Sunday, April 14, 2013

Project: How to learn

The brief for Project 5 is to look back at a piece of work I have produced, including any notes and blog entries.  I will concentrate on my Alcoholic – objective POV sequence. 

I have already included some reflections in the Exercise 7 post:

Feedback from other students and friends

“I really like this. Love the way you focus in on the bottle and then Matt's face, then back, in time with his thinking. It all looks too clean for an alcoholics flat, dirty bed clothes and unshaven would be more effective.”

“Lovely construction and framing. Whilst I don't know if Matt or his surroundings do really have to be slovenly, whatever Matt is drinking looks like it's coming from a pretty posh brand (!). However it could be argued that both his choice of tipple and his pleasant surroundings, show that alcoholism doesn't always conform to a 'type'.”

“I like the framing and composition. The depth of field used here, a little bit extremely in some shots, created alcoholic’s blurriness world to me, especially when the focus is shifting from the bottle on his face, very well done. For me the distraction point is too long, I mean as he is looking and listening to the sound of the phone.”

From Matt, the actor:

“I really like how this turned out. It was a pleasure to participate. I think the two clips with the phone ringing could have been spliced together a little more seamlessly, but that's more than compensated for by how well the clip from the front, where The Alcoholic picks up the empty bottle and the clip from behind tie together.

I like the lighting in the scenes from behind much better than the scene from the front. Much more depth.

I would have liked a very subtle soundtrack, but you would run into copyright issues, and it would be very hard to find something that added to the piece without being heavy-handed.

Overall, I give it a 7/10. Very well done, especially for your first effort at directing an actor.”

From Stuart:

“I noticed these two questions in your blog:

  Does anyone know if I can isolate some sounds (i.e the noise from manually focussing the lens) and fade them out in Final Cut Pro X?
  What exactly does this mean (from the course notes): "Where are the borders of perception drawn in each shot?"

1. That's the poor mic built into the 5D (I also use a 5D). You should be able to open the audio track in Final Cut and then cut out that section where you move the focus ring or, alternatively, just cut that audio segment so that it's still part of the audio track but can be edited separately without effecting the rest of the audio track. You can then lower the sound just for that segment. You can see examples of what I mean in the two attachments. In 2.tiff, I've cut out the segment I want to edit separately, but it's still part of the audio track. 

Personally, I'd remove the bad section completely and then add an atmosphere track over the top of everything so that the audience wouldn't notice where I'd cut that small segment. You'll work with atmosphere sound later in the course.

The mic on the 5D is omnidirectional so it picks up everything, as you can hear by your hand movements in the film. Buying something like a Rode VideoMic will help with this. You can also add it to a boom pole and still connect it to your camera. You can also record audio separately and then sync it with the film - that's when you start having some real fun and involve other 'crew'. :)

2. Which page is this question on? I can probably get a better idea of the questions then.

About your film… Although the editing felt a little jumpy, I actually though tit added to the atmosphere. It left me a with a bit of an uneasy feeling, which I think suited the film. I liked the way you also often balanced the frame by putting the actor on one side and the bottle on the other.

The focus jumps quite a bit, but that just takes practice. You could make life easier for you by increasing your ISO level. That will allow you close down your aperture and give you a slightly larger depth of field. By doubling your ISO level, you let yourself double your depth of field (because you close down your aperture to compensate for the extra exposure created by the higher ISO level). “

From Margaret:

I think you've done really well with this sequence. I like what you said about the lens giving intimacy - it does.  The light is very good but it may help to tell your story of doom and gloom if it was a bit less saturated - not sure whether you can do this in final cut.  Re the camera sounds - my camera and lenses have a silent option which means you can't hear focusing etc but generally it is one thing you need to watch.  Sound is something you'll come on to later in the course and I find it can make or break a film and have spent loads of time learning how to make it better.  Back to your film though, I think you've created a good film.  It's a bit of an ice breaker to complete this one I think and now you're well on your way to the next!”

From Elisa Paloschi, FilmMaker Extraordinaire:

“I love it! Matt is hilarious, such a great actor, and I love your shots and sequence. You used your 5D, good for you!! I think the out of focus works really well here, where Matt is first rolling over. Super!

The only thing I can think of is that I'd like a bit more mystery early on. It could seem like matt is just sleeping and maybe sick. I really like how he picks up the first bottle and throws it down. I may have tried to find a way to introduce the bottle earlier, without really knowing what it was...

PS - just read now your comments of the film process, great points you make. You are a natural.

AS for this: does anyone know if I can isolate some sounds (i.e the noise from manually focussing the lens) and fade them out in Final Cut Pro X?

