The End…

This project was the biggest I have worked on but didn’t seem so just because of how well it was managed. The Winter series was a dream to work on and one I have been waiting to see completed. The project was music videos, a web series and a social message all mixed in one. While starting the project it didn’t hit me at all that we were doing all of this and how much of a responsibility it would hold. Were we going to be able to do justice to all three of these aspects?

Now, having seen the result, I think we did great. The social message is the one I feel still lacks and am waiting to see how the marketing of the project and the release will help this become clearer. Getting feedback for the project was amazing as we got a lot of compliments and people telling us how they almost cried while watching it, which makes me think that we did a really good job.

But, as with all projects, making the final videos is not enough and how would these do out in front of an audience. Would people actually watch it like a web series. While each film is distinct and powerful, do they pull enough for the viewer to watch them like a series? Having been working on it for months and keeping everyone in class updated on what it means and how we were going made our first audience at RMIT University a very favourable audience who saw the entire journey with us.

We succeeded in the manner of making something beyond expectation and managing to score beautifully in class with great enthusiasm from viewers but I think the real success will be when we can do the same with people who didn’t know what we were aiming for, what our skill set was and still react the same to it. In the end, it never ends and to keep it going is the challenge we now face as we come to the end of  the degree.

Yes, I learnt a lot and yes, I feel like I am ready to take on the world with these new found skills that I have been able to give power to, but the big world outside the cocoon of Uni is scary and I can’t wait to find out how I’ve fared. The thought scares me, but having worked on Winter makes me just a step further and just a little bit less scared.

The Script Issue

So, being in week 11, we were now midways to getting the edit ready and it wasn’t easy. Our main problem at this time was confining ourselves within the script and telling a story without words, dialogues and that was very hard to achieve. This problem we realized rose because of the mistakes we made in the pre-planning stage, while writing the scripts.

The first issue was that instead of teamwork on writing the three scripts, we divided the work equally and three of us took a script each to write. This led to having three different scripts by three different people who think in completely different ways. We had three individual scripts which did not match at all in regards to the story linearity, pace and depth. One had flashbacks, one was very deep set over a long time but told through repeated activity and one paced over a few days but told simply through a variety of activities.

 

Also, the way the scripts were written called for different type of direction and Aaron and I had a hard time trying to match the way each played out in terms of direction.

During the editing process, we had to rearrange the script several times to make the pace match better, and though a really good job was done of this, it wasn’t perfect in any way. The cinematography had been thought of according to the original scripts and now the arc of cold to warm and blue to red was all over the place. This did not take away from the story but to a person who knows what to be looking for, and in accordance to the time, effort and thought that had been put in during and before the shoot, this was a big disappointment.

The last problem was that though we had heard the songs many times before, the script did not match the lyrics, they were on a completely different tangent. They went with the music but the music itself should have been incorporated in the script and the result would have been even better.

 

But, a good team makes everything work and the editing process has been fascinating. The story has come through and the films look brilliant. Just teetering on the edge of perfection, but not quiet there yet!

Presenting Work-in-Progress

When I first presented my project, it was very different from what we have achieved so far. The project had to be altered quiet a bit, due to circumstances as well as the growth it saw in the weeks ahead. It wasn’t only the project that grew, but I grew so much with it on a personal as well as professional level.

Initially we had decided to shoot four different stories to cover 15 minutes worth of videos and that changed to a more realistic three stories. This decision was made solely because of the difficulty of being able to structure all four in the amount of time that the music lasted – i.e., 15 minutes. We were able to achieve more defined storylines instead of a rushed view. The project now makes more sense.

Initially I had talked about using natural light to make my videos, but this wasn’t possible for all three stories and only one was shot in natural light as I have discussed in another blog before. This was due to the lack of resources to be able to extend our shooting days to only those that were beautiful and sunny as well as the lack of choice of locations as not all locations gave us optimum access to natural light.

I had also spoken about the blue to red arc that the storylines will see, and where this has been achieved for the most part, continuity for all three storylines has been an issue as they aren’t similarly paced and it was difficult to shoot in accordance to this arc as the shot list wasn’t planned keeping the arc in mind and making last minute changes had a huge impact on the outcome as well as led to a great deal of confusion. Also in a lot of instances, the script had to be rearranged in post-production.

The vision had at the start not been discussed thouroughly between the director and I and this led to a lot of changes during the shoot and the planning I had put in as well as the directors plans.

I grew majorly in confidence as I was able to achieve an outcome I am quiet happy with and this led to personal growth as well because where I had a shaky voice and a ‘I’m not sure’ persona while presenting the idea, I was confident and proud of the work I was able to showcase in the work in progress, which meant I presented much better.

Mainly, we were able to achieve most of what we promised and more and we worked with various limitations but pulled through with a project we can be proud to call ours.

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.

Cinematographer vs Director

SERIOUSLY WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CINEMATOGRAPHER AND THE DIRECTOR?

From my research online as well as from reading the book ‘From Reel to Deal’, I have tried to really differ between the roles of a cinematographer and director. Throughout the project, it felt like Aaron (director) and I kept stepping on each other’s toes and he kept saying that certain decisions were his but these decisions came under the look and framing of the scenes and I felt like that was my job. The problem was that I did not know how to explain it to him and for once, I wasn’t sure myself of what fell under his jury and what fell under mine.

