Archive for the University Work (Old) Category

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.

‘Once Upon A Time’ – The Whole Story

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , , on March 30, 2011 by Adam Broome

Introduction:

This post details all of the events surrounding the failed attempt to create a movie in Prague called ‘Once Upon A Time’, and all the subsequent events that followed from that. About two weeks into my second year, I signed up as a camera operator for this project. It has been one of the most expensive professional experiences yet, and with a certain irony, the least bountiful.

Part One: Creating The Team

You may find a post a while back which I made over the summer of 2010 regarding the showdown between Prague and New York, as both were options open to all students in the faculty that wanted professional experiences abroad. Due to some political mix-ups, New York cost in the region of £1000 for just over a week, which sent most students running for the Prague option faster than athletes late for the starting gun. Prague cost more in the region of £350, and promised an all round cheaper experience.

A ‘tourist’ shot from a later excursion to Prague Old Town Square

In the initial meetings (held on Wednesday mornings), we first met a host of third year students. Two ideas were put forward which we could choose from – one was called Accidental Seduction (a film written by a third year student), and the other was called Once Upon A Time (a film written by a lecturer who had taught me before). As far as I was concerned, there was no comparison. Once Upon A Time (or OUAT as it became referred to) held a lot more promise in terms of benefits. I signed up for that option, and got introduced to the JVC ProHD 700 cameras.

I learned to use the JVC cameras long before anyone else on my course did. They were very large, and very overwhelming. We’d only just been introduced to the Z1s and Z5s a few weeks before, and I felt I was jumping the gun a little being allowed behind such expensive cameras. With the help of my fellow camera operators however, I managed to learn how to use them to a very high degree. This came in handy when using the camera in the TV studio for the Formats module, and also came in use in understanding the Z-type counterparts. Understanding these cameras really boosted my confidence as a camera operator. It made me feel part of the team, and also made me appreciate the structure of team work. We all had a job to do, and it was highly illegal to encroach on other people’s jobs. Only together would anything ever get done.

Producing and Directing roles were decided, everyone seemed comfortable… and then the really big problem that was to doom the project was unearthed without ado.

Part Two: It All Comes Back To The Money

Upon hearing that OUAT was going to cost in the region of £5000, my response was almost of a condescending humour. In about week three, the cost for production was revealed, and the silence permeated every nook and cranny of the lecture theatre. The producer went into re-writes with our lecturer to see if the script could be re-done to cut costs down. Even after this option was utilized however, we were looking at £3000 minimum for this project to go ahead. We would have to fund this money ourselves, so we quickly got to work with fundraising ideas.

A lot of these ideas held promise – a ‘gunge’ event, where lecturers could get sponged with goop in the reception area of the campus; a photo shoot in the shopping mall to sell off professional photos; a gaming night where a tournament would ultimately award the winner with a copy of the new CoD game. It all sounded so promising. Yet, despite all this, I do distinctly remember having words across the lecture theatre upon hearing this news. I of all people know the value of the money, and I seemed to be the only one who was acknowledging this was never going to happen. Students have no money to donate, even if they do genuinely want to help. I raised the issue with the trip organizer, who I remember distinctly telling me that defeatist attitudes would get me nowhere, and that we could raise the money, and that we WOULD raise the money. Inspiring speech – famous last words.

The deciding factor in the difference between Once Upon A Time, and (as we later called it) Once Upon A Time Not.

However, I have only myself to blame – deep down I knew £3000 would never be raised without some sort of major sponsor or miracle. Yet, I didn’t do all that much about it – I could have written a script myself, or quietly ‘migrated’ to the other group. Yet I was convinced by my lecturer’s words (it was a really good speech). I was drawn into the whole idea that we could do it. And thus, we started to prep. An entire unit of students from the third year got together and made entire storyboards for each of the scenes. Costumes were drafted up, scripts were entirely re-written. And my part, for once, was a lot less theoretical, and became quite a fun addition to my busy weekly timetable.

Part Three: SNOW

Here is an example of some of the initial test footage we took for OUAT using the JVC cameras:

Our skills instructor who was ever-watchful of the top-end equipment warned us of arctic conditions in Prague, prompting us all to swiftly buy all manners of thermal underwear. Indeed, on the run-up to Christmas, snow began to emerge in the weather patterns, and Coventry became a chilly place to be in. Apparently, the tripods became brittle and shattered easily in these conditions, and as a camera operator my job was to ensure the tripods – and the £7000 camera on top of them – made it back from Prague in one piece.

Each week, every Wednesday, we regrouped and went on field practice sessions. In light of what happened later the line, these days were just about the best days of this professional experience for me in terms of my development as a camera operator. We were timed in getting equipment up and packing it down, and each week we made progress. I learned how to put rain covers on both Z-cameras and the JVCs (harder than it looks), and also became quite handy with switching XLR cables around in superior time (notable from the Demo-Lition event).

Interesting times included having no vision on the camera, even though the LCD display was bright, the lens cap was off and all zooms were right at the back (turned out to be a manual f-stop error – the shutter was actually closed). One time we practiced using the tracks in the middle of Coventry Cathedral, which was as much fun and it as nerve-wracking (a school-load of pupils came in as we were filming, meaning we had to try and avoid getting them in the shot). We played around the lighting a lot inside the campus buildings – we used dedos to create flickering flame effects, and I also learned how to use the JVC Monitors and the in-camera editing tools, such as the WB Paint tool. I got a JVC out each weekend, and (alongside bass guitar) managed to get a few hours of practice in, usually on Sundays. Making the transition to using them as shoulder cameras was a tricky business, but I got the hang of the position eventually. Mastering the back-focus and macro was also no small feat, but the Focus Assist button was always there to get me out of trouble when I needed it. Also, the Gain and ND Filters were features I came to use often, and I still play around with them frequently when creating artefacts for other modules. Even the tripods provided some challenge in how to use them.

