Production & Artistic

Telling a good story

I visited a local University and I took a full days ‘Visiting Professional’ session for 3rd years, entitled a ‘Master class on location recording’ (their title not mine!).  A chance not only to learn at bit more about film/program making, but also find out a little more about the industry from someone who works in it, before they start to look for a job next summer. I had just nine attend from a course of 72!!! And one guy was an hour and a half late and just walked as if it didn’t matter!

The problem?  It was deemed a technical session and not promoted by the academic staff, so therefore the students felt no need to attend. The attitude is that the only time they need to attend a ‘technical session’ is when they what to borrow equipment and are told they have to attend a particular session first.

I find it hard to understand this attitude when to practice any art, you need to understand the tools of the craft?  Why don’t the students see the need to learn how to use the media equipment?

Most of the students on this course for their final year project chose to make a video documentary.  They’ve had some great ideas, but the execution of the project most of the time doesn’t make the most of the idea – so what’s the problem?

There’s fundamentally a missing point. Although a good story is important, by far the most fundamental media skill to learn is how to tell a story – it’s the story telling that’s most important, it’s what the media is about, it’s not actually the story itself!  If you tell a non-descript story well, it has the potential to be a good program. On the other hand a good story told badly will simply make a bad program and is a waste of a good story.  yet the fundamental stress of the media studies department is that by far the most important thing in media is the narrative – the story itself.

A good book is good because of the writing skill of the author, not necessarily because of the story itself, as it’s the way the story is told that captivates and holds the reader.  Whilst the original story maybe good, if it’s told badly you’re not going to finish the book – you may even put it down within a few pages and the story will remain untold.

If you tell a story in multimedia using video and sound, it’s the way you use the video and sound to produce the program that tells the story, again it’s the story telling that captivates and holds the viewer.

As an artist discovers how to use his paints and brushes, a media creative needs to learn how to use their cameras, microphones and lights to achieve the best artistic result and tell a story. I have a professional photographer friend who can simply pick up a camera and take a stunning photograph - he knows how to use the camera to achieve the artistic effect he wants and tell his story in picture form.  If he didn’t know how to use the camera he won’t be able to achieve his artistic result.

Story telling needs to become the emphasis in media studies and the use of sound and light in telling that story. When this happens students will realise they need to know how to use the equipment in order to tell the narrative the way it deserves to be told.

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The rise and rise of the DSLR

The DSLR in the last six months has begun to make huge changes in the way we shoot video. The film like quality of the resulting video, the huge jump in quality SLR lens give over video camcorders, it all makes the format perfect for shooting artist material.

Have a look at the Canon promotional Video by Vincent LaForet below to see what can be achieved.

1080p

Click the HD icon to see a higher definition picture - do pause the other one first!  Remember what you're seeing is, even in the higher quality version, only a compressed version of the 1080 line original.

They are many striking examples of the artistic medium given life by the digital SLR, but if you browse the net you'll begin to see a common denominator...... They're all music videos with sound and effects added later.  Why?  Basically sound was an after thought.  On the DSLR's for instance the microphone is obviously on the the camera, an inch from the photographers mouth so all you'll get on the sound track is breathing!  Heaviness dependent on work rate obviously!!!!!! As the mic is part of the camera body you pick up a lot of focus motor noise.

canon-eos-7d

But the D5 and D7 and now the D7000 have a 3.5mm jack I heard you say.  At the Broadcast Video Expo in Earls Court, London, a show aimed at the top video producers and technicians in the country. my most asked question was??? How do we get decent sound out of a DSLR?   Mainly from Photographers now using their cameras for video!

It is quite hard with just the camera, even if you know what you doing.  Plus Canon 5D 3.5mm jack input has an awful automatic microphone level control, giving you little chance of putting down anything decent in sync with the pictures.  The only answer is to go back a few years, pull the clapper board out of the attic and record the audio separately, laboriously syncing everything up in the edit.

5d-sound-level-menu

Have Canon been listening to you?  Maybe????  Have a look at the new 5D menu on the right!  Click on the menu to find out more.

