Archive for Evaluation

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.

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!

‘Demo-Lition’ – The Whole Story

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2010 by Adam Broome

Introduction

The following post details the story of my artefact based on the ‘Demo-Lition’ protest march that occurred in early November 2010. I was at the march myself to create a documentary that would explore what I already knew about the genre, and also aid in Source TV and my own Professional Experience module. However, the march infamously turned sour, and was to become to first of many student protests in London that turned to rioting and violence.

Part One: Conception, Planning and Creation

So, it’s taken more or less the entire first term to create this artefact. Early on in the term, I noticed the Students Union at Coventry University were getting awfully excited about some sort of march taking place down in London. The march was a protest against proposals to raise tuition fees, and it was going to be called ‘Demo-Lition’. The title came from the idea that students would turn up in JCB-esque garb, for a peaceful protest to show the government our stance on their proposals. This was something I knew nothing about – I’m not political at the best of times. But the end of term 3 had forced me to make a hard choice – a choice between studying documentary or formats production in term 4. Ultimately I chose formats (and without regrets I might add), but this however meant I was on the lookout to do my own personal re-sit of 111MC in term 4 – that is, to create a documentary of my own, unimpeded and unrestricted by the university’s module guidelines. I go on the principle that best knowledge is acquired through own experience, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore the medium of documentary on my own.

Some of you may have already seen the finished artefact. What we have here is an abject lesson in what a documentary looks like when the producer went out and had no idea what he wanted the final style to be. I knew I wanted to document the protest march, but had very little ideas in the way of specifics. I wanted to record the events of the day – that seemed pretty simple, just point and shoot and record what you see. But then, of course, I would absolutely have to interview students and get their voices into my artefact, so that there was some deeper purpose to my creation.

The real shambles started when Source TV started to get involved. Having signed up to Source TV early in the year, it appeared that the SU wanted this march to be filmed. ‘Quite a lot’ of students were predicted to take part, and it was a major event during the term that the SU were involved in. I told Source TV and the SU that I was already making a film, and my film subsequently became ‘the film’ that Source TV were going to produce… resting entirely on my shoulders alone. Then, the university unintentionally got involved by asking me to create a piece called ‘What Matters To Me’ – an artefact for 260MC that would no doubt be linked to this artefact, even though the march would occur 3 days after the deadline for that project.

But one large chunk of this story came from a visitor to Source TV called Johnny Rickard – a man who asked for help to film a showreel for him in a makeshift TV studio. This project is still ongoing. However, upon hearing my plans to interview students at the mach, he was quick to jump on board with ideas. The general ‘gist’ was that he could use the interviews for his own showreel (as add-ons), and I could use the interviews for my documentary. It seemed like a great opportunity for us both. What’s more, Rickard also proposed to secure an interview with Michael Heseltine – a well-known politician from the 1980s.

Part Two: Preparation

I gave a long thought about what equipment I would be taking on-site. I figured that the worst-case scenario was that a full-blown riot would erupt, and what would be the plan if such an event occurred. Having been inducted into the Z1 cameras, which I was using quite a lot at the time, it was tempting to take one of the ‘big ones’ for high quality. This came with a rather large problem however – if I needed to get the hell out of dodge, the camera would slow me down. A bigger camera would also be harder to protect. I knew I’d be liable for any damage to equipment, so ultimately I decided upon the smaller-scale PDX10 cameras we’d used last year. This came with it’s own problem – a huge black box for protection purposes. I quickly made the decision that if this was going to happen, I would either leave the box on the bus, or at my room in Coventry. On the day, it was left in my room.

I needed to be selective with my equipment – there would not be time to set up tricky shots or interesting panoramic views. Nor did I have the inclination to walk all over London with tripods and boom poles all by myself. With thought, I chose only one other piece of tech – a reporter’s mic, used for interviews to increase sound quality. This proved to be a very wise move – the sound quality was much better with this mic than the ones that came with the camera. However, as it turned out, some shots required diegetic noise, meaning I had to switch between the microphones regularly through ‘input 1’ (the only way I really knew how to get both mics on stereo quickly). By the end of the day, I was connoisseur of swapping XLR cables into the Input 1 socket. Believe.

As the day grew nearer, actions started to happen. I got my ticket on the bus. Rickard was set to go on the bus with me, but realised he was in London that day anyway, and so we decided to meet up at the start of the march (Horse Guards Avenue) at approximately 11:30am, fifteen minutes before the march started. Simple plan. However, on the downside he seemed unable to secure the interview with Heseltine – just as well really, me and my borderline-palmcorder camera probably would not have done him justice. This was a project about the march, not about politicians. Given that the interview was to occur ways away from the march route, it brought a few niggling problems with regards timing arrangements to the table. Given what actually happened on the day, it’s actually quite lucky the interview didn’t happen! The idea for Rickard’s showreel went from ‘Heseltine’ to ‘politicians’ to ‘students’ to, ultimately, ‘whoever we can find’. Gotta love media production.

