Some thoughts in the wake of my second essay / proto-exegesis attempt:
- Move away from a ‘documentary’ practice.
The more i get into this, the more i consider losing the idea of making ‘documentaries’. After all, what do i get from using it, apart from the extra baggage of the history and context that it brings with it. What do i get from documentary that i do not get from non-fiction? I originally called my practice a documentary practice to distinguish it from a fiction practice. Yet, as seems pretty obvious now, the opposite of fiction is not (necessarily) documentary, but non-fiction. ‘Non-fiction’ lets me keep the basic content that i’m interested in – ie making films from content out there in the ‘real world’ – without it being strung up upon all the baggage that comes with documentary as a term. I make it clear in my essay that that i’m not looking to engage with staples of authenticity, objectivity et al, and really only discuss ‘documentary’ (as social/political agent) when using it as a contrast to the more artistic, less didactic, forms of photography i’m actually interested in… So what do i want with documentary? Not a lot then. Sure, i may refer to my work as documentary to demarcate it from fiction when describing it to the laymen, and yes, the form of the photo-essay i’m interested in does have its roots in documentary practice. But beyond this, and considering this is all there is, ‘documentary’ as a term is out. Non-fiction is in.
- Create some distance between the photo-essay and my practice
So far, my project has been about translating the photo-essay into a video practice. This has meant that everything – the contextual purpose, the equipment, the visual style and composition, design, layout etc – have explicitly been using the photo-essay as a source. In some ways this is true of what i’ve been doing, but for this project to be manageable i think i need to really focus in on one particular aspect to take from the form. Perhaps “an exploration of multi-screen interfaces in non-fiction video (as seen in the photo-essay)”. Or maybe “Non-linear non-fiction – from page to screen: a translation of photo-essay arrangement “. Etcetera etcetera. But it’s feeling like having the stated goal as a video translation of the photo-essay – and thereby addressing every single element that goes into the production of a photo-essay (see above) – is too scattered and a tad overwhelming. Rather than the goal being such a translation, i feel i need to re-orient to use what interests me about the photo-essay as a frame through which i view and address a more concrete, particular problem.
- Define said problem
This really has been floating round for a while now. A translation of a photo-essay into a video practice is not a problem. Yes, it presents and interesting challenge / framework / inspiration from which to create interesting pieces, but the practice of doing so will not really be the answer to a problem or a knowledge claim (or at least as i have been able to define one thus far). I’m beginning to realize that it’s not a good thing that i feel i already have a reasonable idea of what the finished product will look like. If i do, there is obviously no research-through-practice going on. Just practice. Thus slightly negating the whole point of my honours-doing.
So, this needs to be looked at. I have slowly been realizing that the “real” reason behind my initial attraction to the photo essay lay in the format’s ability to enable open, non-expositional, non-fiction audiovisual works, which are as much objects of artistic expression as they were observational documents. I think that’s pretty much what i like about them. Yet to frame that as a research problem, as i really need to be doing in honours, comes out something like “How can one produce observational, expressive, non-fiction audiovisual pieces?” Of course, I have absolutely no idea what the resultant work would look like (beyond being probably nothing like a photo-essay, at least). So the conundrum: I can tell you what a video translation of a photo-essay might look like (and even make one), but doing so would not be the result of an practice-led-research based problem. I can tell you what it is about the photo-essay that interests me, but when that’s framed as a research problem, it’s too huge for the scope of honours, and probably will have little to do with the photo-essay.
Two possible ways forward here. Firstly, somehow frame a research question that addresses the combination of factors behind what interests me about the photo-essay (and do so without getting bogged down in “documentary”). This i see as unlikely, esp. in the remaining 12 weeks. possibly the only way to do this would be narrow down the photo-essay as a frame of reference, by say maybe focusing on the work/technique of a specific photographer, or by specifying a specific type of photo-essay upon which to focus, such as “the photo-essay as portraiture”, or “the photo-essay as news reporting” etc. Secondly, forget such lofty aims of “open non-fiction pieces”, “artistic expression through observational non-fiction” etc. As a research question, focus instead upon a particular aspect of the photo-essay as a catalyst for further exploration. Perhaps, as mentioned, their non-linearity. Or maybe the idea of the layout of multiple videos being a narrative element/technique in itself (possible cheesy title: “Editing Sideways: Video Layout as Aesthetic Practice). The latter particularly would be able to incorporate the photo-essay as a base material in a non-arbitrary manner, as the form certainly uses the layout of multiple elements as both an aesthetic and narrative tool… (i actually quite like this, will follow up).
Anyway. That’s how i’m feeling at the moment. More than a bit meh.
Please follow this link to view my final documentary, entitled Foodie.