The new firmware upgrade states:- "Improved audio functionality will allow users to set sound record levels manually using a sound-level meter displayed on the LCD screen. The audio sampling frequency has also been increased from 44.1KHz to 48KHz, providing the optimum audio signal typically required for professional or broadcast material."

Not only are they upgraded the digital sampling rate within the camera to 48k, making it compatible with all  professional equipment and software, they are making the audio input manual (you can turn the auto off) and you have audio metering in the eye piece - suddenly you have access to branch out from Artistic videos and use it on serious documentary footage!  With the right leads, instead of messing around with bits attached to the camera, it's now possible to use a decent Audio mixer giving fantastic audio quality, in sync, and great control and monitoring of the audio , whilst the camera simply has a light cable attached.

MX410Recommends, well what about the Rolls MX410?  Small Portable with four inputs meaning you can cover most  situations and a mic level 3.5mm output perfect to go into your DSLR mic input. And at a Price/Budget you can afford!

Have a look at it on this tiny mixer on the Kharisma Site, just click the image:-

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Creating Character Creates Confidence

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland'

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland'

YouTube is full of fantastic amateur films, where people invent stories or portray outlandish spoofs of seminal TV or cinema moments. What it reveals is that digital technology is extremely democratic, and that playing a ‘character’ is hugely liberating.

Having run numerous camera and drama workshops for students and adults, I know that using digital technology creatively, can unlock certain individuals and reveal a confidence that was previously lacking. So how can we use audio-visual equipment not only to create and share information, but also to build confidence and communication skills?

Perhaps the answer lies in ‘character’, in not having to be oneself. From the moment we master language, we make up stories and pretend to be other people. However, as we get older, we become more self-conscious, especially in our teenage years, which is why drama is so important. It gives us licence to play, to explore and experiment, and above all it enables us to escape from being ‘me’. Moreover, it requires imagination, empathy and communication, important life skills that need to be developed if we are to have a successful ‘knowledge economy’, at the centre of which sits digital technology.

When playing a character, one has the chance to step outside of oneself, and explore the situation and motivation of someone else. The character might be fictitious, or a real person (historical or contemporary). What is important is that we understand how to create a character, and set them within a clear scenario, and like a lot of tasks, it’s all in the preparation.

Any drama teacher will understand the theories developed by Stanislavski, which set out a process for creating a character. In simple terms, you begin by considering the background of the character, and how this has moulded who they are today. Thereafter, there is a list of questions that need to be answered: Who am I? Where am I? What do I want? Why do I want it? How am I going to achieve it?

Next consider, is your character high or low status, and how does this impact on how they communicate, physically and verbally with others?

This process not only encourages a real engagement with the character, it also builds confidence as it gives the ‘actor/student’ a framework within which to carry out role-play or other communication assignments. Once you have researched and understood the motivation of your character, it is far easier to improvise, trust to your imagination, and use the appropriate language to communicate your ideas and objectives.

It’s at this point that I would get out the camera and record the performance. Although people often freeze when a lens is pointing straight at them, actively playing a ‘character’ is far more liberating, and whereas we all usually hate seeing or hearing ourselves, watching our ‘character’ is one step removed and an experience we are usually happy and confident to share with others.

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What your eyes hear!

Our eyes, as our main sense, very much dictate how we hear things.  They do say that it’s only when you remove the pictures, i.e. Radio, that the real pictures actually become better!

What we see in front of us on the screen will dictate what we expect to hear.  Over the years I’ve worked in numerous areas of broadcasting, one job I do for a long time was sound dubbing for the Nature History Unit in Bristol.  Most footage is shot on either a very long lens or in tiny macro and is actually mute - i.e. there was no recorded ‘live’ sound.  Everything you see was dubbed on using sound effects, live spot effects (me) and wild track atmosphere tracks recorded on location.

Yes, I’m afraid to say, Ants make no audible sound!!!  When you saw that Ant chewing on something, it was me eating an apple!  And, if you’d closed your eyes you would have heard me.  But, your eyes over rode what your ears were telling you and you heard what you saw.

