Reflective Commentary – Research and ContextMy experience of previous projects highlighted challenges with my creative process which were abarrier to producing the end product to the level of finesse I have visualised. Doing these two filmshas given me the opportunity to observe my practice objectively, and then actively improve upon mytechniques. Gray and Malins talk about this kind of practice in their book Visualising Research; ‘‘Reflection-in-action’… involves thinking about what we are doing and reshaping action while we aredoing it.’ (pg.22, 1957) This approach to the project meant I was able to identify the cause of mycreative blocks, and address them in the second version of the film. The problems I identifiedincluded a lack of experimentation, low confidence in my own skills, and a lack of technicalexperience. It has also, however, given me the chance to see my strengths; for example, myorganisational skills, my constant self-reflection, and even my drawing abilities. This project hasbeen an invaluable contribution to my development as a creative practitioner, and has given mereason to continue creating what I enjoy.At the start, I already had an idea of what subject and format I wanted my independent project to be:a music video with a mental health theme. I also knew that I wanted to explore the technique ofcombining animation and live action, after seeing its success in films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit(1988) and music videos like Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer (1986).The benefit of having a distinct idea in mind was that I could prepare in good time for the pitch. Thedownside, however, was that I fell into the familiar rut of not considering other ideas. In my keennessto create something within the short time frame, I did not give myself the time to consider other ideasthat may have been more suited to this project. I had made a film in the past that combined liveaction and animation, but with more time to complete it. It is important to consider the time frame inwhich one has to make a piece. In this case, to ensure I made something that would be of a highquality, and still be possible in the time available, I limited my focus on the resources immediatelyavailable to me, such as the locations I chose. With better planning, I could have been moreambitious.When preparing my pitch, I discovered that while there were many films that portrayed anddiscussed anxiety, not many of them used animation for this purpose. In Film Art, An Introduction,Bordwell and Thompson state that ‘Animation provides a convenient way of showing things that arenormally not visible’ (pg.387, 2013), and so I thought animation would be an effective way ofcommunicating invisible anxious thoughts.During the pitch I asked the audience to consider their own feelings about anxiety before I describedmy proposal to them, in order to engage them.I do feel that my pitch was too long; with more time and practice, I could have condensed it downand made it more punchy. The challenge of a pitch is to ‘present your idea in whatever narrativesteps best serve its nature.’ (pg. 127, 1987), and I believe I could have improved on the narrative ofmy pitch, perhaps by including an anecdote to draw the audience in.With the pitch approved, I moved onto the practicality of the idea. Initially I considered having morethan one actor portray a person with anxiety, but after consideration I decided to limit myself to oneprinciple actor, given the time and resources available.From the start of pre-production, I appreciated that this module was done alongside the‘Understanding the Audience’ module. This was a huge benefit because it gave me an awareness ofmy audience. I knew from early on that I wanted to make music video based on anxiety, but whowas this film aimed at?Doing the anonymous survey about people’s experience of anxiety was a key part to the process. Itgave me an insight into what my audience was expecting from a film visualising anxiety, and theresponses were a way of grounding me when I became lost in my own thoughts.Another key part of the research process was speaking to the artist of the song herself. Her accountof how she created the song – after feeling overcome by her anxious thoughts, she thought of thesong in the shower – inspired me to essentially recreate the conception of the song, while alsoincluding reference to other people’s experience of anxiety to help the audience relate to it.This investigative conversation helped me see the effectiveness of speaking to others as research,even for an independent project such as this. It also made me consider who my audience was, andtherefore how to tailor the visual language.Pre-production then began, in which I decided what scenes would be in the film. Having the skill ofdrawing was extremely useful in the process, both for visualising my ideas, and for communicating toothers. Later down the line it proved a useful tool for directing my actress.Having the drawings was useful as a starting exercise, but as I lacked experience with cameras, Ifound it hard to translate those ideas to film. It would have been useful to practice and experimentwith different shots, as opposed to just relying on drawings. Many times during production the shotshad to change for practical reasons. Later into pre-production I ordered these drawings into astoryboard. ‘A storyboard is a very good way to work out the visual structure of your drama.’ (pg.202,2005) Bignell and Orlebar, state in The Television Handbook. I found it helped me visualise myideas, and how they would link together in the edit suite.In relation to this, drawing on photographs was a useful way also of experimenting with how theanimation would look on top of the live action footage. I believe it would have helped to have donemore of this. Like in the industry, many people use an animatic (animated storyboard) before thestart of filming so figure out where the animation will be.My organisational strengths shone during production. I was able to organise a crew and cast on theday, and keep to a tight schedule while still taking high quality footage. Our main problem was that Ididn’t have a solid idea of what we were filming, so I could not lead with certainty. Rabiger, however,states ‘a major anxiety when you start directing is feeling you lack the clout to do so.’(pg.437, 1987)he then goes on to say that ‘counter these threats…by choosing coworkers carefully and consultingthem as respected partners.’(pg.438,1987) I was very lucky to have an actress and cinematographerI has previously worked with and felt that I trusted, and as Rabiger says, this is a huge benefit to theproject.In addition to this, the shot list, storyboard and actor’s notes helped the cast to understand my ideas,so I was happy with the day’s work.After being present of the set of someone else’s shoot, I noticed how helpful it was to have theactors rehearse before the shoot, both so that they understood what was required, and to give themthe freedom to experiment with their delivery of a scene. I found that during the second shoot myactress delivered a much more convincing performance, as she had had the opportunity to practiceduring the first shoot. In regards to directing, Rabiger says ‘you must reiterate trustworthy reasonsfor making the film.’ (pg. 434, 1987). This point applied to my directing as my actress was keen to bepart of a project about mental health. I reminded her that she would be helping people with anxiety,and this motivated her in her performance. Rabiger also references another theorist’s perspective –‘Stanislavski realised that emotions arise out of actions, and that going through certain actionsawakens accompanying emotions.’’ (p.43, 1987). Taking this to heart, I had my actress go throughseveral actions to assist in her performance, such as heavy breathing and shaking, while ensuringshe was comfortable. I believe this added a degree of authenticity to the shot.Time management is also a skill I need to work on. I had the advantage that I came up with the ideavery quickly so I had more time to work on my idea, but I also spent a lot of my time in my own head,when making things would have been a more productive way of using my time.As this project had a very limited time period, I felt that it was important to be realistic about what Icould produce in the time. For this I referred to the theory of the minimum viable product. Thismeans reflecting on my previous work when considering the minimum content I can create in thetime given.Realistically, I gave myself a huge task making a fictional narrative that included animated elements.In the future, I would either get animators involved that I could direct, or not have animatedelements. Considering the time I had, however, I am happy with the work I produced, both animatedand live action.I was not happy with my first version of my film, because it seemed incomplete. In hindsight, I shouldhave worked on a small section of the film to make it look professional and polished, rather thanattempting to deliver a whole yet unpolished film.That said, my first version did show my audience the whole narrative that I was trying to convey, andso they were able to give me useful feedback. For example, from their feedback I discovered that itwas not clear where the turning point in the character’s mind was. During the next shoot, I knew toemphasise the telephone and shower scene to make the turning point clearer.After receiving feedback, I left the film to have what Graham Wallas refers to in his creative processtheory as the incubation period, during which I focused on other things. . I think this period may havegone on too long, as when I came back, I found it hard to create momentum to work on the filmagain. I think it would have been more useful to have made changes the day of the feedback, andthen go back to it a few days later.This feeling of wanting to avoid the project comes from a place of fear for me: I don’t want to doanything wrong, so I don’t do anything. However, in creating the first version, I realised how much Ihad learned. I imagined a sculptor, and how they always make a maquette of their final piece, inorder to learn how it is put together. If it fails, it doesn’t matter, because it was small and easy tomake. I needed to apply this analogy to my own filmmaking.For