Archive for May, 2011

201MC Module Presentation

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , on May 5, 2011 by Adam Broome

The final presentation for the module:

If the video does not work, try refreshing the page. If the above link does not work at all, here is the URL:

(http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xik3ux_201mc-presentation_school)

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Quick Updates On The Placements

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by Adam Broome

So after the proposals and ‘action plan’ earlier in the year, you may notice that several projects seem completely missing from the hand-in of the module.

CVTV has been delayed by whole terms – Johnny Rickard wants to turn a lecture theatre into a TV studio, and in order to make it look the part, each wall has had to be crafted from scratch. Finances were sorted and designs were handed over, but it’s taken so long to make the set that as of yet CVTV has not been filmed. It’s an ongoing project that looks set to be completed sometime towards Term 3, perhaps now with media crews from various film societies, as most students of Coventry University have either forgotten about it, committed themselves to other projects, or will be busy working on their own modules for their degree.

Hereward college is also still being filmed, although there is a mass screening in late May, so the documentary is guaranteed to be finished by the end of this month. There is a final shoot happening the day before the hand in, where once again I will be operating the camera in search of the final illusive shots that will make a good documentary even better.

Solo Projects that were lined up could not be completed due to ‘assignment overload’ in Term 2. These included two short films – one a martial arts, one an art house. I also thought about doing a documentary on Coventry market – I’m sure there’s a story there somewhere, I just need to find it. As I have had no Easter break due to being on my placement in Tenerife, it is likely that these projects will be completed in the future long after the deadline for this module has passed.

Source media is still going well in terms of the radio, but in terms of Source TV I have more or less dropped out of the society, cutting back several days of work experience which I would have gained had I remained a solid member. It wasn’t a conscious decision – the people running it (third year students) cancelled meetings due to having work commitments. When meetings were held, I couldn’t make them. Projects were set up but not completed, and eventually I had trouble even doing a simple thing like filming the Varsity event. Source Radio on the other hand has blossomed, and I have gained a lot of confidence in hosting a radio show. It has helped a lot having a co-presenter, and we look set to carry the show through into Term 3. I think the difference between the two media societies is that Source Radio had a routine (one show every week at the same time) and Source TV did not (they often wanted help with projects on short notice). As a result, the radio shows were a lot easier to fit into my university schedule.

Call The Shots was never chased up in the end, though they may become involved in the aforementioned CVTV project to help out with us students. It’s a shame, because I know there’s a lot of potential contacts in the group. Right now though, I’ve dedicated my time to university modules and cemented work placements – mostly abroad. It is likely that Term 3 will be a more convenient time for me to get involved in this film society.

Tenerife – The Whole Story

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , , , on May 2, 2011 by Adam Broome

Introduction

The following post details the story of the main four-week placement in Tenerife during April 2011 for this module. Myself and two other students journeyed out to the island to assist the Atlantic Whale Foundation with a media project for the charity. Whilst out there, we were also able to conduct other projects at our own discretion.

Part One: The Talks

It was a sunny day in November when Ed Bentham first appeared at Coventry University. Myself and several fellow course mates had already missed the first talk, but we’d now managed to catch the second one in a different campus. Ed was one of the founding members of a charity called the Atlantic Whale Foundation (or AWF), and he was looking for volunteers across the university. He made a point of touring the UK searching for potential.

As it transpired, this particular day it was only us who knew the talk was taking place, meaning we quickly relocated to a nearby cafeteria. At this cafe, we discussed what this possible work placement might entail. It sounded promising – during the week, we would be working for Ed and his charity. 3 days a week we would go out on ‘boats’ and assist the AWF with whale research. The two other days of the week would consist of us helping the AWF with a media-related project. This would be primarily where the work experience would be focused around. The weekends we would have free to do whatever we wanted – and since the AWF was based in Tenerife, I imagine we wouldn’t have difficulty finding things to do.

