Process and Practice as Research | My Assignment Tutor

MA Film and Television ProductionReflective commentary – Process and Practice as ResearchMOD000226A reflection on a filmmaking journey.At the beginning of this project, I was a new and inexperienced filmmaker. Istill am. I set out to discover my own strengths and weaknesses, with a view todeciding how best to pursue my research and practice for the duration of mypostgraduate studies. In this report I will reflect on what I have learned, what I knowI need to learn, and hopefully discover what I don’t know I need to learn. I intend toreflect on my process and intentions, my journey and outcome.I intended to work as a sole operator on the project. This would involve metaking control of every aspect of the process, from pre-production and researching, toediting and encoding, and every discipline in between. Diane Reed states, “My artisticpractice is enriched by, and inseparable from my collaboration with others” (Barret &Bolt, 2007, Pg. 60). This has always been the case with my normal practice as well,hence the wish to see if I can work independently.1In my project proposal, I asked myself the following question – “Can I use periodfootage and images, presented in a contemporary location, to emphasise and enhancethe strength of a community connection to past events?” In Practice-Led Research…Brown and Sorenson argue, “Research is often characterised as the search for newideas and understanding” (Smith & Dean, 2009, Pg. 153). My own research hasalways been borne out of curiosity, passion and a drive to understand new conceptsand skills. In the process of making my film, I wanted to get under the skin of acommunity project, and to see whether I could document, and perhaps visually dissectthe participants and organisers reasons for involvement.My research in the lead up to first rehearsals would be on a practical level. Whichcamera should I use? Do I need to use extra lighting for my shoot? Where will I filmmy interviews? These are all questions that needed to be answered, and in many casesresearched extensively. During this process, I discovered a methodology title “CaseStudy 01: A Transferable Research Method” which was created by Matt Cooke toassist in the development of a specific graphic art project (Noble & Bestley, 2005 Pg.030/031). I believed would assist in my preparations. Although I did not use everyaspect of this methodology, I believe it helped rather than hindered my process.Step 1 – Definition –“This is where the project is outlined in its initial form” (Noble & Bestley, 2005, Pg.33)2I aimed to explore the nature of community theatre as a social tool, a way ofenabling non-actors to understand and explore their own history and surroundings. Inthis way the exploration process was similar, if not identical, for both myself as afilmmaker, and the participants in the project. Whilst deciding what form my filmshould take, I used various existing broadcast programs to influence my thoughtprocess. Two in particular became major influences. The first was – A Play, a Pie and aPint, 2014 (http://bobnational.net/record/228579). I immediately connected with thisprogram and enjoyed the intimate and affectionate nature with which the filmmakersapproached their subject matter. There seemed to be no attempt to manipulate thesituation, nor did the filmmakers seem to have an ulterior motive. I decided I wantedmy film to be affectionate and honest. The other was – Passion in Port Talbot, 2012(http://bobnational.net/record/95333). This film documented a community theatreproject on a far larger scale. Keep the home fires burning consisted of approximately 50performers and an audience of 500 people. Passion in Port Talbot had a cast of up to1000 local people and an audience of many thousands more. Again, the tone of thepiece was non-judgemental and unbiased. I made a conscious decision to attempt touse this tone in my own work.Sheila Curran Bernard asks, “Will you film be dependent on interviews and narration,or can scenes and sequences be played with out sound and still convey story?” (CurranBernard, 2007, Pg179) At this stage in the process I had no idea. As it turned out, myfirst interviewee, Jenny Culank had plenty to say. I decided to sync her story across3the film, to provide a structure to the visual narrative. Curran Bernard also compares afilm to a train, and discusses how “Films move forward in time. Taking audienceswith them” (Pg. 17). Jenny Culank would be my “Train” As well as the “Train”, Ialso wanted Jenny to be my “Hero”.In “CONFLICT”, Thirkell argues, “To create dramatic structure in adocumentary every hero needs something to oppose” (CONFLICT, Pg. 37). I tend todisagree with this statement. Although I believe that a hero is necessary, I believe thatit is enough for them to be charming and agreeable, for the viewer to connect andempathise. Having transcribed her interview, I realized that she had given me moreenough information for her to “Narrate” the film. She would not always be seen inframe, but as the director of the performance, would have an omnipotent role in thefilm as well as the rehearsal process, able to observe, and comment whenever wasappropriate for the story. I had established my influences and my “Train”, I knewwhere to begin, what route I was going to take, but I was still not entirely aware of myfinal destination.Stage 2 – Divergence –This is “…where the majority of background research takes place” (Noble & Bestley2005, PG 35)4Am I merely attempting to document the event in as realistic a manner as possible?Or, can I use filmmaking techniques to enhance the story? Should I manipulate it toportray a broader range of ideas, and my own views? As I became more involved withthe group, I made a decision to not only document the event itself, but also attempt toportray a historical context. I had to ensure not only that I portray the event in anhonest and truthful, but also that the viewer understood what was going on. I had toensure that I could navigate the transition from “videographer” to “filmmaker” Ineeded to discover a “Narrative Drive” (C.O.N.F.L.I.C.T – Robert Thirkell – 2010,Pg. 93). Thirkell