Overall though, I came to like using the JVC cameras – evidence that I had progressed into the realms of a professional camera operator. Every other project I was involved in I was still using Z-type cameras, and my skills were improving in that area as well. I didn’t notice it too much myself until people started asking me about the cameras and how to do things on them – people were looking at me as a camera operator. This in turn gave me even more confidence in myself and my abilities – even though I never did fully get my head around sample rates.

Part Four: Pulling The Plug

Christmas came and went. By now, everyone seemed in a solid position to kick Czech butt. Everyone, that is, except the producer and directors. They looked a little nervous compared to the rest of us. Upon the next meeting, a cut-off point was decided – if the funds were not raised by mid January, OUAT was not going to happen. I took part in a few fundraising events – journeying from pub to pub and raising measly ten pounds here and there, and also partaking in the failed CoD Tournament, which actually failed so badly it cost the project an extra £4 rather than raised any. Despite having an actress lined up in the wings, mid January arrived and the inevitable happened. OUAT was pulled, leaving us now without a project and only four weeks until the flight out.

The subsequent ideas that were discussed in the meeting were typically met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm on everyone’s part. Several ideas went through circulation – the idea changed more or less every week. As far as my memory goes:

1. Documentary on ‘students and alcohol’ – This idea was a typical ‘write what you know’ exercise. If we did a project based around something we could relate to, it would hopefully give us some incentive to carry on ahead with the project. This would also include a trip to a local absinth factory – propular amongst the group, as we all figured we could use a drink.

2. Documentary on a ‘Jewish Synagogue’ – There is a famous Jewish synagogue in Prague, and we figured that since Idea 1 would be too risky to use our expensive cameras, this was a safer bet, provided we could get access to the synagogue. We decided within a few days that this would not be the case.

3. Documentary on the ‘Charles Bridge’ – Prague hosts a very famous bridge called the Charles Bridge, which hosts statues on either side, each representing a various piece of history and / or culture. Each statue had a story – we decided to choose ten of them and make a documentary about the tales, and what the people made of them and their superstitions. This was the best idea of the lot I felt.

4. Documentary on ‘Saint John’ – As most primary research of the Charles Bridge came up wrong, we decided to focus instead of one lone statue on the bridge, namely the one of ‘Saint John’, whereby if one touches on part of the statue it brings good luck, whereas another part brings bad. This idea would include a trip on a ghost tour through Prague, exploring the more supernatural superstitions of the city.

Every idea seemed to be agreed upon, and then changed by the next week. No idea every alone stood on it’s own two feet. Eventually I simply stopped attending the meetings. I felt sorry for some members of the group, as they conducted a lot of research for some of the later projects, which ultimately proved fruitless. It was impossible to gage just what to expect when we got out there, and I just had the impression that the whole group was thrashing around for something to do. With weeks to go, I left them to it – I had my own ideas to develop.

Part Five: The Ghost In The Machine


One thing that can clearly be deduced from the above list is that the idea of making a short film in Prague literally went down in flames the moment OUAT was pulled – documentary was now the name of the game. I wouldn’t have minded so much had the top brass of the group decided that ‘Z’ cameras were better for documentaries, and were no longer going to take the JVCs. Everything I had learned was now being undone before me, and seemingly through no fault of my own. In a mad attempt to toss caution to the wind, I took a walk and started to cultivate an idea for a short film. I knew as always that making an idea into reality in such a short period of time would probably cost considerable expenses out of my own pocket, but in all honesty that was something I was willing to accept. The way I saw the current situation, Prague was the most expensive project for this module, and as of present was proving the most unfruitful. If taking this project ahead meant taking over directing roles, I would have been willing to do that. I was jumping the gun – I had not as of yet done my Short Film module, and I knew I was heading into the unknown. But I had to try.

The man to speak to was Clifton Stewart, a script writer by profession. After talks with him, I went about creating a story. The basis had several key points – a man would journey to Prague, and upon arrival, his reason for being there would be taken away, leaving an enigma code in the narrative. The film would only be a short one – I aimed for ten pages or less. I ultimately decided upon a love story (as love always sells), about a man who travels to Prague to find a girl. I took time trying to find a twist interesting enough to fit the bill, and eventually struck gold – what if he went to Prague, and found out she’d been dead for the last six months?

I drafted a script, and went through several re-writes of my own before finally taking the first copy to show to Clifton. The story was a lot more focused on the internet – the main character meets a girl online, heads to Prague to meet her, and finds she’s been dead or ages. The title ‘The Ghost On The Machine’ wrote itself. I would place the script below, but I think I’ll save you the read. The story focused on the man arranging to meet the girl in a Prague cafe, and when she didn’t turn up, he journeys to her house (which she references previously) to find out what’s going on. Her mum informs the main character she’s been dead six months (suicide – killed by a broken heart), and directs him to her grave. Upon seeing the grave, despite the fact the mother has placed a set of roses there recently, ‘thieves’ have stolen the flowers. The main character goes back to his hotel and prepares to get back home, when he receives a knock at his door. Outside, in the corridor, he finds the roses from the grave, and hears a whisper in his ear. Though he cannot see her, it is the girl he met online, finally having found love, and now departing for the afterlife in peace. It seems she wanted him to go to Prague so she could show him a physical sentiment – this would all be at the viewer’s discretion however.