When watching video you have a quite restricted picture in front of you.  Although widescreen has given us a picture more in line with our own ‘eyes’ view on life, you’d have to sit very close to the TV for it to fill your vision, most of us only get close to this at the cinema.  Therefore if you don’t see it on the TV, your ears will be sending your brain error messages.  For instance if you record an interview in a noisy room, but the interview is up against a wall, you don’t see the source of the noise and have it explained so the listener will become irritated by the noise.  If you simply had an opening wide shot, putting the interview in context, your audience would generally ignore the background noise.  If you can’t get away from exterior (i.e. off camera) noises (which is obviously preferable), you need to explain visually to the audience what’s happening to their ears.
looking to camera
The visual dictation of sound can even have editorial issues on your material.  In an interview situation for instance, if you have the interviewee looking straight down the camera lens, it’s as if they’re talking to the person would is watching the TV (the audience), so you won’t expect to see or even hear any questions from the interviewer.  It’s a major problem on TV news where the interviewee is squashed into some tiny studio somewhere and the only way round it is to have a shot of the reporter turning round to the interviewee in a monitor screen behind them, simply watch any news channel to see it done.
looking to the side of camera
Taking this further, if you interview someone for your video and sit the interviewer right next to the camera, you take the interviewees eye line slightly away from the camera.  This is the most versatile situation as visually they have stopped talking to the audience and are talking to someone else; yet you are not expecting to see the interviewer and you don’t necessarily expect to hear them either.  It means you have the option of using the questions of not (obviously recorded on a separate track!).
This situation is rather like a group conversation, you are the camera, someone is stood next to you talking to someone in front on you, you are concentrating on the person talking in front of you and the person next to you is out of your field of vision.

looking at an angle to cameraNow, if you angle the interviewee further round we open a new set of visual expectations.  Here your eyes are dictating and expecting to not only hears the interviewee but see them as well.

It’s rather like the group conversation again where the two people are now stood in front of you.  You maybe focusing on the interviewee, but you are expecting to see the interviewer and your head will turn to them when they speak, so you can’t get away with not seeing them at least once during the conversation.

So the important thing to take away with you is that sound should match the pictures. Sounds simple, but it’s a little more complex than you first imagine!

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Documentaries - Can You Solve The Chicken & Egg Situation?

Andrew Marr

Andrew Marr

Documentaries come under the category of ‘factual’ programmes, and as the title suggests, the content should be based on facts, an objective and balanced presentation of an issue or event. Documentaries by their very nature rely on capturing ‘spontaneous’ material, and this often means that the content cannot be scripted prior to filming. So how can we help students prepare effectively for making a documentary film? It’s a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation.

Which comes first – script or filming? The answer of course, is neither. What should come first is research. Knowing the subject matter and the story you want to tell can only be achieved through thorough research.

Thankfully, there are numerous ways in which research can be carried out, and from a learning point of view, research is an intellectual as well as creative challenge, and one that can be easily assessed.

Research is part of the programme making process that applies to all genres of documentary. Thereafter, the production process diverges; depending on what sort of documentary is being made.

Historical documentaries that feature a presenter, and rely mostly on historic sites and archive material, (think of Andrew Marr’s fabulous ‘The Making of Modern Britain’,) can largely be scripted before the camera rolls. After all, Mr Marr is fabulous at what he does, but even he might falter and fail to deliver all the facts without a script.

I once helped to devise and run just such a project, with a group of trainees. The subject matter was a local Victorian novelist, who in his day was greatly celebrated, but is now largely unknown. The group were each given an area of his life to research, e.g. his early life and education. The trainees then pooled their research and devised the structure of the story they wanted to tell.

Next, they were each given a section of the story to script, direct and edit. The trainees worked closely together as a production and editorial team, (writing the voice-over, which linked all the sequences together), ensuring that the final film cut together as a harmonious programme. The project took a lot of managing, but it was an extremely collaborative process, requiring good communication and the sharing of information and resources.