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Also, it is recommenced that this project be viewed upon a monitor with a minimum horizontal resolution of at least 1000 pixels.
So, here is my revisited learning contract, taking into consideration the changes i’ve made to both my documentary topic and distribution method. If a question is left blank, it refers to the fact that the answer has not changed wince the last contract, which can be found here. Here goes.
1. What is the community that you will make your documentary for?
I have made a documentary about the ‘Castlemaine food community’. Casltemaine is a small town in central victoria (where it so happens i ‘grew up’). Over the last few years, the town has seen a steady ascent in the level of quality food services available, and has been hailed as the next ‘foodie’ town in regional victoria. I wanted my documentary to explore how the rise in the town’s cuisine culture had been felt from those in the town itself, and to explore to what extent the changes and developments have affected the community there. I chose to explore these stories through the connection they all have with the local fuit and veg supplier. It so happens that my brother Max works as the local delivery driver, so i decided to portray ‘a day in the life of’ the food community in castlemaine. As well as the aforementioned issues of, I also feel that we explore notions of community through Max’s interaction with the town, as he provides a physical link between the businesses and economies of the town, and has a unique overview of, and relationship with, the various establishments in the town.
2. Why do you think it is a community?
3. What theory about community have you read that is relevant to issues in this community? Summarize the relevant ideas.
I believe the wider construct of the Castlemaine food community can be viewed in the light of the idea of ‘sense of community’ outlined by Joseph R. Gusfield in Community: A Critical Response(1975). He identifies two critical dimensions in the definition of a community – that of the territorial and that of the relational. He argues that although it is common for communities to exist based on territorial relationships (eg neighborhoods, small towns etc), this alone is not enough.
Communities are also defined by the relationships between the constituents of that area. In fact, he argues that a community can be based solely upon a relational basis, even if a territorial basis is absent – he gives the example of an ‘academic community’ centered on communication around a shared topic, without ever actually necessarily sharing the same place. Obviously, the wider community of food establishments a related in their geographical proximity to each other within the town.
But, as i feel i’ve demonstrated in my documentary, there is more to the formation of this community than simply sharing a post code. The community can only exist as it is supported by a passionate base of food lovers, food produces, and food retailers. The food community in castlemaine is built upon a delicate balance of this wide variety of levels. People who engage in quality dining need places to eat, and places offering those facilites need to feel confident that they can stay in business, beyond the comings and goings of the tourist trade. Local producers fit in at both ends of the spectrum, while at once both supplying many of the businesses with the product they need (and is sought after by the food aficionados), and also needing to cater for their own livelihoods within the small town economy. All these facets are strongly dependent on each other, and i was interested in exploring how such a balance can be maintained, and how it has grown. The geographical location of Casltemaine can be viewed as Gusfield’s territoral, while the interconnecting and interdependent relationships that exist between the businesses, consumers, and restaurants, can be seen as Gusfield’s relational.
4. Are you in agreement or disagreement with these ideas?
5. How can you use these ideas in your documentary?
6. What is the structure of the documentary? (this could be a short treatment of the way you see your documentary unfolding)
7. What is the style of the documentary?(you can refer to documentary theory if you know it; if you donʼt, discuss how you see the relationship between you the documentary maker and your subject, and how that will influence the work you produce. Examples of other documentaries will be relevant)
This question remains as generally answered in the first learning contract, despite the subject change: that being predominately ‘observational’ with components of ‘reflexive’ practice. A more detailed examination of these elements can be found here.
8. What type of media will your documentary consist of (eg audio files, text, stills, video, animation etc.)
My documentary consists of video files, with accompanying music.
9. Given that your documentary will be published online, how will you tailor production and post-production to be appropriate (eg image size, frame rate, design issues, copyright)?
In regards to technical issues, my video will be shot in HD (1080p), so I will have to ensure that the images are appropriately downscaled to cater for varied bandwidth available. All videos have been rendered out at 640 x 360 to meet this requirement.
In the actual editing process, however, I will work with footage in HD (although perhaps scale footage from 1920 x 1080 to 1280 x 720 depending on the temperament of my laptop at the time). This will enable me to produce a master copy in full resolution, and from there output any lower resolutions that may be necessary. All audio will be in 16 bit 44.1 khz broadcast standard, as I have never experienced any problems with audio outputs at this bitrate. All video will be shot at 24 fps to emulate a cinematic motion effect and to enable the longest possible exposure times to aid in low light shooting scenarios.
10. What are your skills in making this style of media?
I have quite a lot of experience making video documentaries, both through RMIT and in extra-curricular roles, and am familiar with a wide range of production and post-production practices and tools. I am quite competent in the technical side, and have used DSLRs extensively as a primary camera for video work, and am familiar with the audio issues that are inherent when using them.