I was happy with the way the script turned out. My gut feeling was that had this idea been put forward sooner, when I knew OUAT was going under, it may have become a reality. Most of the script was based around a narration anyway, keeping the script simple and minimal at the best of times. This was a good thing for Prague, but with two weeks to go, it was proposed just too late. After Prague, I would go on to prove that it is possible to go from first draft scripts to finished short films within just over five weeks, but not two. The time was too late, but it is a possibility that this film may be chased up later in my career.

…judging by what happened when we did finally depart for Prague, it’s probably best we didn’t have a set of actors and locations lined up waiting to be paid, it would have been a disaster! (Not that is wasn’t anyway).

Part Six: Departure

Thus the big day finally came, with everyone meeting up early on Saturday morning to get the coach. The equipment had been taken out the day previously, and everyone, despite still being without a clear idea of what we were going to make, was genuinely excited about going. Two major issues kicked off within seconds – first of all, I was told all my hand luggage had to be sacrificed. ALL hand luggage. None negotiable. Other people had the option to fit XLR cables and microphones into their hand luggage, but mine was completely removed, as was the same for another fellow camera op (regardless of team work, it was our responsibility, and ours alone). After integrating all my necessities into other people’s luggage, the problem was somewhat fixed by one even more stupid – the Z1 camera given to me was broken.

The AE (Auto Exposure) was broken, so the light would not correctly adjust the surroundings. The skills instructor could not fix it, as I as a camera operator was shunned just like that. I ended up deciding the leave the broken Z1 back at my apartment – the bus AND the ‘safety’ bus had both failed to arrive, meaning we were now at risk of missing the flight. I transferred the batteries to the other Z1 case, then nipped back and left my one camera behind. Although I managed to regain hand luggage privileges, I foolishly left my DSLR behind – on the principle that a friend had already promised me that I could use hers whilst we were over there.

A bus turned up with a driver who didn’t know where he was going. He shot down the nearest highway to the airport, where we hustled and bustled through a chaotic terminal and landed on the place with minutes to spare. I’d barely sat down when the plane took off. Journeying through Stanstead terminal was the most stressed I’d been in recent memory – it set the tone nicely for the upcoming week. The fact I was now heading out to Prague essentially without a role had not sunk in yet, but we’d all made it on the plane (just). The plane made good time, arriving 20 minutes early, and dropping us swiftly into the hands of our awaiting coach, which took us straight to our hotel. Once the bus had turned up at the university, it was generally a smooth run right through to the hotel (albeit a sleepy one).

Our hotel – The Hotel Populus!

Upon arrival at the hotel, rooms were sorted out before myself and my fellow room mate took our first steps on Czech soil to hunt out some food. We got a few supplies in, and were quickly rounded up and taken on a tour around Prague. Our lecturer left us after a while, leaving us to find our own ways back. It wouldn’t have been such a bad idea if we were now into 36-hour sleep deprivation. The journey back to the hotel that night was rather hallucinogenic.

The first night did not ease up the pressure however, as a group meeting was called and the idea had – surprise surprise – changed once more. Now the Charles Bridge was a no-go, instead we were now going to do something on globalization. We based the original idea around food, and the directors split the group up accordingly. The Z1 team (namely my two fellow camera operators) were to take in the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional Prague and traditional food, whilst I – geared with a small palmcorder – would be visiting the fast food, western-culture orientated franchise diners. Now not only had my camera been taken away, but also my opportunity to sample the culture.

Part Seven: The Breaking Point

Perhaps it was due to tiredness, but tensions rose to almost unbearable levels during the meeting on that first night. Since no project was being done, the producer and directors dictated several roles. I thought I was grouchy – it wasn’t until later in the week that I realised how close the breaking point other people had been. I, typically, would not blow up and walk off in a huff during the meeting. I quietly, and calmly, sat at the bar until late in the night with a camera operator, and told him I was seriously considering walking from this project as of the next day. I didn’t like this feeling of being trapped; I didn’t like the fact that despite paying £350 for this Professional Experience trip, that university had failed to give me working equipment; I almost certainly didn’t like the fact that I’d been directed to walking around fast food stalls day in and day out. I figured it would be best to thank the lecturers for the opportunity – what there was of it – and then politely just walk off and explore the city and the culture. I was fully prepared to do that – heck, I could have probably learned more just be observing what the other group were doing or being a runner for them.

As the events that night transpired though, my friend told me with clarity that if I did decide to do this, I would only be proving one thing – that I can’t be camera operator without a top-notch camera, and that I’ll throw a hissy fit if I don’t get the equipment I want. The quality of the palmcorder had proven to be as good as the Z1, which I would be forced to gaze upon with envious eyes for the rest of the week – whilst my two fellow camera operators, who I’d learned so much with alongside, would now tell me tales of of unusual foods in the most interesting pubs. But I could see he was right. This was an impossible situation. I had a post, and I’d have to stick with it, even if I knew staying back in Coventry would probably have benefitted me more. I know ‘stuff happens’ and life doesn’t always go right, but as it set out, this was in retrospect one of the most depressing weeks of my life in recent memory. I’ve been criticised on my blogs for getting too personal in the past, so I’ll leave all this emotional baggage stuff here, but it is important to note that this was the way I felt throughout the entire week, which no doubt affected my ability to do my job and my my ability to act as a professional.

Part Eight: Non-Stop Whirlwind Tour

Here are two clips from the first half of the week – an entertainer on Charles Bridge playing Bach’s ‘Air On The G-String’ using nothing more than glasses of water, and our trip to Prague Castle:

Sucking up any pride, and rather now looking on the bright side, I awoke the next morning with a rather carefree and positive – albeit slightly ironic – attitude. I took the palmcorder, and we hit the Subways and McDonalds joints at once. The first few days revolved around us trying to get interviews inside the diners – we were denied at almost every one. The director I was following was David – I note his name as during the week he became one of the only saving graces for this project. He’d had all the set backs I had, yet he remained professional and every bit as passionate about the project, which really impressed me. To some degree, his constant questioning of people on the street (even when he didn’t know the language) and staff in the diners kept me motivated. If he was going all-out, I was sure as hell going to back him up. My mission remained clear in my mind though – go through each day, and count the days until I could get back to Coventry, get some working equipment, and start working on my short film.

