoint

Story elements:

Events – Pine Point is the story of a town. A town that no longer exists and was wiped off the face of the earth. It now only lives through the memories of the people that once belonged there. The story is told through their memories, through the photos, through the news events that took place there. The web documentary takes us through what the town stood for, what it meant to people, the kind of people that existed there and what lead to it’s final closure. It is a look into the town history, the people, the present of those people, the crash of Cosmos 954, the work available in town, the souvenirs which include the photos and videos, the weirdness of how the closure of town was went about and finally what remains today and how people pay their memories a visit every now and then.

Actors – The characters here are a few of the people who were the last to grow up in the town of Pine Point before it shut down. They include the beauty of town, the muscle, the brothers etc. The narrator is someone who did not belong to the town but is a link between everyone now in the present.

Time – The events start in the past when the town existed and run into the present showing the viewer what remains now.

Place – The town of Pine Point. In Pine Point school, hotel, ice ring, etc.

Narrative elements:

Ordering – The events occur in a chronological fashion mostly as we go from what the town was to what remains. Flash backs are shown through the memories and left over footage collected over time in the town.

Pace – The documentary covers various years in about 40 minutes give or take. It touches on the main and most important events and hence, I would say is fast paced.

Focalization – The point of view is through the eyes of an undefined character who might have belonged to the town.

Narrator – The narrator is representing the people of the town. He sounds like an insider but is an outside. He is very reliable as everything he says, through copy only, is backed with images, drawings by people from the town or consensus and research which is very apparent throughout the documentary. He creates an atmosphere of belonging with his attitude of obviousness, which makes the audience more involved emotionally in my opinion.

Text – It is an interactive, graphic digital narrative project created as a website.

Traditional narrative features:

Linearity – The project is mostly linear recounting the way things happened as Pine Point came to it’s end. Every now and then, the narrator jumps into the present but goes back to where he left off.

Series of conflicts that leads to a climax and resolution – The lack of ore resources for mining creating lack of jobs, the crash of Cosmos 954, the burning of the high school and the increase in problems like alcoholism, marital break ups etc., leading to the choice of the government to close down the town.

Protagonist and antagonist – The protagonist here is the town itself – Pine Point. The antagonist is the government who close it down, sending letters to people containing consensus that they wouldn’t know existed, and making them move out.

Three-act structure – Act 1: An existence of a town, doing fine, with it’s ups and downs. Act 2: People leaving, conflicts, school burning, crashing Cosmos 954. Act 3: Closure of town and the memories and way of celebrating it today.

Heroes journey – The hero being the town, through the ins and outs of various life that existed there.

Digital narrative features:

Numerical coding and modularity – This webdoc has a lot of features like animation, graphics, sound, film, photography, scripting, coding and designing etc., which would require a pretty big team of people with collaborations between various professionals.

Variability – Though the webdoc is very interactive in nature and there is a lot every viewer can do and find out, the end result of the documentary is not variable and will be the same every time.

Programmed elements – Interactive maps, timelines, photos, animated characters, videos, animation of the town itself, etc.

Participatory aspects – It is very interactive and every slide has a lot of things that a reader or viewer can do. From clicking buttons to move stuff around or reveal what a drawing means or even explore a township to shuffling through photos and videos of the people of the town. It is participation to find out more over participation to leave your own thoughts behind.

No Direction Home

NO DIRECTION HOME – Click to watch!

One can basically make out what the film,’No Direction Home’ is about within the first 30 seconds as a video of Bob Dylan performing ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ is played. The latter parts od the video prove that it is not just a concert you are watching but a documentary about his life. The song itself is shot in an observational mode. It is shaky aand the quality is not what you would call great, but that is exactly what lures you in and also tells you that there is more to come beside the song.

The video then cuts to a very hazy foggy screen with tree impressions on it. It is an abrupt cut between the two shots and it takes a couple of seconds before you realize what you are actually seeing. All the colour and fun of the previous concert is absolutely zapped out of the screen and this absolute contrast and long shot is very interesting visually just because of the difference. After this very quiet and dull shot, we hear Bob Dylan talk about time and freezing it, which has been a very interesting topic for me always and this was when I was sold to watching this documentary.