However, documentaries reporting on current affairs or events, which includes social/political issues, business, nature, the environment etc, anything that is still unfolding and developing, are far harder to produce, as they cannot be scripted before filming begins. So what should students do, and how can we create a working process to assist them?

Needless to say, they should research their subject; create a loose structure, and recce where possible. But how do we prevent students from filming an excess of material, which at worst is irrelevant and at best costs time in the edit? If anyone has worked on a project and devised a working process to overcome this ‘chicken and egg situation’, please do get in touch and share your experience.

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Camera Mic or Separate Sound?? Part 1

Should you use the ‘on-board’ microphone on your camcorder or should you plug in a sound mixer with headphones and an alternative microphone to give you ‘separate’ sound?

During my years at the BBC, one of my responsibilities was as a Sound Recordist for National Radio Documentaries – the sort of full-blown documentary that used to go out on Radio 4, rather than the news driven programmes that now seem to proliferate today. Then, working with a Producer and probably a presenter, we’d go out on location and record interviews and material to edit and dub a programme together back in the studio on tape or computer. My responsibilities were both technical and artistic – not only was I responsible for the technical quality of the programme, but the artistic feel and atmosphere of the programme. The Producer having talked through their overall view and requirements for the programme would then concentrate on the editorial content and the presenter, leaving technical and artistic issues to me. It was very rewarding to be involved right from the recording through to dubbing and mixing the final programme.

With the commercialisation of the BBC and a director General who only understood News, pressures were put on Producers to save money and not to take a sound recordist with them (a whole other story and debate!!!). But, the upshot was that producers were trying to do all the location recording themselves as well as produce the programme – the result being many programmes had to go through a rescue session in the studio as obviously the producer had been concentrating on the editorial issues, not anything technical. Remember this ‘rescue’ was always making the best of a bad job; you can’t make a good quality recording from a bad one – the original recorded material always dictates the overall quality.

I remember a particular Radio 4 Producer who had landed a very rare interview with Spike Milligan. He arrived and set the recording equipment up on a table in-between them. It was a stereo microphone and unknowingly he had pointed it towards the ceiling! The result a two hour interview, which if you listened to in stereo sitting exactly in the middle, was just about bearable (if a bit too echoy), with him and Spike hard left and right on the loudspeakers. If you turned the recording into Mono by adding the two tracks together (or indeed moved from your ‘middle’ seating position), they disappeared down a 20m hallway into the bathroom! As you have to consider Mono, as most people won’t be in that ideal stereo listening position or they’ll be listening on their small kitchen radio, it made the interview unbroadcastable, which was a pity, as the producer was not going to get a second interview!

So what has this to do with the use of camera mics???

The first point to make is that using a sound recordist, i.e. having someone solely responsible for sound quality (recording ‘separate’ sound), is a good idea.

If you then take the situation above and add video to the equation, as we are visually driven, it pushes the sound quality even further down the priority list, particularly if you’re working on your own!

So your ideal crew is a Producer/Director to take care of editorial and overall creative matters, a cameraman to put those ideas into the visual arena and take care of the video quality and a sound recordist to do the same with the sound side.

A lot of programmes today are shot with a two man crew, with just a director and cameraman and the sound is somewhat left to chance. Even if you then consider perhaps a two man crew with a Cameraman/director and separate sound recordist, you still have a conflict in the director/cameraman role where the editorial content will suffer and while you concentrate on the ‘pretty’ pictures!

I can relate a story that happened to a sound recordist friend of mine. He was booked to go on a 6-day shoot to South America to follow a couple on a trip. Two days before leaving the director phoned up to say the budget could not afford a full crew so she had decided not to take a cameraman and she was going to film it herself. As it’s usually the Sound Recordist that gets dropped, you might think it a result for sound quality???