So, after reading all that text, blogs and finding forums where people had similar problems, I have made the following distinctions that I plan to take onto my next project as guidelines of clarity between the two roles.

  1. The cinematographer is the head of the camera and lighting crew. The director is the visionary, who brings the script to screen. This means that the vision is always the directors and he in pre-production explains this to the cinematographer, who then plans accordingly and makes it possible.
  2. On set, the director focuses on the actors and whats happening on the set. He does not dabble into what the camera man is doing or how the set is lit. That is the cinematographer’s job. The cinematographer makes the shot composition according to his previously discussed vision of the film with the director.
  3. The cinematographer is the communication between the director and the rest of the camera and lighting crew. On set, the director does not involve himself with them and only communicates with the cinematographer.

In conclusion, a film set is a funny place where everyone knows each other’s jobs. One man may be able to do everything but a successful film is a collaboration, a team effort. If one man actually had to do everything, it would be a disaster, wouldn’t it? The secret to success here lies in specialization and trust. And that is the relationship between the director and cinematographer. The cinematographer has to trust in the director’s vision and the director has to trust the cinematographer’s work.

Cinematography – mood vs beauty

One of the most important questions one needs to ask themselves as a cinematographer is, am I creating beautiful images or am I setting a tone to enhance the narrative? For a music video, where beauty is well respected and expected, this is a tough question to answer. It really boils down to the message we want to send across. At some point, for this particular project, the beauty and mood setting had to join hands and work with a balance.

Our story arc was pretty well defined, as to the message we wanted to send and to start my process, I pulled out theme words to define it and inform my planning and styling. Healing, intimacy, emotions were some of the words that stood out at first. Digging deeper, I found more words – Inner self, depression, sadness, happiness, ecstasy, dependency and relationships. On the basis of these words I decided I would use the healing arc to go from pale to warm and the colours to go from blue to red. Inadvertently, I had made my decision to go with setting a mood and tone to enhance our story instead of looking for beauty shots.

This affected everything – the wardrobe, the props, the make-up, the lighting and the colour balance we used. But you see, the cinematographer is a powerful powerful person and I still had a few tricks up my sleeves. Lenses, depth of field, framing shots and contrasts were still a little unaffected. Now, I’ve always wanted to shoot a music video and get beautiful shots!

This was my chance. With few to none mid shots, I made the decision of going wide and close up for most shots. Show the whole picture with small protagonists to show the loneliness and depression they were suffering and close ups to go hand in hand with intimacy. We also used a lot of tracking shots to create empathy, a feeling of being part of that world and for the audience to create connections with our characters.

Now, these things were thought of, but some things hadn’t come through my head. Like what lenses will we be using? Do we want a large depth of field, do we want blurry backgrounds? These decisions were made on set and due to the lack of planning , they were made with having the beauty aspect in mind. That shot with all that blurriness is absolutely beautiful. OMG, that contrast is perfect. Let’s do it!

Looking back now, I like to tell myself that I was still thinking of things like isolating the protag or using hard lighting in a moment of misery and that’s why I took the shots I did. But, that isn’t true at all, even though it worked out in the end. These things though so well thought through are very subjective from filmmaker to filmmaker and sometimes, not everything is as planned out as one would think.

Being a beautiful music video, our films needed the beauty aspect, but that aspect found its place in the mix on the film sets and not before. For me, this helped find a great balance and I personally think as a cinematographer I need to think of the narrative, the emotions and the audience when I plan and then use that planning and manipulate it to be as beautiful as possible. Who said beauty is only skin deep? A well-planned thing can be more beautiful sometimes.

Cinematographer and Editor

On a film set everyone has their own roles. Each role is unique and important. Having said that, every role is useless if not done in collaboration with other crew members and cast. As a cinematographer, one would think that the main duty will be during the production stage at the shoot itself. But, this is far from the truth. A cinematographer’s work doesn’t end with the shoot or even begin there. A huge part of the work happens in pre-production so all the planning can be done and no time is wasted on set.

But who does the cinematographer collaborate with or sit and plan with. Basically everyone, at each level. The three main people who have to match their visions though are the Director, the cinematographer and the editor. But doesn’t the editor come in towards the end, in post?

The best way to make a successful film to plan from the start. As a cinematographer, you should explain your vision to the editor and he will be the judge who would tell you if it was possible or how the result will look. Because, at the end of the day, the cinematographer collects the footage and relays it to the editor who sews it together and makes a final product of it.

My mistake while shooting the Winter series was to not think of this particular interaction at all. I made all my decisions, spoke to all the other team members about it but never met our editor, Harrison till I actually came around to the shoot on day 1. This led to obvious problems when we actually started discussing things. He told me that I had to shoot with as much light as I could as he won’t be able to manipulate much otherwise in post. He also told me that the arc would be difficult as there was no continuity in my lighting. He’s a good editor and he would work with what I gave him and we worked together on set as well, which though changed a lot of things, stuck very closely with my vision. I can’t wait to see the final result that he is stitching together.

Lesson learnt this week: Collaborate with the post guys in pre-production!