Eiffel Tower replica – albeit not a very good one…

Each night featured another group meeting – no word of a lie, two days in, the idea changed again, leaving the focus of food, and focusing more the traditional aspects. One day, my unit were out filming, and a lecturer decided to give the other group a tour of the castle. I almost literally dragged my group up the castle with us, which turned out to be a good thing – if we’d missed the trip to Prague Castle, any additional footage we’d have gained in Subway would have been for nothing. It was ‘renegade time’ on this project.

Impossible staring contest?

Days flew by, and I just got any footage I could. Dave lined up interview after interview, taking us inside the Ministry Of Culture, The American Embassy to Prague, and even into an art museum. Each time an interview was confirmed, I pulled out my little palmcorder, and tried not to laugh and the interviewees who were trying not to laugh at me. Were it not for some professional sound recording equipment next to me, the whole thing would have looked very farcical. We also got footage of ‘Vox Pops’ interviews, but were told none of these could be used as relevant disclaimer forms had not been filled in. Filming was put on hold another day when myself and several other members journeyed to the Sex Machines Museum – it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I needed a laugh to lighten my spirits.

Sampling some of the finer cuisine in Prague

The biggest laugh of all however, came mid-week. The day before had been by far the most productive. I’d sat quietly wallowing in my drink as my two fellow camera operators had taken footage inside a pub, and interview many people inside about a football match between Liverpool and Prague, using it as a contrast against the globalization theme of our documentary. I wanted to help, but every time I tried to lend a hand, I was tld to sit down by the directors, as we were crowding the interviewees. I decided to get an early night and headed home alone, only to be lightly mocked upon people’s return to the hotel by them telling me that an interview had just been done with a hobo called Eegor on the Z1, and it looked amazing. I’d done letting it get to me. BUT THE FOLLOWING MORNING, it transpired that none of the footage from the previous day had successfully captured. Not the pub, not the hobo, not any of it. The Z1 had told the operators the footage was recording, and yet it had not. The second Z1 camera had now officially broken. I knew I shouldn’t have laughed, but this was the turning point of the week – now it wasn’t just me the university had effectively screwed over, it was every single person on this project. We had no Z1 cameras, and we’d lost the most important and significant footage we’d captured all week. I wasn’t cruel or immature enough to laugh, even though I wanted to – but it made me feel much better inside.

Part Nine: Lonely Mexicans, Football Hooligans, Drug Hide-Outs, And Other Tales

Of the whole week, professional experience as you can probably guess came in a very thin sliver. My social and team working skills were pushed to breaking point, and my technical ability developed in almost no way at all. However, that ‘early night’ as mentioned in the previous part was actually a location scouting trip – I took a long walk on my own around Prague since I wasn’t needed at the pub, and found several places that looked useful for my ‘City’ project for my 260MC work. It was a photography project, and I called upon my friend’s favour the next night. The night was the night of the aforementioned football match between Liverpool and Prague – I’d taken footage of an interview with the manager of the stadium earlier in the week. Tonight was to feature interview with the fans, but I passed my palmcorder over to someone else in favour of my photography project. My friend lent me her £750 D90 DSLR camera with a little persuasion – she wasn’t too happy about it (for obvious reasons), but it was entirely in her court – her DSLR camera would be the only piece of professional media equipment I would be to use all week. I had two hours to get the photos whilst she went to a theatre show, which was more than enough for me. Lending me her camera was a position she should never have been in, but as mentioned, now all cameras had broken, all we had left really was the things we’d brought with us (and I am of course very grateful she did trust me – it meant a lot).

Over the next two hours I journeyed further than I’d have probably admitted to her – across the Charles Bridge, around the castle area, back across another bridge, down the backstreets, across the Old Town Square, through the other back streets to the other square, right down to the National Museum, back up the other side of the square, down the high street, along the tram lines, back to the Charles Bridge. The amount of shady people I saw this night reminded me of the average Saturday night in Nottingham. The difference here is that if they were threatening me, it made not an ounce of difference as I can’t speak Czech – I probably came off braver than I realised. I also ran into the fair share of local British lads – as one person later described, the ‘perfect way to turn a city into a dangerous place overnight’. For me, I was just hoping it didn’t start raining. Some photos can be seen below:

I arrived back at the theatre ahead of time, and whilst waiting, struck up a conversation with a Mexican lady, who told me she’d been travelling around Europe on her own after a bad relationship. Evidently, looking for love. She was taking photos on a DSLR as well, and we walked back to the theatre together from the bridge (though I was ever-cautious, naturally). She asked if I’d like to accompany her to the next showing at the theatre with her, which I respectfully declined. I still had 264MC waiting for me upon my return to the hotel. I said goodbye, gave my friend her camera back, and for the first time in the whole week actually felt that I’d experienced a genuine piece of Prague and done something that a professional media producer would do.