The actual result was that in 6 days of shooting they came back with 56 hours of material/footage for a 50-minute programme!!!! What happened that the director was so involved in the editorial side she didn’t know when to stop, she’d even shot without the sound recordist plugged into the camera (i.e. mute!) in case she missed something. A Professional Cameraman would have come back with perhaps 12 hours of material at the very most. In his head, as he shot, he would put edited sequences together as he went, so giving the director enough material to cover a scene and an easy editing job for the editor back home. As it was she had 56 hours of resulting unsequenced material to watch and log before even thinking about constructing a scene. The resulting overall costs were probably more (although not as accountable) and the programme of much lesser quality.

Now having said all this, there are times when I’d consider, as a Professional Sound Recordist, allowing a cameraman to use the on-board camera instead of my ‘separate’ sound and these are principles you can apply to the simplest of projects.

I’ll talk about this in part 2.

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Camera Mic or Separate Sound?? Part 2

So when should you use the ‘on-board’ microphone on your camcorder and when should you use a sound recordist with audio sound mixer and ‘separate’ sound?
cameramic

It all comes down to thinking forward to the final finished item and how you’re going to use not just the sound, but also the footage itself.

The most important sound item you’ll record is speech. Obviously use of the camera mic, unless you can get the camera with a few feet of the person speaking is going to be practically useless. Now the simple way around this is the use of Radio Mics. These have seen a huge increase in use over the last years as Sound Recordists are dropped as unnecessary from the crew and Producers seem to feel this is the only way to record speech. The problem with use of Radio Mics is that it’s not actually the best way to record sound – for a start you’ve lost all perspective in the sound – it doesn’t match the pictures having become internal in nature like a narration rather than the person on the screen talking – have you ever rested your head on someone’s chest, covered the ‘free’ ear and listened? Most of the sound comes from the chest and throat area, not the mouth. Therefore use of a Sound Recordist with boom and quality microphone is the way forward, positioning the microphone, overhead, just out of shot. Not only will the microphone give you the best quality (look at my article on “does Quality Matter”), but also it will give you the same acoustic as shown on screen.

Other elements of sound recording need to be considered individually. The recording of what we call ‘Actuality’ (action happening in front of the camera to be used as part of a piece) will probably be better captured by a recordist, with the ability to point the microphone in the best direction to capture the relevant sound and perhaps reject other sound by using the ‘dead’ rear of the microphone. Or perhaps just keeping the sound recording clear of a noisy cameraman!

Consider a situation where you’re recording a wide landscape shot – it maybe that pointing the microphone in the direction of the camera simply picks up some noise being coming from somewhere unseen – machinery or factory perhaps. With your directional microphone you can take open sound from the completely opposite direction – as there is no specific action in the shot the sound will match.

So when would I as a Sound Recordist, very interested in quality, consider allowing a cameraman to use the on-board camera instead of my ‘separate’ sound? The simple questions to ask are: “Is the sound going to be used?” or “How important is the sound”. It maybe the cameraman is just shooting ‘Cutaways” for an interview you’ve previously recorded and they will be shots dropped in over the interview to cover edits, so the sound is superfluous. Even if he’s recording some action to use as a cutaway, the sound will be very much background in the audio mix. Is the sound going under music? In which case would you hear it?

There are also safety considerations some times. It maybe the camera is going to run around with the camera or he’s working near machinery? In both cases the last think he needs is someone attached by cables to the camera.

Letting a cameraman simply use the camera mic is not a dereliction of duty for a sound recordist, just a good judgement of the circumstances and an understanding of the medium and the whole production process.

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Storyboarding And The Creative Process

When I worked as an actor in television, I was always fascinated by the matchstick drawings that I observed on the reverse side of director’s scripts. This was accompanied by camera angles and a strange abbreviated language, enabling the director to see how the shots would cut together.

Now that I am a director myself, passionate about drama, I fully comprehend both the language and importance of storyboarding. But is this production process always necessary, and how should students be best encouraged to master its art?

It really depends on the genre. ENG (electronic news gathering) has to be produced at great speed, as the news is breaking, and therefore provides no time to storyboard. The art of telling the story is down to the skills of the journalist and the editor.