I’d always wanted to go to Tenerife, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. After several discussions with other course mates, it soon transpired that there would be two groups – I would be in the first, along with fellow students Laura Garwood and Yasmin Muat. We would journey out only days after Term 2 had ended, and stay for a four week duration in April 2011. This would make our flights cheaper, and also provide us with something to do over Easter. This also meant we would be able to meet the module deadline on May 5th. The second group that would go two weeks after us did so only because there was more chance of seeing whales the further into summer we went. Myself, Laura and Yasmin figured that it wasn’t necessary to do this for all the additional problems it may incur, such as deferring the deadline.

Part Two: The Plan

It was apparent early on that Ed wasn’t the best communicator. Even in these early days, asking for his advice was a largely open-ended business. Ultimately, we were going to have to plan this between just the three of us, and the first thing we needed was a secured travel route. Laura saw to the flights, I saw to the transfers, and Yasmin saw to the equipment.
We were unsure as to what equipment to take – after the fall-out from Prague, Z1 cameras seemed far too unreliable and troublesome to take over. We had DSLR cameras, and decided to use them to take the videos – they were light and compact, and providing the audio was taken using something else, visually they were capable of producing professional media. The audio was then to be taken using a Marantz and a rifle mic. The separate audio and visual elements of each project would be synchronized in the editing suites using something I commonly refer to as ‘clapping technique’ (where sound and visuals are aligned by way of a single, loud clap). This was a technique I’d learned whilst in Prague – where the audio was also captured separately. After the protest march project, I also decided to take a reporters mic on the off-chance that we did a documentary on the AWF whilst we were out there.

Other events that happened on the lead-up included becoming involved in a mass charity event called the Tiede Challenge. Mount Tiede is the name of the volcano in the centre of the island – is lock in at just under 4000 meters above sea level, and is the third highest volcano in the world. The challenge was to climb the top 2700 meters. It later came to light that Tiede erupts every 100 years – the last time being 102 years ago. This wasn’t the only bad news – apparently, airport strikes were planned to take place during our visit. Unfortunately, neither problems could be averted, we would just have to ‘wing it’ as it were, and deal with the problems as they arose. We sorted out the finances between us successfully, and the equipment was booked a few weeks before we left.

Ed had mentioned previously that there were also underwater cameras out in Tenerife already, but we had no idea what quality they would provide. I was also inclined to take my Macbook along, equipped with Final Cut Pro to edit whatever we filmed out there. Also, still smarting from Prague, I went to extra lengths to ensure that this time my phone would work abroad. We got our insurance, sorted out our funding through IEMS successfully, and then concentrated on our more pressing modules over Term 2 – Tenerife ever in wait as the weeks drew nearer to the main event.

Note: Towards the end of Term 2, there were problems with students not getting relevant paperwork signed to make overseas work placements ‘official’ for this module. I can confirm that this paperwork was completed and handed in to Creative Futures for processing by all three of us before we left.

Part Three: Take Off

Most of the pre-production came off without a hitch. All three of us communicated clearly with each other, and we achieved all of our responsibilities to a high degree. The fact that there was only three of us in our group helped, but we were already coming to rely on each other time and again before the placement had begun, which was a good thing, as it strengthened our bond. I was already working with both students of Hereward, and I’d been to the protest march with Laura, and I’m still working on ‘CVTV’ with Yasmin.

With all the paperwork in order and our other modules finished, we retrieved our equipment and started packing. With the Tiede Challenge now on our rota, we also had to pack sleeping bags into our luggage. I took my large tripod in my luggage case alongside, with various cables, chargers and adaptors in with my Macbook. I also had the reporters mic and my D5000 DSLR camera – all the rest of the equipment was in the cases of the other two, including a boom pole. We did well to take as many clothes and non-essentials as we did, given the restricted space we had.

After the absolute hell of travelling through the airport during the Prague trip, I was slightly wary of going through Gatwick this time around. I’m pleased to say though, due to good planning, getting on the plane was a lot more laid back this time around. We never had to rush – time allowances had been considered at every change of transport. In fact, we were sat on Costa Coffee for about two hours before we could check in to the departure lounge. I was worried that we may get queried about some of our more ‘complex’ luggage, but everything included the tripod went through just fine. The plane journey was also relaxed, despite being over four hours long and without in-flight meals (Easy Jet don’t do those – everyone remember that for the future). Upon arrival in Tenerife, we got our luggage and caught a taxi to the AWF house, where we were shown our room. Everyone seemed really friendly, and introductions went long into the night. Whichever way you looked at it, we had successfully arrived in Tenerife on time, with all our equipment and coverage in order.