The short answer is NO. This is one of the biggest issues with the 5d, or most dslrs in general. The only way to isolate the sound is to use an external recording device. You could also try an external shotgun mic as well, attached to the camera. This will isolate the sound a bit - but the problem is you still can't change the levels and such.

It's hard work to think about sound and use a dslr at the same time. I know you want this to be great, but you are prob better off concentrating on the camera and the story, till you feel more comfortable with the camera and the editing program.

You might even consider working with a sound person. Anyone in your course live nearby and you could collaborate with each other?”

What did I set out to achieve?  

A convincing portrayal of an alcoholic in a few simple frames, carefully choosing the right camera angles to convey information and atmosphere.

How can I identify what I have achieved?

I can try to take an objective look at the film and how closely it matched my stated aims (and maybe some extra magic stuff that I hadn’t expected) and this proves that it is important that my aims are clearly set out in detail before embarking on the project.  

Did I achieve it?

Yes I think so – I kept the frames simple and was very clear about what information needed to be included. The story has been told. I also used specific camera angles and lighting to create the right mood. 


The big mistake is that I left too much footage in of Matt looking towards the phone – it just went on too long and seemed unnatural.  Quite a few people have commented that Matt did not look like an authentic alcoholic but I am happy that he was presented like that – less clichéd and therefore hopefully more thought-provoking. I wanted the audience to have some empathy with him (hence my choice of camera angles) so they could really think about what it would be like to wake up and need a drink so desperately.  What has happened to him that his life is like that?  Who is trying to call him repeatedly?

Things I have learnt:

  • In order to ensure I have achieved my aims, I need to be very specific about what they are in the first place.  Spell everything out, line by line – avoid being vague, even if that is tempting.
  • The planning is essential. I actually thought when I started this course that the storyboards were going to be an annoying waste of time but they are critical to help me visualise and work through the best options and to keep me and the actor(s) on track during the filming.  
  • Name problems precisely so I can work out a solution… eg “I need to see more of your head AND the room” so … I will pull back or change my focal length or move the actor … etc
  • Continuity is important. I need to study clever devices and plan them in, rather than just getting lucky. I can use my sense of composition for this and make the most of the motion aspect.  Also: I mustn’t let the actors make random changes to the set that you might not notice until editing stage.  Again the storyboards can help with this.
  • Directing and anticipating during the shoot is critical. The actors want to be told what to do, how and when. Explain what is required before each segment and be encouraging. I do have these skills – I just need to bring them into this process.

I was really nervous about using the 5D due to the focusing issues. Apart from the sound capture when changing the manual focus, I think this worked well.  I also bit the bullet and bought Final Cut Pro X – so far, so good.  I suddenly feel like a whole world of creative opportunity has just opened up to me.  My skills as a still photographer really will have a bearing on how I make films and I find that to be very exciting. I always struggle with lack of confidence causing inertia so this feels like a really positive moment.


Is it better to struggle and improve your weaker areas or should you cut your losses and focus on your strengths?

I think it is essential to always try to improve weaknesses but this can be done in tandem with a focus on strengths. This is all part of the process to find my voice.

How can you ever really know what your strengths and weaknesses are?

By looking at other people’s work and by being ultra-critical of my own. Also by being very detailed in my vision and aims for each project and then critically assessing how closely I have come to achieving those aims and if my vision has been created successfully.

How do you know what you need to know if you don’t know what it is yet?

I know when I am falling short of creating something that I think is exceptional so I need to break down what elements are missing and how I can achieve them.

Who can you ask or where can you find out?

I am right at the beginning of this journey – I need to watch so many films and study like a madwoman.  I have a network of friends and other students to ask, plus my tutor and, of course, the interwebs!

How do you know if you have improved?

I know I have improved by comparing my first Alcoholic (subjective) sequence with this latest version. A lot of the improvement is to do with the camera (last time I used a compact) but I also found myself really using the storyboards as they should be. I now feel that I have a more experienced critical perspective from analysing films and generally learning more about this field.

When is it time to move on?

I spent far too long (almost a year) on just one assignment in my last module (People and Place) which I am determined to avoid this time around so I am not going to let myself get caught up on specific projects or exercises unnecessarily.  Once I have identified what I have learnt, and possible improvements, I think it is good to move on.

How to learn?

  • Watch others
  • Practise
  • Share
  • Reflect
  • Study others
  • Copy
  • Compare
  • Contextualise
  • Practise more
  • Ask
  • Analyse
  • Experiment
  • Respond
  • Be critical
  • Improve
  • Perfect...

No comments:

Post a Comment