I decided to refresh myself with my equipment, and made sure I was thoroughly ready to dance through hell and high water with my equipment. The night before the final day, I realised the XLR cable was ridiculously long for what I needed. However, I was to transport the PDX10 in a small paper ‘Virgin Media’ bag, which I’d gotten with my recently acquired BlackBerry phone. The bag was juts the right size to cover the big tangled mess of XLR cable-work at the bottom. Providing I could keep the actual reporter’s mic near the top, I could film, interview, and slot my hand through a bag handle to keep all the wires together and hang them from my wrist. Haphazard, but practical for moving quickly around London with all this kit. What I could leave in Coventry, I left. The bus schedule was not certain, so I decided to keep everything that left Coventry on my person at all times.

Finally, I went back to my old tutor in documentary, to ask for his advice on approaching this event. He gave me some final pointers, which helped a little in my understanding. He did clarify that I should understand the difference between ‘documentary’ and ‘reportage’. I didn’t now what he was getting at at the time, but looking back on the final piece, you can clearly see the point when a point-of-view documentary suddenly becomes a vox-pops style clip with a reporter. Upon mentioning Heseltine, I seemed to spark off something in my lecturer, so made a swift exit and let him be. It was all down to me now.

Part Three: Heading To War

The first opening interviews of my documentary were extracts from my 260MC artefact. They showed the views of some of my friends on my course – specifically, what they thought about the cuts and the Student Loans Company. This was good practice for what my interview ‘approach’ would be like on the day. But for this side-project alone, I knew I had to do research. As mentioned, I knew little about the subject at the start of the term, and I knew I needed some knowledge about the proposals if I was going to interview people about it. I did just that, and used the internet as a means I get some sound intel. I didn’t focus on statistics too much – I just wanted a general outlook so my arguments could become more neutral / flexible. The way I saw it, I was there to report and document, and nothing more.

After my reading, from what I could make out the fuss was about a cap – Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had promised to abolish tuition fees completely. However, now he was in power, he’d taken up the stance with David Cameron in active support of raising tuition fees. Under Labour rule, the UK education system had a cap, meaning universities could not charge any more than a certain amount (‘capped’ at about £3,500 a year for university). If the cap got lifted, universities were free to charge what they wanted, with estimates reaching around £9,000 a year. The ploy of ‘recession’ was being used as the reason behind the cuts – funding to education would be cut because of the ‘credit crunch’, and as a result, the universities would need to charge more to students to compensate for the lack of government funding. If college students were feeling left out, Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was also being scrapped.

A lot of my friends started to show interest around about this time. Several colleagues also saw that going on this march would, at the very least, be an experience. Needing cut-away shots for my 260MC work, I also met Robert Wilson, the head of Coventry University’s SU, during the process of painting the shirts and creating the banners. He was a useful contact to have – he would have much influence over the organization of the event on the day. Out of all the shots I took, the tracking shot of all the shirts was something I particularly liked. It was used better in the 260MC artefact – eventually, having difficulty knowing where to include these shots in the final piece, they served to bridge the gap between the initial interviews and the footage of the actual day. I felt some of the effect was lost here.

Part 4: The Day Of The March

So there I am. Half eight in the morning outside Allan Berry, a Virgin Media bag in hand. Inside it, atop a gnarled bundle of cable, a PDX10 camera and a microphone. First estimates of the day’s turnout have come in – 20,000 students are expected to be coming down to London today. The bus is expected to arrive at Horse Guard’s Avenue at quarter past eleven, giving me fifteen minutes to find Rickard and get rolling with the interviews.

As you can see from the footage, most of the morning consisted of ‘rallying the troops’ as it were. The march started at Horse Guard’s Avenue, and would then head downwards along the Thames, past Big Ben and The Houses Of Parliament, and would culminate in a rally point outside 30 Millbank, A.K.A ‘Millbank Tower’ – the Conservative Party HQ. From there, the march would edge a little further on. We were given strict warning that the buses would pick us up from the Victoria Embankment at 4:15pm. If I wasn’t back by then, I was finding my own way back. As it transpires though, two of my mates had hired out a big Z1 camera, and were heading down by train to film a documentary of their own. Friendly competition had appeared from nowhere.

The seats on the buses had completely sold out. There are a lot of students around. Robert Wilson takes to the stage with a megaphone and blurts out a speech that readies everyone for the day’s events. I catch this on film, but realise the zoom lens on the PDX10 is a bit stiff. I record the sound whilst I zoom in and out of a blurry-faced SU president, meaning in the end I had to use cut-away shots for this part of the documentary. I get the shot into focus before the speech is finished, and whilst quietly chastising myself, and make doubly sure that I am able to zoom and focus my PDX10 before I board a nearby bus with my fellow companions.

The journey on the bus is interesting to say the least. I talk to my friends for a little while, before finally getting to chat to people sitting in front and behind. The girl in front is a nice student who has ideas about how to pass the time – a wonderful talent that would soon be realised when we hit London. The girl behind, more importantly, was a very opinionated girl who fancied herself a ‘V For Vendetta’ style revolutionary. It was almost love at first sight. The first interview was bagged, for the price of a £1 newspaper she was promoting. We did, however, decide to do the interview whilst on the march.