The following day the shambles continued. I was asked to carry a tripod around Prague so my friend could take some cut-away footage on her DSLR. As it transpired, the tripod had no release plate on it, so I was just lugging it around all day. I dropped it off at the hotel during lunch time, and regrouped later. On the final day, all hopes of the project seemed lost. I set off to buy a birthday present for a friend of mine, but due to my phone having lost all signals all week, it was practically impossible to reunite with the team. Thus, I decided to explore all the Prague I’d missed in the last week – try the foods, buy the trinkets, and visit the places. This included a trip up to a giant pendulum on a hilltop, which upon closer inspection was a drug den rife with hooded youths. Ever typical, I took a few photos and enjoyed the view anyway, before the smell of marijuana finally edged me back down the graffiti-ridden hill steps. I also took on a dish that the rest of my group had tried to eat – but failed – earlier in the week. I made a point of finishing off the whole meal (soup in a bread load, if you were wondering). I took photos as proof of the victory.

The final night was not of discussion or celebration, but more of relief. A little game of ‘secret santa’ was played, and I hung around for a while, before finally retiring to my bed to continue the development of ‘The Job Interview’ for 264MC. Despite the way the week had started, the last two days had compensated somewhat. But the best thing was, the week was over, I was still alive, and we were now returning home!

Part Ten: Reflection and Evaluation

And I use that second term very lightly. As of yet at this late hour, no final artefact has been produced. Footage was successfully captured at an art museum and the football stadium, as well as a few interviews with workers inside the city. Cut-away shots were taken mostly on hand held cameras. What the end result is is a mystery, as I have not seen any of the final footage myself – perhaps the final cuts were deemed ‘un-editable’ by the top brass. It’s not something I’ll ever know.

Let’s get the obvious out the way with to start with regarding reflection. Every now and then you come across something in university life that really strikes a bulls-eye hit of bringing out the absolute worst in you. Especially with regards to 201MC, this is it. As predicted, this was one of the most costly projects for this module, and coincidentally one of the least productive. I say that only with regards the week in Prague however. As I have found on occasion before on these blogs, it’s hard to reflect upon something where I was heavily restricted in terms of development. The week in Prague did not develop me technically in any way. It taught me a few lessons in how to keep a cool head, but that’s more of a life lesson than a media one.

The week in Prague upsets me so much I don’t even want to talk about it. This final part goes a lot better if I start to think about the time before the actual event itself. During this period, I learned how to use JVC cameras inside and out. Sure, I didn’t use them in the end, but the knowledge was now there, giving me the edge on my competitors in the Short Film module. As it transpired, a cameraman on this project would also help me out on that module as well, as well as co-star on my weekly radio show. The fundraising around the pubs was a little nerve-wracking, but it was certainly an experience to ask for money rather than to be asked for it.

The Ghost In The Machine was a crucial step – largely irrelevant to most on this project, but actually my first attempt at a script. I don’t think it turned out that bad – certainly the idea and the story are there (though a little too scripted for Clifton’s liking). The experience of heading through the airports has taught me simple lessons about how to get through customs and airport security with equipment – something that will no doubt hinder me in many future projects abroad regardless. I also got experience working with equipment in the snow, even if it was only in this country. I also played around with tracks, pull-focus shots, in-camera editing with the pain tools, and other technical marvels. In truth, almost all technical development came from the pre-production test shoots, where everyone had a role with working equipment, and we were all living the dream of ‘Once Upon A Time’. I also showed good social skills, obeying every command given to me by my superiors whilst giving my own recommendations when I could, and working with third years, who were for the first term more or less complete strangers to me.

Above all though, the lessons learned most from this project came from the failings rather than the happy times. First off, never, EVER take on a project like Once Upon A Time unless you have the money for it. The moment the budget was drawn up (not that you couldn’t guess it was costly), we should have scrapped the idea. £3000 does not come from students, it comes from companies and organizations who are willing to fund your enterprise, or it comes from us, and our £200 each supplements from the IEMS services. I know from 264MC that sometimes you have to draw out of your own pocket to get things moving in a project. I never got the impression that people were willing to do this.

Likewise, NEVER listen to inspiring speeches and get drawn into project when your heart tells you it’s wrong. I knew this project was suicide, but I went along for the ride. Too bad it turned out bad, how else was it? And whilst I’m at it, IF you get a good idea for an alternative project, see it in before two weeks before the flight leaves. Don’t put the idea forward with days to spare and act surprised when nobody takes notice. But above all…

(this needs a new paragraph)

ABOVE ALL

Do not ever, EVER, trust ANYONE to give you working equipment. Not even the university you’ve paid money to. Check ALL equipment. This would not have helped the second Z1 camera, but it would have helped me. Heck, if I’d checked the camera, maybe it wouldn’t have broken at all. Maybe after the second Z1 broke, mine could have seen this project through. I’d have gained experience, a solid final project would have been produced, and I’d be talking about what a lovely time I’d had rather than all this depressing stuff. And that, generally, is my entire Prague experience summed up in one sentence:

Check the equipment – it’s the difference between having the option to fail, or having no options at all.

The Age Of Enlightenment

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , on March 24, 2011 by Adam Broome

The Age Of Enlightenment (A.K.A The Age Of Reason) was a period in the 18th century where being of faith and belief stopped being the ‘cool’ thing to do, and science and ‘reason’ started to become the main driving force behind all major social change, ultimately leading us the society we live in today. At this late hour on the evening of the 260MC had-in, I figure it is time to at least acknowledge this post that I have been so acutely avoiding posting for so long now.

The age is based around philosophical approaches to life and society – that is, the ideals of a culture. The age aimed to promote argument (founded upon ‘reason’), and start getting people to challenge systems already set up. The way our lecturer put it, most thought came from the pubs before this philosophical revolution, and the way I see it, most of the time period before this act were very religiously orientated. This was to be a turning point in the development of the human race, for better or for worse.