So what about documentary? The essence and power of documentary is to observe and reveal information. By its very nature, it can’t rely on a script or rigid story structure, as this can only be fully determined once all the footage has been shot. However, where students are concerned, knowing the aim and objective of their documentary programme, plus clear pre-production planning, may allow for a rough storyboard that will help reveal and shape the overall structure.

Where storyboarding is most useful, is any programme or film that is fictional. This includes drama and music videos, the latter being a genre that a lot of students are encouraged to create.

Storyboarding is a process that helps the film-maker see the piece as a whole, and the advantage of this, is that it makes the film shoot focused and precise, and ensures that no time is wasted shooting extraneous material that will only ever be good for the cutting room floor.

Above all, storyboarding is a discipline that encourages you to think ‘visually’. By translating what you see in your ‘minds eye’ into a framed image, it reveals the dynamic of your story, and whether or not you have achieved the desired effect. Should you use a mid-shot or a close up, a high or low angle, a static or moving shot, and will it cut together?

It is a very creative process and one with which students can have great fun. However, the temptation is to overlook the storyboard and rush out with the camera. So how do we get students really appreciating the importance and creativity of a good storyboard?

Some may be self-conscious about their lack of drawing skills. Frustrating though this can be, and here I speak from personal experience, it shouldn’t stop anyone from telling a visually powerful story illustrated by a storyboard.

Alternatively, students might be held back by a lack of understanding regarding how the camera can be used to manipulate an audience and create dynamic. This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. You can only really understand the camera and the requirements of visual storytelling once you have experienced editing, and you can only edit creatively, once you understand how the camera has been used to create a specific dynamic or impact.

So, how do you best organise the workflow and learning process with regard to storyboarding? Should students first learn the language and techniques of the camera, or begin with the creative power of editing, or simply dive headlong into drawing their story in a series of frames? If you have any thoughts or experience, please be bold and share it.

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The Open at Turnberry

The 9th Green at 'The Open' at Turnberry

I’ve just comeback from working on ‘The Open’ at Turnberry, a large media BBC event with other tv channels from America and Japan. So how do you cover such a large event with lots of things going on at once?

My job was ‘Greens and Tees’. We had over 80 microphones covering the 18 holes, set microphones covering Greens and Tees and 18 people with radio packs and gun microphones walking the fairways – all out in strong winds, rain and sun! Everything had to be kept going (even in the rain), brought in each night and put out again before play the next morning.

Also covering just the course were 52 cameras!

This output constituted the ‘International mix’, basically coverage of all the action going on. You then add to the BBC output the studio and commentary, roving commentators on the course, giving a close up view and single camera units doing interviews and presentation pieces to camera. Then both the Americans and Japanese had their own set of ‘Turnberry’ facilities to add to the International mix (the International feed also goes world-wide for use by anyone who wants it). With all these facilities you can imagine the amount of people involved!

The International mix is obviously ‘live’, so with up to 18 holes being played at once and the possibility of two matches on each at the same time, how do you make all that appear on one ‘live’ TV screen???

Whilst the BBC had a truck full of Video machines recording the other matches going on at the same time and quickly replaying them back as if it were live, the one thing production had to be was selective.

You ask what relevance has this got to me? Actually quite a lot in way you approach any event you’re going to shoot/cover. What about sports day? The BBC had over 100 microphones and 60+ cameras and over a hundred staff - you have 4 camcorders, two handheld mics and 6 students. The answer be selective and plan! Even the BBC couldn’t show everything and had to choose the matches to follow, even though it had facility to technically cover everything – which you haven’t!

Do some research; don’t just turn up on the day. Work out which events you have, which would be most visual/interesting and restrict choices to the number of cameras you have – better to cover a few events well than everything poorly – give your camcorder teams responsibility for just that event. Follow just few competitors, don’t try and show everyone – research – maybe someone has an interesting story to tell and you could follow them through their progress during the whole day?  Or even a number of people, but be selective!

Unlike the BBC you don’t have the facility to just let things happen and react on a large scale, so planning and research are a must to get anything out of it that will interest and not just be a few blobs running around a field or massed wide shots of the event you’re covering with no story line.  This all applies not just to Sports day, but any event you’ve been asked to cover by your school/university – Plan and be selective!