I also have experience as an interviewer, for a range of different topics and subjects.
11. Are you enlisting the help of any crew during the production phase of yourdocumentary?
At this stage, I do not envisage enlisting anyone to help with the project.
12. Will you need to borrow technical equipment from the School techs? If yes, what do you want to borrow? When do you want to borrow it? (You must get the borrowing form signed by your tutor in order to borrow gear, and your tutor must be convinced that you already have sufficient technical skills to use it.)
I will be hiring a Canon 5D MkII kit from the Media technical department. I will also be hiring a lapel microphone, a shotgun microphone, and potentially a Marantz Solid State recorder or a Zoom H4n digital recorder. I will only need to borrow the camera the day before I use it, as I have prior experience with it, but was hoping to borrow the audio equipment earlier for a test run to ensure I can manage both microphones simultaneously.
13. What talent do you need to get release forms signed for?
I have attained permission forms from Max and all other participants.
14. Are you going to interview any minors? (if yes, you must get their release form signed by their parent / guardian)
15. Do you need permission to shoot on location?
Yes, but attained throughout the shoot.
16. What software do you need to edit your documentary?
The majority of my post-production will be done with Final Cut Pro. I may also use Adobe After Effects, should I require and particular title or visual effect sequences, such as transitions or particular overlays.
17. Do you have sufficient skills with that software?
I believe I have sufficient previous experience with both programs.
18. Do you have sufficient access to that software?
I own copies of both programs.
19. What social software environment will you publish your documentary to?
I have published my content through the use of google maps. A further explanation of this can be found here.
20. Is the media you are creating appropriate for that environment?
I found that once video has been formatted and upload to youtube, the content is appropriate. More information about that can be found here.
21. Have you become a member of that environment?
Yes, I have agoogle account and have used it to create maps.
22. Have you done a ʻtestʼ publication?
23. Does the environment stipulate any limits (eg file size, dimensions, file types, copyright, legal issues) that you will need to meet?
Only that the videos be embedded via YouTube.
24. Have you got copyright permission for all the content you use?
Yes, all the content i use will be self created, music included. Permission to record all footage has also been granted.
25. There is no defamation or slander?
26. Any other legal issues?
Not that I’m currently aware of.
27. What are the most likely things that could go wrong with your project?
The greatest risk of my previous project, in Mr Warbie not wanting to do it, did obviously become a reality. However, i feel that due to my back up plans and good time management, such occurrences were not detrimental to my project overall.
28. What is your back-up plan if these things occur?
I have some outlines of other community groups that I could explore should this idea not materialize.
I’m not much of a web designer, but i’m i can say i’m pretty happy with how my coding skills held up in putting this thing all together. well, when i say coding skills, i really am referring to my ability to copy and paste code from w3schools.com and do trial and error from there. still, not too bad.
Basically, to re-clarify, i’ve gone the max video – map max video -map – max video route, and i’ve decided to scroll up and down rather my initial tests in side to side. Getting it to the finished point was not as hard as you’d think. Basically, i just estimated the height and width in pixels of the different map and video elements, and then coded some vertically stacked tables to match this. Then, with InDesign, i created a jpeg image covering the same frame as the table, and built in borders around the elements and graphical links between them. I then used the CSS tag for a background image, loaded up my jpeg under the table, then filled the embed codes for the maps and videos into the table. There was some subtle table adjustment required to get the tables and embed elements in line with the background jpeg, but all in all not too tricky.
The only hiccup occurred when i tried to open my page up in firefox, after doing the coding while testing in chrome. All the tables were again out of line. Now, as i mentioned, i’m no web designer, so i have no idea why this was. There was probably an easier solution to be had, but the only thing i could think to do was to recode a separate page for firefox users. So i think i’ll have to put in a pre-project page with a little selection for browser choice.
Unfortunately, i don’t have a PC to test it upon, but i can clarify that the page now works on chrome, safari, and firefox. If IE doesn’t like it, well, who the heck still uses IE anyway.
Horaah, i hear you say. Yes, editing is finally finished. Apologies for the lack of blogs recently, dear wordpress, but it is only due to the fact that i’ve been a little busy editin’. So, i have 7 videos all up, 3 with my brother and the fruit shop, and 4 based on particular restaurants around town. They range from between 2.30 – 3.30. So almost have a standard 22 min doco on my hands here. SBS here i come.
So, how’s it look? Overall, i’m pretty happy with it. I’ve remained pretty close to the initially envisaged shooting style throughout, which i think is evident in the consistency between the videos. This is particularly true for those focusing on the restaurants, all using similar mix between interviews, coverage from their shop, and portraiture.
