Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Death of the film student

This an Agfa 8mm film splicer, one of which I own and used extensively when I was shooting on Super 8.

I like to break up some of the ideas behind filmmaking as a practice and put it into my own kind of amateur theory on how I see the process at work. Film has its own language which encompasses mis-en-scéne (everything that exists within the frame), soundtrack or musical score, editing and cinematography. That's my starting point, then when I consider genres, I tend to think of them more as dialects of the said film language. Let's face it, the "theories" of film are a tad forgotten about in the hype of the new pop auteur and inter-cultural referencing that seems to push film as a concept, more and more into the realm of how television works; which spends less time being examined how it is made, and more time examining what is being made. So for example, more time is spent questioning the leak of Game of Thrones season five, than what elements are used within the series, from a cinematic sense. I'm not saying this is a negative thing, I'm just pointing it out. Much of what I look at these days is very far removed from what I was immersed in as a film student, or rather student of media.

So is the language of film intuitive to me? Or have I just become another genre seeking missile, hoping to ride the wagons with the current band of media making hopefuls? When beginning an edit I think I do consider the characters and the story. I know deep in my heart that it is imperative  to understand what I am cutting together first before I consider all the techniques I can use in order to do so. Although, I am aware that it is easy to revert to the bigger picture without factoring in all the nuances I probably should. We live in a world of outcomes rather than input.

I do follow the structure I know I should, a few considerations made using an edit log, this is a table which contains details such as shot number, scene, dialogue, comments, and duration. I guess this enables me to keep on track formally, however, relying on my own sense of rhythm and visual aesthetic can lead to spontaneous edits that have nothing to do with the log. Having an extensive edit log allows me to easily place my footage in an offline edit (that is in draft form), quickly before I start tweaking. As I'm putting together my edit log I do think about the graphical relation between shots (colours, textures and lines), I do think about the rhythmic relations between shots (compilation sequence, montage/collage), I do consider the spatial relationship between shots (open shot/closed shot), and I do consider the temporal relation between shots (transitions - mood, idea, words and objects). So I can be considered a pretty formal filmmaker who doesn't get too swept up in style, although putting all this together does inevitably produce a stylistic work of some nature.

All these visual components fall under the technique of continuity editing, creating a seemingly seamless flow of narrative that allows the viewer to immerse themselves within the world of the film. Continuity editing requires a basic understanding of cutting techniques even if you plan on heavily using iconography/iconoclastic cuts, symbol/metaphor, or indexing to enhance or deepen the narrative structure of the film. I feel that continuity is now implicit but did this stem from years of having studied film, or did I have some ability to piece together the language of film by eye rather than theory? I question this because I sometimes wonder if it is up to the filmmakers to forget what theory or genre they are working under, follow the formal techniques, and have the theorists afterwards stick labels on it.

Basic continuity techniques will include eye-line matches, cross cutting, shot duration synchronized action, shot reverse shot, ambience, Foley, silence and even flashbacks/flashforwards. This is an essential methodology for creating transparency. This is what we would experience as a fairly linear narrative structure. I don't think it's necessarily disadvantageous for a viewer to experience the technique but I'd rather it be seamless in order to have more sense of the story. A great shot by Stanley Kubrick is only a great shot because it is a great shot by Stanley Kubrick, I don't think I've ever thought to myself, 'Gee, what a poor shot by Kubrick'. A great shot by a filmmaker I'm not familiar doesn't register as necessarily a stand out shot. What I'm trying to say, auteur theory aside, is that making the viewer wowed by stand out techniques doesn't add to the story, it just pulls the narrative into the background whilst the filmmaker concentrates on some new piece of kit they've hired.

If you plan on including framed shots (i.e. shots that make us aware we are watching a movie) then thinking about juxtapositional techniques such as counterpoint sound - counterpoint image, iconography/iconoclastic, and indexing might be something to think about during the editing process. A more non-linear narrative structure even if it is meant to be played into the narrative seamlessly, such as switching to slow mo macro on a falling flower petal, that petal should bloody well be a significant part of the narrative.

Anyway, I do feel that in some way I have experienced a death as a film student, those heady days of applying theory are over but what I have learned is that theoretical practice is better once its tuned into the back region of the brain whilst the forward region spins a cinematic yarn.

Okay, now for some personal thoughts, on the technical side of my putting together a narrative, which ultimately comes down to what software I'm using to achieve this, gone are the days of splicing with my AGFA.

So for the start out, underground filmmaker you can use a multiple range of software to manage your workflow, the key is not necessarily in the actual software you are using but does it fulfil the purpose and scheduling of your workflow or pipeline. Dedicated software can isolate jobs and complete them more efficiently then relying on other software that may take lengthier time in actual hands on processes in order to do what another application can complete at a couple of clicks worth of creativity. Another factor to consider is turning to open source and being at the helm of software development, often larger commercial programs can be expensive and budgeting your output expenses against the inflow of cash might actually equal a greater loss of money then gain, so alternatives can work out to be very cost effective indeed.

I think it is important to have a workflow plan, what software adequately creates the kind of workspace you need, quickly, efficiently and creatively. The main stumbling block for open source first time users is becoming accustomed to a) interface and b) installation. Once past these hurdles becoming familiar with software is purely a matter of using it frequently. I've recently opted out of using Final Cut X, and am now using Lightworks, and loving it for an alternative to having in the past forked out a lot of money for what I felt was needlessly over complicating everything I have mentioned above in editing for the story rather than the greater glory of VFX.

It is important to remember that even big players like AE are buggy and may not achieve some of the results that open source software can achieve anyway. In the end it really doesn't matter what you create with, it comes down to personal preference, comfortability with using interface, desired options available, and of course workflow.

As I have always said, if you at least acknowledge the theory, the practice can be achieved using virtually any tools at hand. My skill and knowledge behind what makes a unique and interesting narrative is not impeded by the fact that all I may have is a crayon and a bed sheet upon which to express my ideas. I believe that this attitude will put a creative practitioner in good stead to adapt to the ever fluctuating changes in modern technology.

Alternative software that may be used to create motion graphics and to edit digital content include, Xara3D, Blender, BluffTitler DX9, Heroglyph, Boris Graffiti FX, Open Movie Editor, Open Shot and of course the extremely high priced but powerful industry Avid.

When I edited as a student I used Media 100, which has been back on the market for some time now.  Anyway, I'm waffling now, happy filmmaking. 

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