Vera EngelSID:1233615Module: Process and Practice as Research1Reflective Commentary onListenDuring the time, I wrote down the idea for my research proposal, I had a clear visualized planon what my end product would look like. Already at the start of my journey I was sure inwhich direction my path would take me and where I would end up. But my journey provedmore difficult than first thought.Gray and Malins propose a first step to take for a new project: “the identification of a‘hunch’ or tentative research proposition, leading eventually to a defined and viable researchquestion.” (Gray & Malins, 2004, p. 12) My start point was that I wanted to make a film thatexpressed visually the noise we are confronted with on a daily basis with the message beingthat one should allow themselves the time to enjoy the silence more. According to Gray andMalins my research question should have been: How will I express sound visually? However,that was not my research question. In fact, I do not think I had one. I had visualized my enddestination before I had even taken the first step of the journey.Indeed, at the beginning my main concern lay in finding a way to communicate the subjectmatter, the idea of a visualized sound, so that an audience would actually listen. Thirkellstates that “it is hard to care about a subject, easy to care about a story.” And so, he suggeststhat “the first rule of coming up with good films – and selling them – is to make them into astory, rather than about a subject.” (Thirkell, p.5) This is true for Listen, too. While I had avague idea at the beginning about what subject my film would be about, I did not know whatit would actually show. Confronting the audience with a subject through storytelling seems tobest approach indeed. For my film, in any case, I decided that I needed a central characterthat would weave together the strings of the various shots throughout the documentary.Vera EngelSID:1233615Module: Process and Practice as Research2“Finding a central character through which to tell your story can make an otherwise complextopic more manageable and accessible to viewers.” (Bernard, 2010, p. 23) My main characterwas to be the access point for the audience to the topic.My initial idea for a project was a bit too unstructured to work out. I had to find something tothat could give a more natural structure to the end film. “One of the more difficult problemsfor documentary filmmakers is finding structure where there is no obvious approach.”(Rosenthal, 1990, 2007, p. 72) While chronologically documenting the daily life of a deaf girlmight have been the obvious approach for my project, I had decided that it would not beinteresting enough. Stories work well because they contain suspense or some kind of conflict.My character did not have an extra exciting day or an adventure; therefore I decided to makethe film more interesting by making the story non-linear. The additional contrast between thesudden audio input when there was none before add in my opinion a nice effect on the film.The same goes for the different images that seem to have no connection to each other at all,except for the main character.However, in all this I did not pay attention to any research about the subject or the process onhow to research it. I was working on that final film without having contemplated the steps Ineeded to take to get there. It is how I had always worked previously. “If you can imaginewhat the finished documentary will be like […] then you should be able to work backwards tothe concept for and the means of arriving at, that finished documentary.” (Hampe, 2007, p.51) My plan was indeed to work towards the visualized finished film in my head. I wastotally convinced that I had the answer to a question I didn’t even really know at the time.This changed, however. While it is true, that at the beginning, I had a clear idea of what Iwanted the finished product to look like, having visualized all the shots and structured thefilm in my mind, in the middle of the process, I lost that certainty. I realized that I did notVera EngelSID:1233615Module: Process and Practice as Research3know what my film was actually supposed to be about. It is then that I fell back on research,and was at first a bit stumped. “Research: It’s all about navigation really.” (Stewart, 2007, p.123) Faced with a mass of knowledge and theories and ideas, I did not really know where tostart. Then, additionally, I noticed, as I was doing my research, that new possibilities startedto come up, and I lost the sense of direction I had at the beginning.Research is also a tantalizing mistress because she is constantly showing you newpossibilities and new directions for your film. You think you are the boss, andresearch the obedient donkey you ride on, but before you know it she’s kicked upher heels, resisted the reins, and taken you to a totally undreamed of destination.