The bus set off at half past nine, and stopped by a service station en route. At quarter past eleven, we had reached London, but only the outskirts. A nervous Rickard phoned up asking of my whereabouts. Evidently, we were now in complete improvisation territory. We had no idea when the bus would arrive at Horse Guard’s Avenue. All we knew is that in less than an hour, the march would begin. The girl behind me had a contact in the march already, relaying events at the start back to her. This was a useful tool informing people on the bus what was happening at the place where we should have been by now.

On the M1 down to London, we had effectively ‘raced’ with several other buses, showing busloads full of students heading to the same place we were. After about the fifteenth bus though, I for one certainly started to get a bit edgy. How many were actually heading down here again? Rickard reported that same thing the girl behind was getting – Horse Guard’s Avenue was effectively buried under a sea of students. 20,000 was quickly reported to have gone up slightly to the SU folk at the front of the bus. Now, the number was more like 50,000. The important of this little project of mine just went up slightly. Unfortunately, I managed to consistently miss camera shots of the other buses (one blurry shot did show reflections were a big problem however). I did manage to get shots of people practicing their chants on the bus though – looking back on the footage, I realised some of the chants we invented did indeed end of getting chanted on the actual march, which added an odd ‘continuity’ effect to my piece.

Forty-five minutes later, and we’re stuck somewhere in London. Traffic is in absolute gridlock, the student sat next to me is getting angry, and then a bad message comes through – a rather agitated Rickard now informs me that the march has started. That’s it – for a documentary that charts this march, I’ve missed the start of it. I head over the to the front of the bus, and politely have a few words with my fellow SU reps and the bus driver. I ask if, since we’re not at all moving, and are located near the pavement, if we could possibly get off the bus and head to the march by foot. It really, really would be quicker today. The bus driver seems quite happy to oblige. I turn around to my fellow students on the bus:

“So, who wants to get off this bus and head to the march on foot?”

A resounded roar of gratitude confirms my own rallying of the troops has been a success. Students are on their feet and at the doors before I’ve even got back to my seat. We disembark onto the streets of Piccadilly, with no idea where we are, where the march is, or which direction we need to go. We walk in one given direction, and spot others in the same plight as us. We quickly join forces, and walk together into the biggest urban jungle in the UK.

Part 5: When The Going Gets Tough…

This was the point when the camera really started rolling. We were already off track in an effective wilderness where anything could happen. Getting to the river, finding the march, finding the rendezvous point to get home – it was all fair game at this point. We walked collectively in the general direction of where we thought the river was, and I got some good footage of our improvised march as we strode on.

It was at this point when I seized the opportunity to grab the interview with the girl on the bus. Predictably, she was quick to raise hell on camera in a flurry of colourful language. Annoyingly, in the final frames I walked into the sun and cast a giant shade right over her. The sun was rather low today, and I quickly realised I’d have to watch my step so as not to sabotage any shots.

With the first interview over, the woman disappeared into London. We walked through a park to a large open area, asking people if they knew where the South Bank was. All we could decipher was that we were close, although where we were exactly was almost impossible to tell. A rather irritated Rickard started to call, at this point having waited for the best part of two hours, wondering what the hell was going on. I was short on answers, considering we had no idea where the hell we were.

Moments later, however, we caught a glimpse of a large band of surging people through an archway. We ran straight for it, and indeed, if the banners and trumpets hadn’t given it away, we had found the march. Everyone, including myself, pushed our way into the manic heap, and quickly got swallowed up and separated within. Keeping the camera rolling, I looked for my next interview. I did manage to bag one with a male student, but I felt he didn’t have much to say, and thus I cut this from the final edit.

Upon sprawling around the mass of people and noise (which to some extent reminded me of a music festival), I caught a glimpse of Big Ben in the distance. I contact Rickard and arranged a meeting there. The precise spot was at Westminster Station, a subway entrance opposite the Houses Of Parliament. Having lost my fellow companions, I stuck with the march and headed downwards.

At this point in the documentary, that awkward silence occurs, as the march heads into the shade of some high buildings. I found some other Coventry students, but they were not the ones I had come with. Then, the march stopped completely. The chanting stopped, and a rather serious still seemed to fall upon the march. But I knew I had to get to Westminster Station soon, and realising the march had hit a stand-still, and left the mass of people onto a pavement and ran as fast as I dared down towards Big Ben.

This part was particularly dangerous. The march broke down the barriers holding people in place, sending people sprawling across the entire street. Even the pavements were blocked. I ran until I could go no further, and then just filmed what I saw. As you can see, what I saw mostly was a fire up ahead at the Houses Of Parliament, a line of policemen being booed at, and a large group of drums being bashed about. I waited for a good ten minutes, before deciding to push my way through. I asked a nearby officer where Westminster Station was. I was heading on the right track, but when she ‘wished me luck’, I had doubts I even be able to find the place.