the second shoot, I was more focused on what shots I wanted from my actress. I drew thestoryboard in a way that showed how the animated elements would interact with her, which meant inthe final version we had some very exciting shots.Shortly after I began editing the results of thesecond shoot, following a helpful suggestion from my tutor, I stopped listening to the song while Iworked. This stopped me from automatically editing on the beat of the song, making the footage lesspredictable and more natural.In the second edit I also considered the colour grading of each image. Unfortunately, we shot withnatural light, and each day had different weather, so we needed to balance all the shots so they alllooked like the belonged together. After this grading session, I felt like all the elements of the filmwere much more harmonised, and the film appeared much more professional. I strongly relate toRabiger’s thoughts on editing – ‘When you run and rerun the material you shot…[and] you assembleand refine your film , new truths and correspondences keep surfacing, and the film miraculouslydevelops and strengthens like a growing child’. (Pg.12, 1987) I believe this re-working gave the filmthe finesse I had been looking for.I have learned a lot in this project about caring for my health while working. In the past, intenseperiods of work had resulted in a lot of pain and discomfort, and I was determined to understand andovercome these limitations. After investigation, I was given a diagnosis of Meares-Irlen Syndrome. Iworked hard to find ways to work with my condition; for example, creating a healthy workenvironment with a standing desk, and using blue filters on my screens and in books. Theseinterventions made it less likely for me to have migraines which severely affected my productivity. Inthe future, I am keen to take on a leadership role. Having experienced health problems that directlyaffect my work, I would empathise with my team if they went through similar experiences, andpromote a healthy work-environment for them.In both versions of my film, I carefully considered the mise en scene of the shots; for example, myopening shot is dark and moody to convey our character’s anxious mood, and the room is messyand unkempt. There is a suggestion of a natural light source, signifying hope, but it is not properlyvisible yet. While the character is in the house, and haunted by her anxious thoughts, the shots aretight and claustrophobic. In Film Art: An Introduction it is said, ‘Filmmakers can use mise-en-scene toachieve realism, giving settings an authentic look or letting actors perform as naturally as possible’(pg.113, 2013). Using this idea, especially with my opening, shot, I intended to communicate that mycharacter was in a chaotic state of mind. The random objects strewn about the floor reflect her untidythoughts.In this project I have learned more about the importance of both practical and contextual research inthe early periods of making a film. The preparation of a film can make the difference between a goodfilm and a very high quality one.I have noticed aspects of my directing style I have never seen before; for example, I am a veryphysical director. I like to show my actors what I’d like them to do, as opposed to telling them.In regards to my editing, beforehand I had a predictable editing style, whereas I learned how holdinga shot for longer and letting it breathe can be more effective.I think my use of animation, though limited, was successful in revealing an emotion that was veryabstract. I really feel my research process assisted in this, as it revealed that some people imaginetheir anxious thoughts as images.I found the workbook a extremely helpful addition in my creative process. I used it both as anexperimental tool, and as a communicative one. When training to be an animator, I found a purelydrawn sketchbook did not suit my style of thinking. However, I appreciate how the combination ofwritten reflective notes and drawings really complements my thought process.This journey has been one of re-discovery. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I felt lost. Mycreative process was not as effective as it could be, but I hadn’t yet understood why.After this project I realise experimenting and getting things wrong is better than playing it safe andmaking something that doesn’t challenge me. This journey helped me identify the places where Iwas going wrong, and where my place was in the industry. It has also helped me to understand thevalue of collaboration. As Rabiger wisely points out – ‘Film…is a social art in every stage of itsevolution.’ (pg.11, 1987).ReferencesBooksGray, C, Malins, J (1957) Visualizing Research. UK: MPG Books GroupBordwell, D, Thompson, K (2013) Film Art, An Introduction. New York: The McGraw-Hill CompaniesRabiger , M (1987) Directing the Documentary. USA, Sheridan Books.Bignell, J, Orlebar, J (2005) The Television Handbook. NY, Routledge.Films and VideosWho Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988 [Film] Directed by Robert Zemeckis, USA, TouchStone Pictures.Sledgehammer, 1986 [Music Video] UK: Virgin Records.
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