It of course relates to media in the sense that through challenging and arguing over people’s points of view and debating, we have ben given certain freedoms that dominate the media industry as an institution. Media in general is all about representing opinions, be it through film or television or radio. Had the Age Of Enlightenment not happened, perhaps the media industry would never have been born (perhaps, due the lack of scientific perspective, we may still have been in the industrial revolution at this point in time). The fact that the age focused primarily on vocal and written arguments (a perspective held strong in academia) solidifies this theory.

So what of it? Is it not just another chapter in the history books? Well, yes and no. It is perhaps the official birthplace of the media industry (a question I’ve wanted answering since Term 1 last year – go find it in one of my posts!). It was subject to much criticism due to the arguments it proposed, much like the ever-changing media industry today (*cough* Wikileaks *cough*). I wouldn’t say we were still in an age of reason – more, this one singular philosophical advance has become a part of our everyday lives. So it is part of history, but a part of history that we live each day and take for granted.

It is also perhaps a movement that gave hope to revolutionaries wanting to challenge the authorities. This philosophical change – although started mostly be the educated and the academic – would no doubt affect the young troublemakers who later grow up to become radical leaders of change. This movement does in some way lend a hand to the formation of things such as freedom of speech – again, something we take for granted, and again, something very important in the media industry.

But how can knowing this help us humble students in our future careers? Is it not just archaic mumbo, held only to be used in fancy restaurant conversations? Possibly – the age happened a long time ago, and it wont be until a new Age Of Enlightenment occurs that our generation will really engage with what this movement tried to do. You may think it wont happen, but I myself am not so sure. Some say humanity is reaching the pinnacle of evolution, yet I think that there are always improvements to be made (not making a swan song for world peace, but as long as there’s war, there’s room for improvement). Given the technological advances, perhaps there will be a philosophical movement one day that will be broadcast all over the world that will unite all religions, genders and races, and create a true Age Of Enlightenment. One can hope – but what would that do to the media industry? That is a point to be debated on a future / science fiction related programme – an intriguing thought, but lacking gravitas.

The Montage Of Beautiful Things – Evaluation and Reflection

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , on March 24, 2011 by Adam Broome

After filming Colourful Symmetry, I finally started up FCP for the final time on this project, and after obtained the ‘.mov’ file of ‘Shapes and Shadows’, imported all my different projects onto the timeline. My aim was quite simply to create a sequence of the ‘best bits’ from each project, creating a showreel no longer than five minutes in length. I was aiming to create several narratives in the showreel as well, to give a feel for each of the projects – such as the poem ‘Two Minutes’, or the ‘Dirty Text’ piece, for example.

However, I knew I had to start with a title sequence. Brush Script seemed the best, as it has a ‘personal’ feel to it (almost like I’d written it myself). The colour choice was white for the simple reason that I decided my opening shot would be the ‘Pleasantville’ daffodils from my last project. I incorporated this with the opening of Dirty Text (the 360 loop-shot), which I also figured was an unusual way to start proceedings. It was my hope that both shots would capture the audience’s attention, as they are rather bizarre visually.

For music, I tried using one track slowed down, but it didn’t sound right, so I quickly decided to use two sound tracks. I re-used the soundtrack from ‘Colourful Symmetry’ in the opening few seconds, as the strange music fitted the bizarre opening shots anyway. It may lead the audience to believe I am re-hashing Colourful Symmetry, but then of course the joke is one them. The ‘fade to black / boom’ effect was something I’d originally used in my protest march documentary (and looking back at that project, made earlier in the year, you can see how far I’ve come). Then, the original soundtrack came into play. I started and ended with ‘Night Lights’, as that project had a nice opening and end sequence. Only telling parts of the joke in that project would not have worked for this montage, so I cut most of the ‘light’ project out.

The rest just came naturally – I put up the titles of the initial shots of each project so audiences had a name to what they were watching. The Brick was the one with the brick in it; Two Minutes was the one with the guy talking; The Urbanisation was the city-orientated photographs. For each project, I started off with the earliest shots, and played them through in chronological order so they made the most sense. For choosing the shots, I chose the ones that looked the most beautiful, or the ones that demonstrated the most significant parts of the narrative within. Each project also had it’s own problem with fitting into the sequence:

The Brick was just too slow. I realised I could cut the time of the montage down significantly by accelerating this stop-motion movie to 130%. It was fast enough to significantly reduce the run time, without affecting the experience of the film. I chose what I considered to be the best shots, and incorporated them into the piece.

Two Minutes had problems from the start – the image of me reciting the poem was the first issue. It didn’t exactly look eye-catching or beautiful, but then it was an artefact base around the poem. I had to be sure the audio was clear enough to capture the audience with audio, thus compensating for the lack of visual interest, However, the music overlapping drowned out my voice – lowering the whole track didn’t benefit the silent clips like The Urbanisation though. I made several points on the audio track, and lowered them accordingly (-27db) every time Two Minutes came into play. This way, the montage had a loud music track, and yet you could still hear the poem when those clips came into play. Two Minutes was mainly included in the first half of the montage (with Dirty Text in the latter half) as switching between the two frequently throughout didn’t seem to work as well. Two Minutes is featured at the end just because it has a rather ‘classic’ ending.

Dirty Text had all the same problems as Two Minutes did, with the addition of a music track. For most projects, I just deleted the original audio track completely, but with Two Minutes and Dirty Text, the words were pivotal to the narrative within the artefacts. Two Minutes was just words, and so was much easier to incorporate. Dirty Text featured music in the background, which can be heard to the acute listener at various points in the montage.

I could have re-done the original sound clip and used that instead, but I felt like this was cheating – my montage was to be made of ‘.mov’ files of all the finished pieces, and not the individual elements that constructed them. During the ‘reverse waterfall’ shot, I just included the text part, and then cut the audio back to the soundtrack of the montage, as the econd half of this clip sounded really bad, with Dirty Text music combating the Montage music to a very obvious degree (but I really wanted the waterfall shot in this final montage).