As luck would have it, I was on the right side of the street. I saw an underground sign above and pushed my through to that. Parliament Square was a mess – this was the moment that it hit me. 20,000 or 50,000, the number did not matter. Fires were going off, people had scaled anything and everything. People were shouting, drums were big bashed around, and already the floor was littered with broken banners and paper. Stuff was going down. Worst of all, despite my best efforts, no Rickard was in sight. I scoured to no avail, eventually deciding to call him. However, all I could hear was noise on the other end. Hence, I turned to the art of texting. When I got no reply, I was left in an awkward predicament.

Part 6 – Running

I waited for about ten minutes. Phone calls were out of the question, and Rickard seemed to have fallen out of contact. Was he on his way? Was he just across the street? Ultimately, I could not see him. His last known location was exactly where I stood. There were thousands of students everywhere. The situation was bleak. But ever the optimist, I saw some students sat on a wall. I asked one for an interview, to which he silently nodded his head towards some of his friends who quickly leapt of the wall and broke into a run behind me.

This was a shot I particularly liked. I ran with the students as I filmed, with the one I asked to interview turning up to hold his banner as he ran backwards. The students were running to circumnavigate the hold-up in the march. To the side, protesters were being directed away from the river, into the centre of London. After the ‘rush’ and in the same shot, I turned around the saw a wall of people behind me with banners chanting. I walked backwards as I filmed, trusting there were no banana skins on the floor (or lamp-posts). This was the moment when I really began to feel an emotional connection to what I was filming – I was there to do a job, no doubt. But for some reason not even known to myself, this was the point when I felt the most empathy for the plight of the students who were here.

Having respectively already done my tour of London centre, I walked back to the march, and off ahead towards Millbank. Surprisingly, there was hardly anyone down this far. Evidently, students had congregated at Parliament Square. That was why the march had come to a standstill, and why the police were diverting people away. A little way down, and I felt at a bit of a loose end. Then, much to my alarm, Rickard replied, stating he was near Westminster Station by a load of riot vans. At this point I had a choice – call off the meeting with apologies, and continue on alone, or continue to try and find this needle in a haystack. The way I saw it, the ‘story’ of my artefact was back outside Big Ben anyway. And thus, I turned and ran back the way I’d come. Had I gone down a little further, this artefact would have turned out rather different.

Never in my life had I felt so much like Jason Bourne. Running through hundred and people as all hell seemingly broke loose all around. Not caring about the location – just the mission. Where the bloody hell was this man? I went straight back to the subway station, and asked a nearby bobby where the riot vans were. Apparently, no riot vans had been called. I stormed over to a nearby statue of Winston Churchill, and sent what was to be perhaps the final text. I was there, this is what I was wearing, and I saw no riot vans. To pass the time, I tried to get another interview, but the student declined.

Then, success! Rickard was never at Westminster Station, he was on a bridge that ran alone the other side of Big Ben. Now, I was on the wrong side of the march. I puckered up and fought my way across the river of students and managed to find a glimpse of a riot van. Barging out of the mess, I quickly found Rickard – standing there, as he said, between four riot vans. Mission complete.

When I first approached, I felt it necessary to give him a big hug. I was so relieved to have found him, and that this whole operation hadn’t been a waste of his time. Rickard seemed (as you would expect) slightly annoyed and anxious to get on with the filming, which we quickly got into. But he had no idea… no idea, that if I hadn’t found him within those last ten minutes, I would have been liable to just forget the whole thing and go solo. It was two o clock when we’d finally managed to find each other – two and a half hours after we had agreed (primarily courtesy of the SU bus). The important thing is that we had succeeded in meeting up. The moral of the story, known all to well to someone like myself – sh*t happens.

Part 7 – The Vox Pops

So, at this point, the documentary becomes a reportage – or rather, a showreel for Johnny Rickard. He’s already got two students lined up from Bangor University. Great! …unfortunately, within ten seconds you knew this student was going to be as dull as hell. Looking back on the footage, however, he does make some good points. His friend does not.

Rickard has some others lined up, but all have subsequently disappeared in the time it has taken me to find him. He looks rather lost as he stares at the march gently drifting ahead before him. I’m quick to show him how it’s done – I lead him straight into the fray, and now with added confidence, start asking all and sundry if they want their views aired on ‘Source TV’. We get all sorts:

  • A girl with fake blood all over face – an interview humorously interrupted by a guitar player half way through (which I kept for comedic value).
  • A girl dressed as a wizard – sadly, in the middle of making her only interesting point, she calls out to her friends, ruining her piece.
  • A group of 6th-formers – a great interview which showed Rickard’s ability to antagonise, as well as showing the views of those not at university yet. This lasted twenty minutes, but also showed Rickard’s ability to use a reporter’s mic was not so good, and antagonising students did not fit the overall tone of my artefact too well. Then I stood in the wrong place, casting yet another shadow over the shot once again. Oops.
  • A clown – some complete nut case which, although a hilarious interview it made, had no real purpose or message. It is arguable whether this should have been included in the final piece or not, but at thirty minutes already, I was as harsh as I dared with editing.
  • A grim reaper – a man who used a lot of acronyms (namely, HE and FE), meaning his points were generally lost to anyone outside academia. He was the only one to make Rickard laugh though, which I thought was a good moment.
  • Two dance students – leading on from the end of his interview with the 6th-formers, Rickard asks these two to describe David Cameron in two words. Writes itself really.