(Rosenthal, 1990, 2007, p. 63)At first, the difficulty lay in my wanting to hold on to the old plan, stubbornly clinging to it.But after I realized and admitted that it wouldn’t work, I had to make decisions in whichdirection to take my film. At this stage comments from my peers were immeasurably useful.As the filmmaker, it is at times difficult to see your film through the objective eyes of theaudience. As such, showing the film to others helped move the project along.I decided to research the relationship between the audio and the visual as that was essentiallywhat my idea was based upon. With a research question now firmly in mind and a new senseof direction, my motivation was restored, and that old feeling of excitement came up again.The next step, according to Gray and Malins is: “the need for your research in relation to thewider context, in order to test out the value of your proposition, locate your research position,and explore a range of research strategies” (Gray & Malins, 2004, p. 12) At first I onlythoroughly researched about people with hearing problems and how they interact with theworld. After a while I thought to myself that while it is certainly interesting for my actress inVera EngelSID:1233615Module: Process and Practice as Research4the film, is it actually important for my field? I began my research in silent films and otherfilms about that were about deaf people or just generally about silence. At some point, Irealised that all the research I had done on hearing disabilities was actually essential for myfilm and in the wider context, for my field. Because deaf people cannot rely on sound toinform them about the world, they rely primarily on their eyes. The way they experience theworld is in fact important for filmmaking. If I wanted to find the common ground betweensound and images, find out how they can work together, then I needed to know how people, apart of my future sound, experienced it. The way deaf people can feel the vibrations of asound box blasting music is an example of this. If the visual input was to give enoughinformation about the possible experience without any actual audio in it, then this wasvaluable research.The third step presented by Gray and Malins is the following: “the importance of developingan appropriate methodology and specific methods for gathering and generating informationrelevant to your research question, and evaluating, analysing and interpreting researchevidence.” (Gray & Malins, 2004, p. 12) I did include historical research in my process as Ilooked for work done in my field on that I could build my own project. I had a semistructured process by which I would plan my parts of my research, mostly backgroundknowledge about contemporary works to do with my subject. I moved from one work toanother, sometimes getting outside input, but mostly by finding my own way, oneprofessional citing another and showing me where to look. “The practitioner researcher,whether artist or teacher, takes central place in seeking to uncover, record, interpret andposition, from an insider’s perspective and experience, the processes they use within thecontext of professional contemporary practices in the field.” (Stewart, 2007, p. 126) Anotherpart of my process was almost spontaneous, relying on improvisation or on intuition. WhileVera EngelSID:1233615Module: Process and Practice as Research5on location recces for my film, I often tried to imagine myself as being deaf, searching forvisual highlights that could help guide me. I tried to get a sense of a place in order to be ableto portray it later accurately through my camera. Every shot I filmed I tried to experiencemyself with the eyes of the audience. I played with the audio input, taking out, adding it in,Putting the wrong sound over an image.Pepperman writes that “the work process should allow – should even foster – the oftenextraordinary discovery.” He warns of developing a “knack for […] working to cautiously”and teaches to rather let “things happen.” (Pepperman, p.217) I agree with this, as sometimesnot planned out things, allow for something new and unthought-of to come up. When I filmedmy actress for example, I noticed that if I took the time to let her work on her own withouttightly controlled directions, let her interpret the basic instructions on her own, it resulted insomething better than I had planned. Sometimes I observed her doing her acting and I wouldget new ideas for future shoots, or indeed a new research ground to cover.Haseman explains that it is important to “gain a measure of how audiences ‘read’ [your]work.” He talks about “a post-performance reception study” (Haseman, 2007, p. 153) toassess how your film works for your audience. When I showed a first version of my film tomy peers, it proved very beneficial for me. As the filmmaker I noticed, that you aresometimes too attached to your own work and an objective viewer might help further yourproject.“I establish new ways of recognition and behaviour, I learn to read new cultural codes, Iconcentrate on finding my way through a foreign process until eventually I naturalise this andbecome a confident, comfortable driver again: on the wrong side of the road.” (Stewart, 2007,p. 123) The deeper I delved into my research the more confidence I gained. At this stage Iwas very sure that I was on the right path. I didn’t have a clue of where I was going but I wasVera EngelSID:1233615Module: Process and Practice as Research6sure I was going somewhere. A complete turnaround from my beginning stages where I wassure of the end, even if I was not sure of the path to get there. Now though I felt confidentand excited with all the possibilities I had. “In moving creatively into our practice we arefundamentally concerned to develop new knowledge, to challenge old beliefs and tospeculate on the “what ifs” of our concepts and processes.” (Stewart, 2007, pp. 124-125) Tobe honest, I have never felt more creative than at this stage. It was kind of