For the most part, it also sticks pretty closely to the documentary mode that i was aiming for – that being observational. This is clear in the fact that there’s no narration, and the majority of the interviews have been edited to sound as if it where a continuous stream of one way dialogue, without any questioning or prompting from me, the filmmaker. Yet, while i initially had hoped to keep me out of it entirely, there are a number of little moments that came to the fore in the editing process that reveal the true nature of the man behind the camera – i mean that there was a man behind the camera, and that what appears is a constructed artifact. This is probably what i would define as fitting within the reflexive mode of documentary.
So rather than hide these, i’ve decided to include a number of them. the most obvious is the final sequence of the film, where my voice, off camera, can be heard correcting my brother about which streets in melbourne are the busiest. Another showed my brother handing me a greek coffee to sample after i’d just documented the process of brewing it. Admittedly, these moments made the final cut to add humour as much as to tick another box in the Nichol’s mode matrix. Which, as i mentioned waaay back, is a good thing. As far as i’m concerned, no filmmaker should appear in his own film unless it adds something to the story. In my case, with humour, i believe it did.
I also think that there’s a bit of reflexivity going on in more subtle ways too, and generally which i hadn’t identified until finally viewing the finished product. These come about in the composition of the shots.
Firstly, we have the portrait shots that i’ve used. While there is nothing explicitly reflective about them, i feel that in some ways, having a subject look directly down the lens makes the viewer more aware of the filmmaker in the process. It’s as if by staring down towards the audience, the audience brought to realize that the subject was, in the creation of the shot, directly engaging with the filmmaker. Or at least his camera. These variations of framing was something i touched upon earlier.
The other possibly quasi-reflexive aspect that could be noted in the finished product is the overt out-of-focus shots. And no, this is not me trying to pass off my poor camera work as an intentional meditation upon the reflexivity inherent in film. As anyone that’s used a large sensor camera will know – particularly those with the 5D – the otherwise beautiful shallow depth of field means that it is a difficult beast to keep in focus. Constant refocusing is required, and even gaining good focus on a static subject will usually mean zooming in, focusing in, going too far, then pulling it back to the right plane. This is unavoidable if you want to get an image correctly focused. Where the deliberate part comes in then, is in the fact that i have chosen to keep them in there. I could have chosen to cut out all sections where i’m still trying to find focus, and present the viewer with a focus perfect world for the entire duration (although the duration may have been significantly lessened, were that the case). But by keeping them in, i feel the audience is forced to recognize the fact that it is through a camera that we are seeing these images, a mechanical object, and one more fallible than our own eye. The occasional refocus means that the audience are brought into the filmmaking process, and made aware of the imperfect nature of it. What they are being presented with is not the image they would get if they were there, in the kitchen, in the van, but the image that has been produced as a result of my work in recording it, in the kitchen, in the van.
However, yet again, the choice to leave such sections in the final film were not just to elucidate the audience to the films constructed nature. Again, more shallow than that. I just thought that their, for want of a better word, rough – and – ready nature somehow added to the visceral experience of the works. Seeing these cameras actions does somehow bring us closer to the action, and makes it all feel a bit more hands on. i believe it works well with the quick cutting style, giving it an overall more “real” quality to it.
Either that, or it just shows up my poor cameramanship.
This film seems to echo some of the things i’ve been leaning towards when if comes to a video practice informed by a still-image aesthetic. Surprise, it’s shot by a photographer, and on a stills camera – 5d.
Portraiture, long, static shots, direct to camera interviews.
Ok, so after messing around with the second map embed test, i think i’m going to go the max video – map – max video – map – max video approach. As mentioned, it allows both interaction and a somewhat guided narrative. I thought about the max video – map – max video approach (that’s less one map and max video for those playing at home) but upon reviewing the footage again, i think i’ve got too much good footage of the fruit shop and max doing the deliveries to be crammed into 2 videos. So spacing it out between three might suit better. It might also be nice to return to max after we get a taste for the kind of places he visits throughout the day.
Which brings me to my next conundrum. how to divide up the videos of max? There is some distinction between the material covered, so perhaps they could be grouped according to theme – eg one about the job, one about the restaurants, one about the community. or something like that. But, i feel that the community theme in particular is present across a number of different parts of the film, and not just those with max. so maybe it won’t work to try to put it all into one, at least explicitly.
The other option i was considering, was to take a bit of documentary liberty and arrange the videos in a morning – afternoon – evening fashion, so making it appear as if it were all shot in one day – a day in the life of a fruit and veg delivery driver, for example. this could also be a nice way to frame the project as a whole. Plus, it would allow me to use the morning preparation and evening pack down sequences to their full effect.
Plus people might just believe that i somehow managed to organize and shoot 7 different short films in a single day. not too unbelievable?