Half way through filming these, I meet my rivals who have just arrived by train. They seem anxious to head off somewhere – no idea where. Then, I meet my companions, who have only just arrived at the square. They have been stuck in the body of the march for well over an hour and a half, making sluggish progress. I went off with Rickard to get more footage, agreeing to try and meet them to head back to the bus (picking us up at Victoria Embankment – wherever that was). Some other ‘dude’ also asks for an interview, thinking I’m from Virgin Media because of my bag. He quickly leaves disappointed.

Half an hour later, with the crowds in Parliament Square dispersing, and sun getting lower and lower, Rickard and myself head down the river. We leave a trashed square in the shadow of Big Ben – a telling mark of what has occurred this day. Much like last time, the riverbank is deserted. Then, at the furthest point I got to last time, we suddenly hit a blockade. The march has been diverted across a bridge to the other side of the river, which I’m quite keen not to do, since in just over an hour the bus will be picking me up on this side of the river. Rickard and myself stand around for a few moments trying to decide what to do for these last forty minutes or so. I’m determined to make each minute count. It isn’t over until it’s over. Then, I get a text, from my mum of all people. Apparently, there’s a good reason why they don’t want the march to reach Millbank Tower. I suddenly get the feeling I know exactly where my competitors went to in such a hurry…

Part 8 – Hitting The Fan

Rickard uses i-‘tech’ to confirm the location of Millbank Tower. Truth is, it’s about one minute down the bank. We side step the barricade and proceed onwards. The shot you see on the film is exactly the moment I arrive at Millbank Tower – it was not staged. My mum’s text told me it’s on Sky News – Millbank Tower has been besieged by students, who have effectively stormed the building and smashed the place up inside. That’s not the half of it – moments after arriving on site, a sum of approximately a hundred students appear on the roof.

Rickard wants to do a report, and quickly sets up. Only a few words in, however, he gets interrupted by a rather angry woman, who seems very ‘fuelled’ and in defence of what is going on. In contrast to this, we manage to bag only one other interview outside Millbank – that of a student who is against what is occurring. The juxtaposition and varying views were a nice summary of the events, allowing me to leave Rickard gawping up at the sky and go about finding cut aways.

And cut-aways there are plenty. I have difficulty recollecting which ones I used at the end – a zoom-out shot of the students on the roof (which, when viewed closely, you’ll see actually captures the moment that infamous fire extinguisher gets thrown off the roof). There’s a shot of the smashed windows, at which point a banner is thrown at the riot police. There’s a shot of smashed windows on the floors above, a shot of students huddled together looking scared. Most impressively, I got the shot of students actually ascending the stairs into the building itself, which I was wary of using in case I got people into trouble (but which proved too interesting a shot).

I tried to get an establishing shot of Millbank Tower as well. But the one that stood out for is, as before, the tracking shot. Just like the shot of the shirts back in Coventry, I have a tracking shot of all the students aligned on the roof, militant and proud of it. Upon leaving the devastation behind, I quickly catch a glimpse of several riots vans charging towards the building at full speed. I very nearly missed this shot – that I captured it demonstrated that  upon viewing the vans speeding towards me up ahead, I changed an XLR cable, activated the camera, and sorted out the zoom and focus before the vans drove past. So much effort I almost didn’t bother – but so glad I did.

Part 9 – Evacuation

I can’t think of a better word for it. I quickly make a rendezvous with my companions – ironically right next to where I met Rickard just over two hours ago. Rickard luckily knows where Victoria Embankment is – he takes us straight to where masses of coaches are caught in yet another traffic jam. Other news is in also – my competitors are indeed at Millbank. They’re still at Millbank, intent on filming the full-blown riots in all their bloody glory, with a camera twice as expensive and heavy as my own. I feel like I metaphorically pass on the torch at this point. It’s all their show now.

But, not having fully finished this story, I say goodbye to Rickard as I spot the shirts of the Coventry University SU. I get several shots of our final walk back – the SU wisely make us walk past Westminster Abbey to avoid the gridlock. En route, we pass what can only be described as a small militia of police. I was going to take some shots on the bus on the way back (maybe even some of the service station), but in all honesty, I didn’t think they’d add anything. I was tired. The march was over.

I tried to get a final interview with our SU president, but he was busy right up until the end, meaning it never happened. The next time I saw him was one week later, at the All-Students Meeting (ASM), which I filmed strictly for Source TV, but decided Aaron Porter’s speech during this meeting was a fitting end to my artefact. Moreover, I had actually filmed this myself as part of Source TV as well, so I could use in my artefact without stepping on anyone’s toes.

Part 10 – The Edit

As anyone in Media Production knows, after all the fun of the fair, there is little left to do but sit down and edit your footage into the final piece. Unfortunately for me, I had only one editing suite open to me – that of a out-dated version of Avid in my University. Not wanting to repeat mistakes of the past, I vowed to find myself an alternative before editing even started. Two weeks later, and I have Final Cut Pro on my Macbook, which is the first editing suite I’ve come across that has actually made editing fun.