liberating to becreative with firm knowledge backing you up, and I didn’t want it to stop. As Stewartmentions, I couldn’t follow the stings of ‘what ifs’ fast enough. I was going off on tangentswith every new possibility that opened up before me. “If we are alive to this research then itcan surprise us, refreshing our thinking about the cinema by bringing new perspectives andmethodologies to bear on problems with which we have long struggled.” (Redfern, May2014, p. 8)This became augmented when groups were formed with people from different fields as partof the course at university. The idea that fashion could play a role in my film was astounding,but when I belatedly realized that a main part of why I had chosen that particular actress asmy central character was actually her violet hair, a nice colourful look for my very visualfilm, I admitted that fashion is a way to communicate with colours. “It will become sharplyevident that while practice-led research builds directly out of a researcher’s professionalpractice, it is more than an individual’s professional practice alone.” (Haseman, 2007, p. 156)It was interesting to be confronted with fields I was mostly ignorant about, and realize howmuch they could actually add to my own project. So in the end, collaboration did come in toplay a role in my process, too.The fourth and final step Gray and Malins propose “the provocative ‘so what?’ – challengesyou to think about the significance and value of your research contribution, not only to yourVera EngelSID:1233615Module: Process and Practice as Research7practice but to the wider research context, and how this is best communicated anddisseminated.” (Gray & Malins, 2004, p. 12) It is good to think upon what you learned as partof the process but it is really necessary for there to be any valuable outcome? Shouldn’t theresearch and what you have learned about research be enough to make the work done be ofimportance?Stewart claims that “the research function for developing and extending knowledge is judgedon the outcome of the research […]” (Stewart, 2007, p. 125) However, I do not agree withthis. But perhaps, this is only the thinking of those who have still not managed to arrive atthat illustrious destination that has always seems so unreachable. In truth, I am not sure if myproject was actually successful or not, but either way, I am sure that there is still ways to go.As the saying goes, there is always another door at the end of the hallway, always anotherpath to take. And isn’t that what makes the process so interesting? As I have mentionedpreviously, the possibilities that opened up in every direction you could look kept theexcitement going. To know that there is always something more that you can learn, makeseverything worthwhile. How boring it would be to find yourself at the end of the road withnowhere else to go.As a filmmaker, this project has helped me immeasurably to become much more aware of therelationship between audio and visual, that the sound emphasizes the image and the otherway around. Also, I have learned how to research a vague idea and form it into somethingtangible. It has in a way freed me to take experiment with images rather than adhere to aconcrete and structured plan. While the latter is useful and a good structured plan is necessaryin the filmmaking business, it is also of advantage to make room for a more creativeapproach. Best would be, to find the middle ground.Vera EngelSID:1233615Module: Process and Practice as Research8BibliographyBaldwin, J. & Roberts, L., 2006. Visual Communication: From theory to practice. s.l.:AVAPublishing.Bernard, S., 2010. Documentary Storytelling. 3rd ed. Oxford: Fopcal Press.Bissonnette, S., 2012. Committel Theatricality. In: A. Loiselle & J. Maron, eds. Stages ofReality. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, pp. 135-159.Gray, C. & Malins, J., 2004. Visualizing Research. Hants, Burlington: Ashgate.Hampe, B., 2007. Making Documentary Films and Videos: A practical guide to planning,filming, and editing documentaries. 2 ed. New York: Henry Holt and Company.Haseman, B., 2007. Rupture and Recognition: Identifying The Performative ResearchParadigm. In: E. Barrett & B. Bolt, eds. Practice as Research: Approaches to creatice artsenquiry. London, New York: I.B. Tauris, pp. 147-157.Law, J., 2004. After Method: mess in social science research. London, New York: Routledge.Pepperman, R. D., 2004. The Eye is Quicker. USA: Michael Wiese Productions.Poulaki, M., Autumn 2014. Network films and complex causality. Screen, 56(3), pp. 379-395.Rabiger, M., 2009. Directing the Documentary. 5th ed. Oxford: Focal Press.Redfern, N., May 2014. Quantitative methods and the study of film. s.l., University ofGlasglow.Rosenthal, A., 1990, 2007. Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films andVideos. 4 ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois university Oress.Vera EngelSID:1233615Module: Process and Practice as Research9Stewart, R., 2007. Creating New Stories For Praxis: Navigations, Narrations, Neonarratives.In: E. Barrett & B. Bolt, eds. Practice As Research: Approaches to creative arts enquiry.London, New York: I.B.Taurs, pp. 123-133.Thirkell, R., 2010. C.O.N.F.L.I.C.T.: An Insider’s Guide to Storytelling in Factual/Reality TVand Film. London: Bloomsbury.Thrift, N., 2008. Non-Representational Theory. London, New York: Routledge.
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