Part Four: The First Week

Ed was not around for the first week. We had no idea what he wanted us to do, and thus in terms of media and professional experience, the first week sticks out like a sore thumb. Ed didn’t communicate via e-mail – instead he preferred to wait until his personal arrival at the AWF house in a week’s time. In place of this, we were inducted on a one-day sped run through the local wildlife in Tenerife. Short-Fin Pilot Whales and Bottle-nose Dolphins were the two main types of species we’d be seeing in the wild, and possibly Sea Turtles, Risso Dolphins, Sperm Whales, Ospreys and Hammerhead Sharks. Other points of interest during the induction included Tenerife having five different eco-systems. In later weeks, I would realise that this referred to a humid north coast, a dry south coast, windy east and west coasts, cool evergreen forests inland, and freezing arctic conditions up at the top of Tiede.

There were no corals on the island – corals took hundreds of years to form, but thanks to the volcano, the oceanic habitats all around the island were re-set before corals could even remotely begin to form. There was a huge oceanic trench between Tenerife and neighbouring island called La Gomera, which was roughly 3000 meters deep. So deep was the water, that in fact giant squid lived in the depths. Giant squid filtered salt water into fresh water inside their bodies, and Pilot Wales needed fresh water to survive, meaning this trench was a prime hunting ground. Little facts like that were to assist us greatly when we went out on ‘the boats’.

These were not AWF boats as I had presumed – we were actually hitching on tourist boats for free. On some boats we had to work loads – on others, we didn’t have to work at all. Choice of boats was just luck of the draw – The Freebird One became a less-desirable one of mine, whilst the Must Cat and the Katrin became two of my favourites. Every boat bar two – the Katrin and the Son Caliu – were ‘catamaran’ class. Every boat par those same two also did relatively similar trips – they went out to the trenches to find Pilot Whales, then went inland towards nearby ‘fish farms’, to find the dolphins that would naturally be trying to get to the fish trapped inside the farm nets.

There were three ports where we caught boats from – Las Callates and Puerto Colon were the two main ones. The Must Cat was the only boat at Las Callates, but it was a catamaran that did roughly the same journey as every boat in Colon did. The third port – Los Gigantes – seemed to suffer from rather choppy seas, and sometimes did a tour of the nearby sea cliffs instead. Los Gigantes was definitely a sight to behold  – the second highest sea cliffs in the world, bested only by a set of cliffs in Hawaii. In terms of media, apparently Pirates Of The Caribbean and Clash Of The Titans had both been filmed in the area.

The first week simply revolved around working on these boats. We took photos on our DSLRs of the dorsal fins of the whales and dolphins – this was to help others identify them back at the house. When we weren’t on the boats, we just settled in a bit more. I climbed a nearby mountain called Roque Del Conde as a warm-up to the main Tiede event, passing the time to wait for Ed’s arrival.

This was the view near the top of Roque Del Conde – a warm-up for the Tiede Challenge

Part Five: ‘The Brief’

When Ed finally arrived, he was eager to get us working as soon as possible. We now had only three weeks left, and I’d already established that the Must Cat was a good boat and Freebird One was not so much. Ed was planning something – something big. He knew from inside contacts that travel operators like Thomas Cook and Thompson had the boats we were working on wrapped around their fingers – they took a 55% cut of profits on every boat, leaving the boat with only 45% of the income they’ve rightfully earned. Of course, the travel operators called this a service charge for a ‘guarantee’ of people on the boat.

Ed spoke mostly about finding ways to make profit for the AWF – he struck me as a businessman as much as he did a conservationist. His plan was to take a lesser cut from the boats – take only 30% so that they could keep 70%. An AWF project in Sierra Leone was costing the charity a small fortune, and money needed to be found, and fast. One volunteer was already hard at work constructing a website where the AWF would be able to promote the boats – pairing up with the boats would then allow both parties to profit, cutting out the travel operators completely.