First, I imported the files, and then placed them on the timeline in the sequence I wanted. Then, par usual, I cropped all the really crap bits out, and narrowed two hours of footage into forty-five minutes. I thought this was too long, and did subsequent edits as I saw fit. Titles were an issue – they looked unprofessional, but given I know nothing about graphics, I figured they’d have to do. Alternate fonts and colours did not help. I referenced Rickard as ‘budding journalist’ as an in-joke.

The effects were kept to simple fade-in/fade-out transitions, as most of the other effects at my disposal looked rather amateur as well. The longest part, as always, was the music, which I had to find online first, before importing it, editing it, and normalizing it. I thought the quiet piano worked well with the contrasting chaos seen on film. I remembered to include credits (which I forget on the first export). I credited all who had helped directly with the creation of this artefact, but realised after the second export that I’d forgot to credit one other person – me!

Finally, I came to exporting it, only to find a 6GB file waiting to be uploaded. An unforeseen problem had occurred – there was no way this was going online unless I paid for it. I asked around for advise, and learned the art of compression – a simple thing that converts big files into small ones without affecting quality. Why videos aren’t automatically compressed is unknown, but evidently my Macbook was designed with all sorts of format-adjusting and compressing tools for media files (you can even convert music files in iTunes!). At 1GB, it was still too bog for most websites. Youtube and Vimeo were way out. I eventually managed to find Megavideo, a site specially designed for videos like mine. I uploaded the video in earnest – it took over five hours to upload. Sadly, Megavideo seems to have taken out some of the quality of the artefact. However, the argument is pointless, as this seems to be the only place I have access to online where it can be broadcast for free.

The Finished Article

http://www.megavideo.com/?v=62YSJDT2

(Get comfy – it clocks in at 30 minutes)

Evaluation

Overall, I’m very happy with this artefact. I know it’s not perfect, but it wasn’t meant to be. This was me re-doing 111MC the way I wanted to do it, without having the restrictions of University modules. It was also me compensating and exploring the realm of documentary, since I chose to do the formats module.

I have learned so much from this project, it’s hard to know where to begin. In terms of the genre, I’ve approached and used many different styles. I have now produced a medley of interviews in controlled and uncontrolled environments. I’ve done them alone, and I’ve done them with another person. I now know the difference between documentary and reportage, and I also now have experience in how to approach the two different forms ‘in the field’. Socially, I knew I was up to the task, and I believed I proved myself in bringing out a point in (almost) everyone I interviewed before meeting Rickard.

Other skills I have developed are clearly navigational skills. In those hectic moments on Parliament Square, you can find out a lot about yourself (not wanting to go all ‘Freud’ on everyone). I’m glad I found Rickard, and I’m glad I didn’t walk off in a huff. I’m also glad he didn’t either. I could tell at the end (from the sheer exhaustion) that we’d done a lot of work in the two hours we’d been able to get interviews. Of course, had the bus turned up on time, things would have been different, but like a military operation, the situation was largely flexible. It was all down to me to create this artefact, and me alone. Looking back on what I’ve filmed, things could have gone a serious lot worse. From leaving the bus at Piccadilly right through to Millbank, the day was completeley improvised. I think this documentary is all the more interesting because of it.

Simple skills such as swapping XLR cables really fast have also been developed. Not quite social or technical, but definitely something that will come in use. I can’t say my white balance skills were developed much – wrong place for trying to hold paper up and focus lenses.

Most of all, though, was what I learnt at the editing stage. I learnt about file formats, compression, re-compression, conversion, and even more so, the software used to do these things. By sheer determination and exploration I managed to upload a 1GB video, which took almost one week alone to arrange.

So, all in all, in terms of evaluation, did it complete what I wanted it to? It certainly developed me in various parts of the media. It gave me professional experience, and it gave Source TV an artefact to show. It charts my own personal experiences during my time at the march quite accurately. It shows the opinions of those in it, with added ‘panache’ before and after the march itself. Overall, I would have expected nothing more. To professionals, it may seem shambolic, but therein lies the beauty. I am no professional – this was a project to further better my understanding of an aspect of the media industry I knew little about, but had an interest in. This is more or less the way I wanted it to turn out, so I will say I completed my mission on just about every level I’d have dared to go.

Things to improve upon? Well, there are plenty. Having just watched it again, one month after completion, I find myself skipping some parts. Further editing could have been done – I find myself looking towards the shots on the bus, which were practically audio pieces. Some feedback I was given stated that the start was not interesting – I’m inclined to agree. Despite the fact that my friends made solid points relating to this artefact, perhaps opening my film with them was a bad idea. But where else to put them? Similarly, one person said the film ended not with a bang, but a whimper. Same thing applies – Porter’s speech was very relevant. He was at the march himself, and did a speech. That would have been a much better shot – had the bus turned up on time, I’m sure I would have filmed it.