states that this is “the arc of the film, which needs continuoushoning not only while creating the script, but also while filming and again whileediting” (Pg. 93) I regret that I did not read this before I commenced filming. Assoon as I had introduced myself to the participants and attended a handful ofrehearsals, I dove straight in, camera in hand, to record every small detail of theirperformance. I found myself two weeks later, at three in the morning, with no realidea of how my story was going to develop to a satisfactory conclusion. Maybe thiswas due to inexperience, maybe due to my excitement at embarking on an excitingnew project. In future I will step back, take a deep breath and evaluate each step in theprocess.I had resolved to concentrate my efforts for the main performance day, oncapturing the mood of the event, rather than attempting to document everything thathappened. Previously, I had not been fully aware of what the camera was doing,where it was moving, and what it was focused on. My tutor, Cathy Elliot, laterdescribed this to me as “Hoover Filming”. Swinging the camera wildly to capture5every detail carries with it the danger of having nothing usable at the end of theprocess. Russell Crockett stresses the need to “Hold your shots!” (Glynne. 2012. Pg.144) when talking about an editors’ pet hates. Always in the back of my mind wasthat I intended to edit myself, a task I was equally apprehensive and excited to workon.Stage 3 – Transformation“This is the stage of pattern-making, fun, high-level creativity…” (Jones, J C. DesignMethods, 1980. Cited by Matt Cooke in Noble and Bestley 2005, Pg. 37)I set about the editing process with trepidation, and excitement. I have always foundediting an enjoyable process, and one that I feel the most comfortable carrying out.However, editing a film I have shot myself is a new experience for me. I now had firsthand knowledge of “everything that was there, physically and emotionally, justbeyond what was actually photographed.” (Murch, 2001, Pg. 23)Walter March argues that this additional knowledge is not necessarily useful and that“The editor…should try to see only what’s on the screen, as the audience will. Only inthis way can the images be freed from the context of their creation” (March, 2001 Pg.24). I tend to agree with this viewpoint. Whilst viewing my dailies I felt that I knewtoo much about what had gone into getting those shots. The planning, multiple takes,inevitable mistakes, and backache (From holding the camera) were also still fresh6within me. There were shots that I wanted to use, simply because I had worked hardto get them, and not because the story required them. Nonetheless, I was on adeadline and needed to keep moving forward.Matt Cooke talks about “Raw material…which evolves into a set of proposed visualsolutions” (Noble and Bestley Pg. 37). This is how I saw the editing process, a visualsolution to a storytelling problem. It could have infinite outcomes. Cooke also statesthat “The design team is trying to effect a change in human understanding” In mycase this would be the understanding of why a group of local people would voluntarilygive up their time to re-enact a historical event, with the intention of educating thegeneral public.I completed the first rough cut, and screened it to my peers for critique. The feedbackwas generally positive, although I now had plenty to work on over remainder of theproject.Step 4 – Convergence“At this point the design team makes it’s final amendments and proceeds to roll outthe product in the full scale environment.” (Noble & Bestley, 2005)As the event had already occurred, and contacting my contributors again was provingexcessively time consuming, I decided to concentrate my efforts on re-editing, and7working on the structure and pacing of the film. I was conscious of not changingthings just for the sake of it, but trying to improve what was I had already created.In C.O.N.F.L.I.C.T, Thirkell discusses the importance of the “First TwoMinutes”, the pre-title. This is a device used in broadcast television to catch theaudiences’ attention, and help them with the decision – “As their hands hover withtheir remotes they will decide within the first minute or two if it is the sort of filmthey want to watch…” (Thirkell 2010 Pg. 152) Although my film had a guaranteedaudience comprised of the large cohort of contributors, organisers and the FulbournVillage history society, I knew that I still had to be able to hold my audience andengage them beyond the first few seconds. There was also a proposal to display thefinished film in an installation environment as part of a local history exhibition.Although I didn’t feel that pre-titles would be appropriate for this project, I resolvedto work on the opening sequence extensively to ensure I could maintain the viewersattention. I also chose to concentrate on colouring of the footage to achieve aconsistent tone throughout, and stabilizing shots with excessive camera movement. AsI was very happy with my first iteration. I feel I have been relatively successful withmy final product. The film has been produced, and the proposal satisfied, albeit withadjustments from the original idea. I have developed a clearer understanding ofworking processes and methodology. I can progress from here with new foundknowledge and insight.My process must conclude with reflection on my methodology and working8practice. I feel that the following quote sums up my strongest reaction toward the pastfew months – “John Else … says that “with very few exceptions,” a minimum of atwo-person crew is the way to go. “Working as a one-person crew involves suchincredible compromise, you only have so much brain power, you only have so muchmuscle power” (Cited by Curran Bernard, 2007, Pg. 178). I couldn’t agree more.Moving forward I will always seek to work with others. As a practitioner who hasalways worked in collaboration, I feel it is crucial to my own development as an artistto continue to do so. Whether directing, producing, editing or operating cameraequipment, a team of like-minded colleagues is essential.9

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