It sounded like a secret operation to me however – he was not totally taken with the idea of informing the boats that this was even going on. It became apparent very quickly that hardly anyone on any of the boats spoke English, and so all they saw of us was volunteers taking videos. Additionally, all those ‘underwater cameras’ that we’d heard about had all broken – we literally had just what we had brought with us. Not only this, but we knew as media students that to cover videos politically, we would need written permission for tourists to be involved in the promotional material. Ed just laughed, covering up our warning by simply saying ‘that’s the brief’. He wanted all ten boats to have a promotional video each by the end of the third week. I laughed at him right back and said it could not be done, at least not without lots of help on his part. He again re-iterated the point ‘that is the brief’, to which one can only shrug.

So, the job was fairly straightforward – go on as many boats as possible, and find someone who speaks English on any boat you can find. Interview them, take footage of the boat – tourists included – and create a promotional video for the boat in FCP. Ed wanted a four minute promotional video – we secretly knew that this was again a big mistake. Promotional videos needed to be short and to the point. What Ed knew about in conservation, he evidently lacked in media production. This was indeed fully in our own hands. Yasmin decided to take on one of Ed’s other projects – advertising the Tiede Challenge better. The boat project seemed to be resting on Laura and myself, as well as anyone else who fancied coming along for the ride.

Part Six: The Boats

Having already been on a few, investigating other potential boats was an easy enough task. Upon returning to the Must Cat, I actually had a scuba diving session in which I managed to come face to face with a sea turtle. It seemed like a really good boat to advertise, yet hardly anyone on it spoke English. I asked for Ed’s help, and he told us he would contact a man called Justin who worked at the office, and arrange an interview. That was pretty much where it ended for this boat – I reminded Ed to contact Justin, and he confirmed that he would do so. As far as I’m aware, he never did. In week three, he left to go to South America, and the Must Cat was left adrift. Yasmin tried to help towards the end of the placement by investigating the office, but one cannot simply walk into an office and ask the owner of a boat for an interview completely out the blue. Despite having some particularly excellent footage, the Must Cat was out the picture through no fault of our own.

Unfortunately for me, Laura found a contact on Freebird One called Hilda – a woman who spoke many languages. Laura went on the Freebird One several times, building up a relationship with Hilda, eventually being able to ask for an interview and confirming the time and place. I was on site at the expected date, only to find that Hilda was too busy, and that the interview would have to be conducted another day. Now fully certain that Freebird One was going to be promoted, I went onto an adjacent boat called the Maxicat. My gamble paid off – Maxicat followed Freebird One all down the south coast, allowing me to film it out at sea, which looked really good. Filming on the actual boat itself proved quite tricky – there were usually 200 or so tourists on board, meaning shots of whales and dolphins were hard to get. We decided that, if possible, we would use clips of animals taken from other boats for the video.

Unfortunately, once again despite having some really good footage all lined up, Hilda became increasingly more unreliable for the interview. She delayed a second time, not doing the interview after the boat had docked claiming that she was again too busy, despite having promised Laura an interview the week before. Come the final week, she confirmed a date one morning before the ship left. Laura turned up the rendezvous, and Hilda was nowhere to be found. For whatever the reason, Hilda was proving illusive. The thought of being interviewed was obviously not something to her taste. Despite Laura’s best efforts, once again we now had some fairly decent footage without an interview with a crew member to accompany it.

The final place I looked in to was Los Gigantes – me theory was that if we managed to get Los Callates and Los Gigantes out the way, the seocnd group of media students that followed us would only have boats in Puerto Colon to worry about. The Son Caliu had an infamous gay captain called Jose, who I tried to build up a relationship with. However, it took only one trip to realise he understood next to no English – one of the worst language barriers I came across during the whole four weeks. However, on the other ship – the Katrin – I struck gold. A man by the name of Massimo was working on the ship, and he was mostly English, with a bit of Italian thrown in. He was the only fluent English-speaking sailor we came across. I asked him if he’d be up for an interview, which he agreed to, and as the days went by our friendship grew. It was soon realised that the Katrin promo would likely be the best of the three – that was, if the other two were even completed on time.