I’m perplexed to know why I didn’t fade the audio in and out with the piano pieces. I knew how to do them – surely I wasn’t saving time? It’s taken me months to get to this stage anyway. The cutting of corners may not have seemed so bad on Final Cut, yet on Megavideo, in some places the piano just stops, making the piece look amateur. Only the Adam of November knows what happened there. I’d already explored the ‘fade-to-black-with-boom-noise’ effect in my 260MC artefact previous, yet the effect is less effective this time round I think.

Favourite parts? I really like the way diegetic noise fades in from the title. You see the title fade in after the ‘thunder boom’, and the next thing you hear is a man on a megaphone. It was a well chosen opening sound – relevant, and somehow enticing you and placing you straight into my shoes at the start of the day. My favourite bit, however, was the first shot of the march. As the interview with the female student ends, the piano tune comes into play. This tune continues as the shot fades into the view of the march. I feel there’s something quiet powerful in this shot – as I mention, the contrast between the chaotic surroundings and the quiet piano makes for an uncomfortable juxtaposition. My own analysis – the piano is a sad tune, spelling defeat. The emotion I feel is that the students know they’ve lost before this documentary has even begun. The emotion is quick to change to that of anger, after only one shot onwards (a shot initially cut from the final edit, but included because the transition was disorientating), we get that shot of the crowd booing the police – needless to say, a shot I was quite happy with.

Other good shots I liked included that first shot of the Houses Of Parliament – the smoke of fire burning upwards, obscuring my attempted shot of the UK flag flying. The smoke added rather than detracted. Then, my shot of Big Ben, and as I pan out, the big-brother camera right next to it (you couldn’t make that shot up). The carrot and horse-demonstrator thing is just as surreal when I see it now. I still think the unintended humour works well in some of the interviews – the student from Bangor making a serious point, while a plume of smoke bellows upwards behind him still brings a smile to me.

If you manage to see the cuts I chose not include below, you may see some of Rickard’s more antagonising moments with some of our interviewees. This makes the start of that first interview outside Millbank make me laugh out loud almost every time (she really cuts him down to size!). I’ve no idea whether she really was a student union president – it worries me if she was. But just to see Rickard left speechless is enough to successfully tie up that ‘sub-plot’  of my artefact, although as I say, the effect is perhaps different for the casual viewer, as most of Rickard’s annoyances were removed from the final cut.

The Shots That Never Were

This is the link to the best of the out-takes and the unused shots from this project. Most have been referred to – the mistakes speak for themselves, including reflective glass, shadows cast by the sun, and some funny interviews that I felt just didn’t add anything to the final piece, but are entertaining nonetheless.

 

The Sonic Postcard Project

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , on December 13, 2010 by Adam Broome

For this project, I was assigned with the task of collecting a series of random sounds using audio-capture equipment (Marantz), and blending them together to create an artistic piece of media called a ‘Sonic Postcard’. The idea of Sonic Postcards is to create a feeling or emotion in the audience, usually specified to a certain place or context.

Straight from the moment this challenge was set, I had it in my head that this would be the project with which I would learn how to use Garageband on my Macbook. It is a tool used to create music, but as I never fully learned how to use it, this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Other sounds that quickly came to mind were the bells of the cathedral and the sound of cars on Coventry’s inner ring road. We had a practice session where we experimented using the equipment, and then we were left to our own devices.

Using the Marantz was odd – I’d been given a skills instruction at some point last year, and slowly but surely most of it came back. The sound I was worried about the most was the ring road. I had a place in mind to go to get the sound – namely, a bridge overlooking the road. For obvious reasons though, I didn’t to be hanging around there late at night. I also had the added problem of what other sounds my project needed – and also how I was going to present it. Having seen several examples in my formats module about how radio has integrated with images, I decided I would take photos of relevant places, and put the audio over a slideshow in order to stimulate both audio and visual responses in the listener. It was important that the visual element did not detract from the audio, however.

I booked a Marantz out for 24 hours, and got the clip of the ring road first. I used a boom mic to help pick up the highest quality sound, and also some headphones so I could hear what was being recorded. I placed all the cables in a bag, which helped me move more freely once the kit was set up. Unfortunately, my lack of experience with the Marantz was evident really quickly – the sound was far over gain when I started recording. I turned the tuner down, but every time I put the box back in my bag, the tuner turned up to over gain again. I figured I’d finally got the clip I wanted, but on returning home, I found that I’d lost the file. Maybe I hadn’t pressed the record button… I’ll never know. However, hearing the fuzzy white-noise from the over gain, I decided that would be an interesting sound to work with, and so I chose to keep the clip anyway.

Other clips I chose to use were ones I had easy access to. I tapped a pen on my table to a simple time signature, and that created another background sound – almost a beat. I also experimented with dripping water droplets, as the music I’d developed on Garageband seemed to fit an ‘aquatic’ feel. The bells I decided to put at the end, as the noise seemed to be a suiting end for the sudden change in audio which was the effect I was trying to create. I used the white noise to fade into the bell chimes, and then faded out as the chimes echoed away (inspired by Holst’s ‘Neptune’ piece). I went back to the ring road and re-recorded a backing track of the traffic driving past – this was to be the background ‘ambience’ for my piece.