The introductory shot – a really nice pull-focus – needed to be included as it set up the narrative for this piece quite well. However, the text that introduced this series of clips almost clashed with the ‘Foundation’ word on screen (this project being my ‘Text’ piece). I felt all the text on screen perhaps ruined this pull-focus shot slightly – it worked a lot better in the original artefact. However, this montage is really only to give a ‘taste’ of each project – it could be argued that they all work better individually.

Dirty Text had one other major problem – all the other shots were fairly fast-paced, and darted around between each other to keep the viewer interested. The pace of the montage is hampered at several points by the beautiful slow-motion shots from this piece. I would have edited some of Dirty Text out (such as the ‘tree’ shot towards the end) but kept a lot of footage in, as the computerized voice needed to explain the point of the artefact (and indeed tell the narrative of the piece). It still looks a little strange to me – fast paced suddenly slowing down to a sluggish pace. It does add variety to the pacing though, which may not be such a bad thing after all. Perhaps a few more overlaps of the audio could have been beneficial.

Shapes And Shadows was more or less completely re-done in my own editing suite. I took the original file, and then used split-screen (as I promised myself I would) to introduce that piece. The blue background clearly separated it from the rest of the shots, yet (indeed as I had felt when filming) there was not a lot of usable footage. I kept all the hand shadows to a minimum, as well as all the weird ‘bendy body’ stuff, restricting the shots in this montage to the shots of our friend Faye doing her various somersaults.

Colourful Symmetry was ultimately one of the most beautiful artefacts that I ended up filming. However, a large portion of the project included in this montage is the one long shot of the city walk, with the faded mirror elements incorporated over the top. I felt this shot summed up the artefact perfectly – I originally included the shot of the duck, but it just looked out of place. Once this shot was planted firmly in the middle, the only other shot that added anything to this montage was the ‘Pleasantville’ shots of the purple flowers. Most of the other shots from this project just seemed to pale in comparison, so I limited the use of this project in favour of the deeper and more engaging projects.

Night Lights, as mentioned, featured a joke told with glow sticks. Only showing part of the joke would confused the audience, as it doesn’t make sense if only a section of the joke is told. Because of this, I decided to only use the start and end of the project – from what feedback I was given, these were the best shots of the project anyway.

The Urbanisation also looked oddly out of place – the still images again providing quite a drastic change in pace and style, of course adding variety to the showreel, but also taking away a smooth-flowing showreel. I used the majority of Prague photos from the gallery, and tried to incorporate them better by using fade effects and splitting the screen up into four sections (I also did this to reduce run time).

Overall I like the way my montage turned out. I fear it may be a little on the long side, but you get a good idea of what each project has been about, and this montage clearly demonstrates all the varieties of styles and approaches I have used during this last term. I like the way the pacing changes for the most part – I think variety is important in a showreel, as it demonstrates ability to use different approaches to filmmaking. The music used was very general, but for the surrealism of some of the projects on show, a normal-sounding soundtrack is probably what this showreel needed the most.

I like the variation in the music as well (the montage is long enough to pull it off). It completely differentiates the start of the montage from the main bulk, which draws attention to the text at the beginning. Not only are audiences aware of my name (despite using Brush Script font, I believe the text is large enough to read clearly), but they also see me at several points in the montage itself, reciting Two Minutes, and also at the end surrounded by glow sticks. This is important, as it shows and names the person who created the montage clearly. If this was to be used to advertise my skills, people would now have a face to the name. The opening shot of the ‘Pleasantville’ flowers also shows a good use of editing technique that should distinguish my montage from others people’s.

The fade to black that cuts the opening shots from the main bulk of the montage works every bit as well as it did during the protest march project – it ‘prepares’ the audience for something exciting and action packed. The Brick catches the attention of the audience straight away – I still believe it is one of the best projects I created this term. Even with accelerating the footage, I don’t think this has taken anything away at all – by keeping the montage speedy (to a certain extent) it added more than detracted from the artefact as a whole.

Alongside The Brick, Two Minutes and Shapes are probably the most recognizable, and stay in the mind the most. Shapes and Shadows was the only group work I conducted during the term for this montage – ironically, it is also probably the project I was least happy with. The final project was nothing more than a play with shadows and lighting, and served no deeper purpose. This perhaps comes across on screen – however, some shots were deemed ‘pretty’ and thus slotted into my montage nicely. The token blue screen added a recurring shade of colour which I liked, as it gave a sort-of ‘colour consistency’ to the piece. The clips are recognizable to remind the audience of the project, yet are not overused (which is always a good thing).

Two Minutes makes the audience focus more on audio than visual aspects, which I have yet to discover is successful or not. I’m not too happy about the nulling down of the imagery (I did incorporate other shots from Two Minutes and overlapped them over my voice over to keep the visuals interesting at one point). I may have been better doing Two Minutes again in a re-shoot – re-doing the audio with proper sound equipment, and then perhaps using drama students to re-enact the stories within the poem itself. It was only due to time constraints that was not done originally – it’s certainly a style of filmmaking to look into in the future.

Dirty Text and Colourful Symmetry are – predictably – hard to tell apart visually. I know the slow-motion shots are from Dirty Text, but an unsuspecting audience would not know that – were it not for the ‘computerized voice over’, there would be hardly any differentiation at all. This goes against the montage – pretty though it looks, it is difficult to tell the two apart. The project still looks beautiful because of it, yet I feel I made two projects that were too much alike to work in this final montage – more variety was needed visually. Perhaps using the Pleasantville effect more would have worked in my favour, or perhaps using more mirror effects.