The Royal Dolphin was another boat we looked into advertising, but once again we were faced with a crew that didn’t understand us or what we were trying to do, and they had no word from the AWF about the project we were undertaking.

Part Seven: The Katrin Promo

Yasmin crafted an exciting Tiede Challenge promo aimed at young adults, only to be told she’d missed the target market – it was apparently meant to be aimed at school children. Whilst she worked on her project more, myself and Laura focused our efforts on the Katrin. Laura drafted up a list of questions, and we packed our interview equipment and headed out for the boat.

The first time we interviewed Massimo, everything went a bit hap hazard. The DSLR was set up on my tripod just fine – I was using Laura’s D90. The batteries in the Marantz were fresh in, and the sound had already been tested. However, the questions were not in any particular order – they had no structure. As the DSLR recorded, I spent most of my time reminding Laura of questions she’d forgot to ask, and also reminding her that every time the DSLR stopped recording, Massimo had to clap again. I was focused so much on Massimo that I didn’t realise that the last minute of the interview didn’t record – Laura had taken an excess of 700 photos the day before, and the memory had ran out during the filming.

Luckily, Massimo seemed very good natured by the whole thing. He agreed to do another interview whenever was best for us, but advised us to be more prepared next time. We left with our heads hung in shame, having completely sabotaged our own interview. But sure enough, we bounced back quickly. Only a few days later early in the third week, myself and Laura boarded the Katrin together and conducted the interview with Massimo once more, this time across the port with boat in the background. A small typhoon was hitting the port, meaning the background of the interview frequently had massive waves crashing in, threatening to flood the harbour. The audio captured was just fine though, and we left this time with everything we needed, seemingly having cheated death with this project.

Once all the footage was uploaded onto my Macbook, myself and Laura took shifts in editing the footage down. We revised the promo at least seven time whilst we were in Tenerife. At first, we got all the footage we had, and chose the best ones – there were over twenty different clips of wildlife, and even more of the tourists. With the best quality shots of the ship, people and animals, we put them in a rough cut aiming for two and a half minutes of run time. Later feedback suggested that this was too long (the interview was not long enough to support the time span), so we cut the promo down further to just over a minute. Laura handled the AWF logo at the end using photoshop, whilst I graded and colour corrected several shots. Laura then graded and colour corrected those that I had missed, and provided a backing audio track of waves, taken from the internet. We went out several times to find ambience tracks from all over the place – the same port, other ports, even in a canyon. The ambience was never the same – in future projects, we must learn to take ambience tracks immediately after the interview, as due to the typhoon, that ambience could never be collected again. I created the strap-line and altered several parts of the audio track to make the vocals smoother. Laura then placed the music over the top. We had trouble exporting it into a file that was Microsoft-friendly, and by the time it was finished to a good standard, Ed had long gone. He still has yet to see the finished product.

All footage was taken on the various trips on the Katrin. The majority of the footage used was taken by myself – a good thing, as being a cameraman, it’s good to have a creative eye. I was very selective with my shots, and as a result I had a lot of good material to choose from in the editing suites, which helped a lot. Massimo’s responses in the interview were short and direct, with very little in the way of fillers, meaning that we could not make the promo any longer than it was in the final cut. Some people are better in front of the camera than others – there’s little you can do to bring them out their ‘shell’ more without building up a genuine space like we did for Hereward. Making the promo good was based around working with what we had in the edit.

This is the finished piece:

Part Eight: The Tiede Time Lapse

In the time when I explored enough boats to know that the language barrier was going to provide difficulty at every turn without help from the long-gone Ed, I turned my attention to the Tiede Challenge, helping Yasmin out with her project on the original ascent. The second group of media students arrived, they were told to advertise the island of Tenerife (for reasons unknown). They decided to do various ‘time lapse’ shoots – photography projects where the DSLR takes one shot every five seconds or so over a prolonged period of time, thus when accelerated in the editing suite, creating a time lapse in photographs. It seemed like a really cool thing to do.