Ultimately, this was always meant to be a medley of random sounds put together to create some abstract artistic audio artefact. I was merely experimenting with audio – it has no purpose, and it doesn’t have any deep meaning, it merely is what it is. What the listener derives from it is entirely up to them, although I suppose it’s not the most romantic piece of audio you could hear… certainly the white noise adds a rather sinister undertone – perhaps a taste of things to come in upcoming media production.

The photos were taken of random places around Coventry. The photos were NOT the places where I got the audio from (because a picture of a tap dripping into a sink would have been crap, let’s face it). The waterfall and fountain were pictures I liked – I experimented with water and shutter speed on several occasions before. I decided to experiment with shutter speed and traffic, and the shot of the ring road was taken near where I got the audi from. I took several, and the final shot used was the one where there wasn’t too many or too few vehicles. The shot of the tree was taken on a whim – I felt the nature shown in the picture provided a stark contrast to the electronic noises that start to emerge at that point in the audio.

The photo of the cathedral was near where that audio clip was taken as well – I got the audio from the bottom of the tower, which made for a less interesting photo. However, the photo I use over the piece was an accident – though clearly, the bright blue background silhouetted the cathedral into some imposing colossal shadow through jet-black tree branches, which added to that sinister undertone of the artefact. I think the white noise and this picture of the cathedral work nicely together, though as mentioned, no clear message is intended – it’s purely in the eyes of the beholder.

Mini-Interview Evaluation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 26, 2010 by Adam Broome

Last week, we were set the task of creating a short interview, with the aim to experiment with different styles of interviewing. Much like the previous task, this one is again handed in rather late.

Originally, it started on a Monday. A group was made and the task was set. I grouped together with three other students, and we had an idea of interviewing a lesbian, who also happened to be of an ethnic minority. I knew the idea had a slim chance of success, as the idea seemed to be repeated 111MC last year in one single week, which did not suit the brief to the full extent. As a free thought, I came up with the idea of mis-represented media students, and how the rest of academia stereotype us as idiots. The notion was confirmed when one team member said a joke:

“In ten years, a chemistry student will find a cure for cancer. In ten years, a philosophy student will ask why life has meaning. In tern years, a maths studet will get humanity to Mars. In ten years, a media student will ask… ‘would you like fries with that?’ ”

I thought that quip was a rather good opening for our piece, yet we decided to try the lesbian character first anyway, as it seemed the more interesting of the two.

Forty eight hours later, and the lesbian has declined to do the interview. Then, one team member goes solo, leaving just the three of us to carry on the project alone. It is good that I had the idea for the back-up plan – we were able to meet up, and construct a plan straight away around our second option, which helped us a great deal in meeting the time restraints (read on).

During our mid-week meeting, we found out we all had so much work that none of us could make the same time to film. Thus, one team mate and myself met up the following day, and pulled various students from the nearby common room to take part in our interview. Now, the thing to note is that the idea was to collage all the faces together through various letter-box cutaways. We lined our interviewees up against a plain wall, and told them to look at the camera and keep their heads still. Needing to edit over the weekend, we knew we could not use the Avid suites (which was fine by me), and found a way to use Final Cut Pro.

Unfortunately, my camera abilities met with several hardships. I decided to be the cameraman, yet turned up on the day of filming without a VT tape (luckily, my personal tape collection was only 5 minutes away). The other major problem was that I reset the Z1 camera, and set the sound to 48khz. Subsequently, I changed the recoding mode from HD to DV. We filmed our piece in it’s entirety, before realising that the sound automatically shifts back to 32khz when you change from HD to DV. Luckily, we were able to convert the file with little fuss. Lesson learned.

Shooting took just over an hour, and then the tape was shipped away in my team mate’s pocket to be edited. The footage was never again seen until today, and hence this late evaluation. All in all, given that this was a one-week task riddled with problems, all have been overcome, and I’m quite happy with the way it turned out. I had no part in the editing of the final piece, although I do aim to get Final Cut Pro in the imminent future (thus increasing the amount of time I spend editing, and my abilities doing as such). I don’t know what happened to the idea of the letterbox-created faces. After all that, the background looks rather bland. However, we had some humourous characters which saw the mini interview through, and all things considered (despite the spelling mistakes), it could have gone a lot worse!

In terms of my own piece, that also seems to have some problems with deadlines as well. My documentary will revolve around a protest march taking place two days after the deadline itself. Yet, I still feel I can pair these two projects up somehow. It is silly to make an artefact about the same topic, but not relate it to my personal media creation. Therefore, the final result will be something like half of the final piece, and I will hand that in to be marked as part of 260MC. Then, I will get the rest of the footage, and complete that as and when. The documentary on the march was always my own project – typically, when the media production course comes into it, deadlines and evaluations start kicking off, which can sometimes make me rush projects and limit their quality. That is not what my documentary will be like – I aim to push myself technically and creatively, but in my own time. I guess what I’m saying is, (in the nicest possible way), 260MC will get half my finished project as a completed one, and will just have to make do with it! 🙂