Lastly, do remember you need parental permissions for minors! Again thinking ahead and restricting your coverage to a few participants will give you less of a headache!

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Death by Transition

Will somebody please warn students about this nasty disease that seems to be prevalent amongst media students?

In my travels around the country, I see many students’ short films/videos and often cringe at whizzy transitions between shots, which add nothing to the film but often distracts from what otherwise could be a very good piece of work.

SPECIAL TRANSITIONAL EFFECTS should be used appropriately and for a particular purpose, otherwise they may detract from the director's intent.

A film transition is a technique by which shots are joined together to make a scene. Most films will include selective use of transitions, usually to convey a tone or mood, suggest the passage of time, or separate parts of the story.

CUT The simplest transition between shots is a straight cut, which occurs when one image is immediately replaced by another. It is the simplest, most common way of moving from one shot to the next, and is considered a ‘smooth cut’ if there is continuity between the two images. For example, in a conversation scene such as the one shown here, the cut moves directly between the two pupils.

FADE A fade works much like a theatre curtain. A fade-in shows the beginning of a sequence, as the screen gradually changes from black to a picture, and a fade-out shows the end, as the image returns to black.

DISSOLVE The dissolve is also known as a cross dissolve or cross-fade. Two shots overlap each other with the first gradually disappearing while the next one appears, and then remains alone on the screen. Thus, one shot blends into the next one. Unlike the cut, it takes up time and space on the screen. A dissolve influences the audience's perception of screen time and the rhythm of events. It suggests a thematic tie between two shots. An example of a time bridge, or change in time, might show a teenage girl playing tennis dissolving to the same person a few years later nursing a baby. A dissolve can also show change in event rhythm. For example, by dissolving between a canoe on a river to a bustling harbour.

WIPES The wipe is the technique where one shot is replaced with another by the movement of a distinct edge, or shape, which replaces the previous shot by “wiping” it. There are hundreds of different wipes. Some of the common ones are a straight line, an expanding circle and a page turn – often used in tacky wedding videos! However, like all transitions, wipes have their place if used appropriately. One of the most cited examples is their use in Star Wars, to make the film seem more classic and epic.

Normally, these types of transitions are used to lead the viewer from one location or time to another, or more specifically from one segment of a story to the next. Wipes are highly conspicuous, and as they evolve to become more elaborate, they are increasingly popular with students as a quick and dirty way to liven up their film. If a film needs livening up, then there is probably something wrong with the content or structure.

In my view, students need to understand that their choice of edit, be it a cut, fade, dissolve or wipe, should be chosen for purpose and not because it’s a gimmick. They should ask themselves, does this transition contribute to the look and pace of the film, does it enhance and clarify the visual sequence, and is it appropriate to the content of the programme? If it doesn’t earn its place, don’t use it. Cut

Video excerts from 'Book to Screen' - Dramaticmedia

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Does Quality matter?

kitchenradio

Better quality can give you better exam results! Yes it can, it’s a fact!!

Think of your favourite piece of music. Imagine it being played on a small radio in the kitchen – tinny and echoy.
Then imagine again, the experience of hearing it being played on a very expensive Hi-fi system – It’s as if you were there!

A question – Which experience did you enjoy the most? The obvious answer has to be the Hi-fi system, but that then creates another question - ‘Why?’

Of course the instant answer is ‘because the Hi-fi system is better quality’.

But think about this for a second, ‘Better Quality’ is actually only an observation of the difference; it’s not the answer as to why your emotional response is better to the Hi-fi system.pmc_ob1Somehow, in a subliminal way, the Hi-fi system is communicating to you on a greater level, simply allowing a better emotional response to take place to the music – making the music more enjoyable and effective, involving and memorable.

We can take this ‘Quality’ revelation a step further, as it’s not just about reproduction.

Imagine again that you have two recordings of the same interview; one recorded using a cheap microphone into a mobile phone, the other was done via a professional ‘quality’ microphone and top quality recorder.