Upon my first ascent up Tiede, I didn’t pack for the cold as much as I needed to. I am quite sure I almost froze to death on the summit, clocking my third near-death experience (behind being crushed to death by 10,000 people at an AC/DC concert, and being washed out to sea in Carbis Bay back in 2002). There was beautiful sunrise at the top, but the cold killed my DSLR camera’s battery dead. I was too cold to fully enjoy it anyway. But then, in the last week, another opportunity arose to take it on a second time. I knew I what I was in for this time – I could pack warmer, charge my DSLR up, and then carry my tripod up right to the summit, and take a time lapse of the sun rising through the clouds.

Of course, one would need to be very fit in order to pull this one off, but I had no doubt in my ability to accomplish this task. There were spare seats on the challenge, so I took the chance. I geared up and ascended the volcano once more, heading up to almost 4000 meters above sea level. At 3000 meters however, all plans for this side-project failed when a blizzard hit the mountain. The cold was so severe that my DSLR froze within minutes. My tripod threatened to buckle, and even without the cold, visibility was nil. We were inside a hailstorm cloud of freezing fog. My clothes froze, but the layer of ice acted as extra insulation, meaning I was a little warmer this time around, and had a much more comfortable time up there (despite the extreme weather). Ultimately though, I took all my equipment up to the very top, and all the way back down again, through a blizzard at high altitude both ways. I can confirm that nothing broke (not even my DSLR after it had thawed), and although the time lapse failed, I did video the ascent, which gave me some good footage to play with, and possibly help Yasmin with too. Weather-dependent media will always have these risks – there’s no way to avoid or predict such circumstances 100%.

This is what the Tiede sunrise looked like on the first ascent. Had it been like this the second time around, a time lapse would have been beautiful. I feel I needed to go up once to understand exactly what it was like up there however – the third highest volcano in the world is not be to be taken lightly. Word of warning – the weather is very changeable at the top!

Part Nine: Evaluation

The end fast approached. The second group’s time lapse project seemed to be going well, the Katrin promo was pretty much finished, the exception of an illusive final shot of the boat (prompting one final trip aboard the Katrin on my final day). I never saw Yasmin’s later works, so I do not know how that project ended up. Overall though, I thought that given the huge amount of problems we’d had on this project, the Katrin promo had turned out quite well, and was something that I would be proud to put on my showreel.

Overall though, it’s not strictly with my media production where I have developed most on this placement. I was simply re-doing what I’d already done for my Add+Vantage module (creating a one-minute promo for something), and I honestly believe the result is better this time around, which is progress. Using a DSLR and a Marantz and synchronizing the sound was something I’d already done to a lesser degree in Prague, but it’s a good technique to know about – I never know when I may need to know that ‘trade secret’ in the future.

But it’s the other things – I’ve developed socially in my communication skills. I’ve been split from Laura almost every day, even with the editing. I often had to film alongside non-media students and work with them to complete my own projects whilst also aiding them in theirs. I’ve developed in terms of using (or at least attempting to use) media equipment in alien environments. It’s not just about Spanish people not speaking English, it was about carrying my camera successfully down the Masca Trail, through the Calima sand storms,  or with my tripod up to the top of Tiede through blizzards. I have proven that I can work in a close-knit team successfully, even when the odds have been severely stacked against us, to produce a media artefact of a high quality standard. It was disappointing that my side-project did not happen, and it would be nice to go out to Tenerife or some other equally beautiful place in the future and finish what I failed to achieve this time around. I believe that I am perfectly capable and competent in carrying out media productions in unfamiliar locations (to be proven in Term 3, I’m sure). It is a shame about the communication breakdown between ourselves and Ed – had we worked more co-operatively together, I feel we’d have been able to finalise a lot more than just one promo video.

The Masca Trail – This 600 meter descent over razor sharp rocks almost cost me my DSLR as much as the blizzard did.

In our spare time, myself, Yasmin and another student named Anca all went scuba diving. Now we know we like it, we can attempt to get our PADI certificates, thus being able to add ‘underwater camera operating’ to our list of credentials.