The poor urban photo gallery just looks completely out of water here. They were a photo project alongside The Brick and Night Lights, but as mentioned, Night Lights was pretty much out from the start, and The Brick was stop-motion. This was the only project as stand-alone photography, and the moments when the montage stops completely to show a full-screen version of a photo just doesn’t work too well. It doesn’t help the fact that the first two from this project are daytime shots and all the rest are night time (that was just the way they turned out!) It adds variety, as I say – for better or for worse has yet to be deemed. But looking at it now, it may have been a good idea to ‘swipe’ them from one side of the screen to the others, or just keep them moving somehow using Ken Burns or something.

This, however, would now allow audiences to fully experience the visual impact of the photos (I genuinely did choose the best Prague ones – some I was really happy with). I wanted the audience to have a taster of some of the best photos… but even so, this seemed to be a montage of video clips, and the photos just seemed out of place. It needed to be in there though – purely as this is a montage of every project I’ve done for this module this term, including photography.

The text I used for all the projects was highlighted with shadows, as I am all too aware of the danger of white text on videos. It think the simple font face went in it’s favour, as it serves the purpose of being easy to read. At the speeds you need to read some of the text in time, it’s good to have simple font faces, rather than continuing the ‘Brush Script’ style I started at the beginning (another way this montage benefitted from having an opening sequence separate from the body of the montage.

As a final note, the music in the background seems to always become repetitive at the same point – during the close up on the purple flower right after the Dirty Text pull-focus. I didn’t write the music, and when you have something that fits a project this good, for me it’s best to work around it. It uses the same riff perhaps a couple of times too often – then again, that’s probably why the sound clip was free!

Montage Projects 6 + 8 – ‘Colourful Symmetry’

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by Adam Broome

Bringing up the rear was the final montage project, a hybrid of two words and a somewhat ‘sequel’ to ‘Dirty Text’ completed the week before. Colourful Symmetry was designed to further my understanding of editing in FCP, particularly in terms of grading and colour technique. I also wanted to learn how to use ‘mirror’ effects.

The approach to this project was similar to Dirty Text – the only difference this time was that I was using a PDX10 as opposed to a Z5, so the quality was slightly lower, and there were no slow-motion shots. For the last time, on a nice sunny day, I returned to the memorial park, but avoided the forest this time. I had a vague idea of what mirror effecs I was looking for, and got shots of trees in the centre of the camera, along with some naturally-occurring symmetry as well. I took a video of several lakes and stream, trying to capture the reflections in the water. I also took some footage of local flowers coming into bloom, as I figured they’d be a good focal point for colour.

Then, just like several times before, the trip around the nature park was quickly followed up by a trip to Coventry city centre, where I got additional footage – one was an extremely long shot of my journey as I walked towards another park on the other side of town. This was sped up to about 1000% in the final cut. Once I felt I’d obtained enough footage, I returned to the editing suites and uploaded.

We were told not to do this a long time ago – upload images and overplay music. However almost every student on the course has an example of this artefact in some form or another – at least I can say I made my version of the artefact last when I saw no other way forward. Once the videos were uploaded, I sequenced them in a way I was happy, and re-sped the long shot. I used what I had learned from Dirty Text to grade most of the shots, and applied mirror effects to the 360-degrees ‘tree’ shot, which turned out more or less exactly how I had hoped. The shots of the duck on the lake were kept until the end – not did this fit the music, but it was also a ‘cute’ way to end the piece (much like with the squirrel in ‘The Urbanisation’).

Critically however, whilst meandering around the internet looking for ways to further improve my editing skills and make this artefact look better, I stumbled across something called ‘The Pleasantville Effect’. This effect is named after the film Pleasantville.

I remember watching the film many years ago when I was young – I didn’t think much of it (probably too young), but I recognised the name and knew what it meant straight away. The film used a very unique technique – the whole film is black and white, but half-way through, things start turning into colour. It’s much like the ‘arrival’ scene in The Wizard Of Oz or, the ‘red coat’ scenes in Schindler’s List (see below).

I thought it would be a really great idea to learn this and get something really productive out of a simply artefact. I saw the tutorial for it, which can be found below, and it took me step-by-step through the process. I used the shots of the flowers to implement the effect, only bringing the bloom into colour, and leaving the rest of the image black and white.

Here’s the tutorial I used on how to make this rather ‘spiffy’ effect:

Overall, I think the effect worked really well, and I can see it coming in use in the future. I’ve not seen many students on the course use this effect yet, and for me (whose knowledge of editing is… was limited) this was quite a big step forward. Split-screen and wireframes were experimented with during the production of this artefact, but it didn’t look right, and I decided to save those effects for the actual montage itself.

The final piece of the puzzle was choosing the music, which came from the regular site FreePlayMusic.com. The tune is called ‘Witches Approaching’, and I fell in love with it straight away. The music was over-the-top, but that was sort of the point. This tapped into what I had already researched around symmetry itself – it doesn’t take much to make symmetry (or distorted version of symmetry) to seem like a threatening and rather sharp affair. The music added a certain gothic atmosphere to the images (despite the images being taken mostly in the sunshine), and I think that really added to the piece. What the visual elements lacked was compensated for in the soundtrack.

I liked the way it turned out overall. I think it complements Dirty Text nicely – the pacing is completely different, as is the content. The former worked on a much deeper level, whereas this piece was just something that looked pretty and sounded intriguing. Nevertheless, despite the simplicity of this artefact, the editing skills I learned from the production will no doubt benefit me in many projects to come, meaning this project has achieved it’s purpose 100%.