The film is basically a story of how Bob Dylan started out. We are taken back into his past, which he retells. The mode of documentary also changes here from observational to participatory as he recounts his life. The rules of shooting seem to have been followed to perfection here as we see him sitting on a stool, positioned to the right hand side and shot with the three point rule. The lighting is simple, only a key light is used here and shines on the offside of the face. The contrast is again high on the amount of shadow and light, telling us that the filmmaker enjoys mixing different things for the eye to see. I personally like this kind of film shooting as well.

In between the shots of Dylan recounting his past are black and white photos or videos, some abstract, which help in his telling. My favourite shot of these was of the record spinning.

There are two audio lines in the film, one recording his voice and the other playing old music to set the mood and imply how all that music played a huge part in his life. A third is added in between for fx sounds like wind, I think. A classmate actually bought my attention to that.

The use of black and white grades, old tunes and even Bob Dylan’s voice take you back, you don’t need to hear his words to guess what he is talking about. I can’t help but remember here an advice of a cinematographer that said let the audio and the image go hand in hand and compliment each other to tell your story. Don’t let one take over the other to render it useless. I think that has been achieved amazingly here.

So, in the end, though I haven’t seen this film, the first two minutes show me that it is about Bob Dylan’s journey to the world of music and being a rebel, growing up in a small mining town. Growing up, there is no direction home!

Filming in 2015 – Modes of Documentary

Reading Bill Nichols’ modes of documentaries got me thinking about the different styles of shooting and how different they really are. I personally believe that we are really unlucky as we are here, thinking about making films in 2015. As we notice, all the modes that Bill Nichols has defined are or have been used since years and years and I believe that film-making is always bringing about a new way to bring out emotions from the audience. People are becoming smarter as they take in more and more from the media and just using a mode in particular cannot guarantee ‘authenticity’ to the telling of a story anymore. For example, I saw this movie recently called ‘Ask me anything’ which was very performative in nature and used known actors as the ‘OH SO HOT!!!’ Justin Long. Being that, it was very authentic to me as it told a story which came out of reality and ended at a very wierd place, which is how real life is. It was this ending which screamed authentic to me and pulled at my heart strings. Another example is a reality TV show like ‘Real Housewives’ which basically places cameras everywhere to be observational in nature, but the feeling at the end, other than guilty pleasure, is STAGED!! It is probably a reason why the youth today shun it even though it was the most popular thing on tele a few years back.

Coming back to how I would do things, I think I would always mix up modes instead of sticking to one. For example, ‘Samsara’ is both observational and poetic or ‘Chronicles of the summer’ is participatory but at the same time has elements of observational mode as well. I also think the topic we are making a film on also in parts dictates what modes we end up using. But again, personally I love news shows like ‘The Project’ or ‘Saturday Night Live’ which are obviously performative rather than expository.

Choosing the mode I like best is really difficult because I am still an amateur who has to play a lot before I settle on a style. Having said that, the performative mode is probably the most exciting to me right now. There are so many stories out there that we watch or see come alive but sometimes taking a more subjective mode to dictate the emotions can be more powerful in telling the story. For example, the first Indian athelete to win at the Olympics as well as Commonwealth Games was Milkha Singh in 1958 and 1960 respectively. Various documentaries have been made about him and others like him in the past, but he was truly celebrated by the entire nation in 2012 when a film ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ came out chronicling his entire life as an athelete. The film was performative with all the bollywood jazz of music, dancing and drama, but it was a hit and for the first time all of India was able to realize what this man had achieved for the country. The fact that we can amplify actual occurences using performance and still get a message out , while entertaining is ingenious. This is how we grew up too, with stories with morals and lessons hidden in them. I also love that it gives the viewer a choice of enjoyment on the visceral level or understanding on the conceptual level.

The growing trend of using this mode of film making has taken over both Hollywood as well as Bollywood. More and more documentaries are being released in the form of feature films and are seeing a high like never before, which in turn is really challenging documentary makers all over the world. You can’t just put together five shots and call it a documentary anymore. Some really good examples of such films are ‘Exodus’ chronicling history, ‘Troy’ and ‘Haider’ which is probably my favourite. It is a retelling of life in Kashmir during the partition, through Macbeth by Shakespear. I think it’s an amazing way to pull people out and deliver something worthwhile. There is no question of authenticity as we see our audience drink it up.