Taking the thread further, which would you find more interesting to listen to? Remember, these are the same words from the same person recorded at the same time; the only difference in the speech is the quality of recording.

So quality can make someone more interesting????????

It’s not just a matter of sound, as these observations can also be applied to the visual side as well. Why is a film more enjoyable on a large high definition screen, than a small standard TV? It’s the same film after all - you’re not enjoying quality, but you are more involved in the film and it’s story line!

Let’s use the hypothetical parallel example of a students video project work. They’ve spent a large amount of time on it over the year and as they’re quite talented the artistic work has been done very well. The only difference was the fact that the origin footage was shot on a good quality semi-professional camera rather than a basic camcorder – which will get the better marks? Will the examiner be more draw into a project simply with better quality recorded material without realising?
Whether conscious or not, they will have enjoyed, been involved and interested more in the version shot on the quality camera. Subconsciously they will be more drawn into the artistic content and maybe even judge it to be better than if it had been recorded with the lower quality camera. It maybe exactly the same standard of work on behalf of the student, but the original ‘Quality’ version would probably score a higher mark than the other.

Having raised the issue of quality as paramount, it is a mistake to assume that ‘Quality’ is simply an issue involving the standard of equipment. It is also knowing how to get the best from the equipment. You may have a professional microphone, but if you don’t put it in the correct place, it won’t record a good sound. A professional camera is no help if the material is out of focus or over exposed.

Last point; imagine sending a novice out with a professional quality HD camera and a professional cameraman with a standard DV camcorder to record the same event.

Who do you think will come back with the best quality pictures? Mmmmmmmm!

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Planning Versus Creative Spontaneity

Anyone involved in professional media production, be that corporate, radio, television, film or multimedia, will have a horror story of a production that went wildly pear-shaped due to lack of planning. So is planning always necessary, and does it stifle creativity and spontaneity?

When I was working as an actor, and I played various roles in a training film about social workers. It was so poorly planned and structured, that we were forced to re-write the script during the actual filming. It was amazing that the job ever got finished and didn’t end in absolute anarchy! What it lacked was good production planning, and the leadership to see it through.

On the other hand, I have also been involved in a project that developed through improvisation and collaboration, which was extremely exciting and relied on spontaneity to shape the work.

So should students be encouraged to plan everything or be allowed to follow their creative instincts and spontaneous opportunities?

Let’s look at the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. Planning is certainly the safest option and encourages a professional approach regarding logistics, budget and deadlines. The process should involve clearly structured content, a script, storyboard or programme template; which ever it is, this is the blue print from which the production team will work.

A well-planned production also requires a schedule, a production schedule and an overall schedule for meeting the deadline. Planning exactly ‘who’ is doing ‘what’, and ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ each part of the process is to be achieved, insures against lack of vision and purpose. Most importantly, it is time efficient and makes for an effective working process.

But does rigid planning really allow for spontaneity and creativity? The argument here is that good planning saves time, and it is this that allows for creative spontaneity. Surely, if everyone knows what they are doing and the timeframe involved, they are in a good position to respond to any unexpected ideas, events, interviews, sound effects or great shots, which spontaneously present themselves during production.

But is this enough? It may suit teachers or lecturers who need to control assignments, and manage a schedule, but is it appropriate for the students? Surely we want to allow students free reign to explore their imaginations and find new ways of using and communicating through digital technology? Isn’t it the job of up and coming media makers, to push the boundaries through experimentation?

This question leads to another. Should the purpose of Media Studies be the generation of professional practitioners, or a rich learning experience that enables individuals to express themselves in ways that other subjects don’t allow?

A thorough grounding and working knowledge of professional practices is certainly valuable to those looking to make a career in media. But in a wider context, the creative process is inherently spontaneous, and invariably helps us to ’think outside the box’.

Planning is vital to the professional, but so too is creativity and spontaneity. The fact is; good media making involves both skills. The challenge it presents is - how do we encourage, support and manage these skills for our students?

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