Colour Me Blue

A Road to NowhereScreenshot (1)

This is a screenshot of my original video. It was taken in the afternoon light travelling down a road. I tried playing with quiet a bit and some of the effects I created were pretty awesome.

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With this Screenshot, I make the picture look sunnier by reducing the shadows that you can see in my original shot. It looks like a hot afternoon’s shot, doesn’t it? To do this all I did was use three way colour corrector and bend the three colour grades towards reddish and greenish tones along with reducing the intensity of the image.

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In this clip, I simply moved the colour correction towards more pinkish tones to get an older times look to it. Those days with crappy cameras and hippie eras. This road of Goa has been photographed in such colours quiet a few times and I love the fact that I was actually able to imitate it somewhat.Screenshot (8)

In this image, I used both the Luma Curve as well as the Three Way Colour Corrector. The curve looked more like an S rather than a diagonal line when I was done with it and I tried to increase the shadowwing to give it a dawn kind of feel. The day is just starting.

Taj Mahal

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Before doing anything, this was a shot of Taj Mahal, taken early on a winter morning.

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In this shot I dimmed the brightness and increased contrast by 27%. I also increased the red tones using three way colour corrector. I did this to make Taj Mahal stand out, to create focus on it.

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This I think is my coolest effect. I kept the contrast and brightness levels I had set in the previous image and added the change colours effect. I then played with the hue, saturation and lightness.   I did this to achieve another way of making my Taj Mahal stand out which it didn’t in the original shot.

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In this picture I increased the colour balance, mostly red and green. I also increased the contrast a little bit. It now looks like I’m at the start of telling an ancient tale. This would probably be an opening shot.

Sunburn – Music festival

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This is an original video I made at the Sunburn festival in Goa. As you may notice the quality is pretty bad. So I did a few things, check it out.

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I thought this was really cool for a credits scene. It helps the logo to really stand out. I did this by lowering the brightness and incresing the contrast. I also used the three way colour corrector to increase the pinkish tones.

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For this image I played with the RGB curves to make the image look like there was more than just blue lighting. I like the way the colour combines together. It’s great for music festivals.

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To take the lighting out completely, I used Video Limiter. It changed my image to black and white while still leaving the logos in colour. It’s a pretty cool thing to do because if you actually imagined doing it, it sounds next to impossible or at least a lot of work.

Richard Leacock – The feeling of being there

Richard Leacock was a man who introduced some of the most artisitic and innovative takes on documentary filming. What I found in the article was a lesson I am going to keep reminding myself over and over. A lesson on breaking the rules to make some of my own.

Reading this piece, I was sitting there with a pen and paper, ready to jot down the two most interesting points. I ended up filling the page. His description of the inevitable absolute disruption caused during film-making was captivating. I could feel the fast pace and excitement and I want to be there, doing that.

“To capture spontaneity, it must exist and everything you do is liable to destroy it.” Film-making is a difficult difficult field where a lot of things don’t make sense, but make complete sense at the same time. Anurag Kashyap, one of the most famous film-makers in India started out writing scripts with no dialogues. He wrote stories and captured spontaneous dialogues from actors playing the roles.

I think there are a lot of ways to capture spontaneity but it’s risky business all the same. In the last article I read, Pawlikowski said that the best film-makers were the ones who took a lot of time to follow their subjects and I think Richard Leacock was one of these best. I believe, spontaniety can bring about what superb acting cannot and there are some amazing examples of this out there. Sometimes, when we click pictures and we capture a moment in time that no one was posing for or expected, they come out to be some of our best shots which we can look at over time and always have a story to tell. They never get old. It’s an effect I wish we could turn on and off.

I also loved the idea of having more than one perspective to make a film. For his last project, Leacock had three camera men filming from their own point of views, capturing absolutely different senarios within one concert, to one music peice. Using absolutely contrasting images or perspectives opens up an entirely new world of possibilities. At the moment for my class, we are working in pretty large groups and before this I was a little angry that I have footage, all shot in different light, by different people, with different colours and I have to put it together and make it look good. But now I am looking forward to the prospective of doing just that. I guess, you can always think of what the film is going to be, but the journey there changes it and you never know how it will turn out. But I think that’s what Leacock meant when he said “a film should have the feeling of being there.”