Sunday, 28 October 2012

Week 3 Of University (Tues 23 Oct)

In today's Communicating seminar, we looked at Editing, which can be divided up as follows:

Relations
  • Graphic Relations - The relationship between two images/shots in a sequence
  • Spatial Relations - the locations/spaces of a piece in a sequence
  • Temporal Relations - the passage of time in a sequence
  • Rhythmic Relations - the pacing/speed of a sequence or entire piece
Continuity
  • 180 rule - an invisble that places each character on a set side of the screen/space, and if crossed, can feel 'wrong' or jarring for a viewer.
  • Establishing shot - a shot that establishing a location (usually either the first or the main one) in a film/TV piece.
  • Transistions - more fanciful/elaborate ways of going from shot to shot i.e. dissolves, wipes, fades etc. Can be used to show passage of time.
  • Matching shots - shots set in the same space looking exactly alike, without drastic changes between them.
  • Invisible - editing that doesn't draw attention to itself
  • Temporal and spatial - the time and spaces/areas/locations that the narrative takes place in being consistent and not jumping around without rhyme or reason.
After, we took a look at excerpts from The Manchurian Candidate, MTV Cribs: Ludacris, Battleship Potemkin, an advert for Lurpak, Bonnie & Clyde and an episode from C.S.I, and looked at what, which and how some of the aforementioned concepts applied to them, as well as how the camera was utilised:

Manchurian Candidate
  • Establishing track across the bedroom to the man (main character)
  • Cross-dissolve between the man's sleep and his dream
  • The camera pans around the room till it blends into the communist laboratory
  • Continous cutting between the 'dream' and the lab.
MTV Cribs: Ludacris
  • Establishing shot a rapid series of cut coming closer and closer to the front door.
  • Rapid cuts (sometimes, between shots in the same room from different angles)
  • Fast camera moves and tracks around the rooms in the house
Battleship Potemkin 
  • Continous crosscutting between the soldiers and the fleeing people
  • Quick cuts of closer shots within same scene or space
  • No camera movement: it is nothing but straight, still shots.
An advert for Lurpak 
  • Establishing shot is a low angle of the bottles in a fridge (like tall buildings in a city)
  • Lots of quick shots and editing, creating a feel and stlye akin to an action film.
  • Additionally, we get extreme closeups of the fork beating the eggs, the fire in the cooker and the inside of a cheese grater.
Bonnie & Clyde 
  • Establishing shot is an extreme close up on a woman's lips (revealed to be Bonnie).
  • Some frames in shots missing, causing sudden 'jumps' in movement.
  • Sudden 'crash' zoom on Bonnie on the bed.
  • The bed bars and their shadow give a bit of symbolism: Bonnie feels trapped in her dull life.
  • All set within one space (Bonnie's room).
C.S.I
  • Camera work is very basic, mainly consisting of close ups and mid shots.
  • Quick dissolve into CG body of murder victim, but apart from that, there are mostly straight cuts.
Then, in the afternoon lecture, we watched Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, paying particular attention to its use of sound: aside from its soundtrack being primarily just one piano with some occassional saxophone here and there, used to accentuate the tension or mood of certain scenes, throughout, we re-hear the same recording of the young couple in the park, but used in different contexts i.e. later, it's used to explain why they commited an act of murder as opposed to earlier where we think they're the ones whol will be killed. Not to mention, when we do hear the piano, sometimes its diegetic (part of the world in the film, via a radio or vinyl record).

Afterwards, we briefly touched on the next subject, Sound & Image, going over the basics:
  • Diegetic (what exists in the world of the film i.e. music from a radio, sound of cars in a street)
  • Non-diegetic (what's added in post i.e. a film's score/soundtrack)
  • Dialogue (the words a character says/thinks. Gives us insight into them, their relations and provides other information.)
  • Music (used to add mood, emotion, tone and even depth to a scene or sequence)
  • Sound Effects (the thud of a bat, the bouncing of a ball, the click of heels etc.)
  • Silence (used to add tension/create suspense)
And some of their effects:
  • Space (the size of a set/location)
  • Time (how long something may last/music can bridge time gaps)
  • Representation (how an idea/group/concept is presented)
  • Emotion (what does the audience and the characters feel)
  • Symbolism (what other meaning could something have in a scene other than the obvious).
My closing thoughts are that, like the previous, the concepts were very interesting, but the last half of the lecture was a tad rushed again, and I would have liked to discuss some of these ideas in a little more detail. Apart from that, I gained a little more understanding of how much of an impact sound and editing can have on a piece, and how it can affect one's feelings, reaction and thoughts on a piece of media.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Week 3 Of University (Mon 22 Oct)

Today in the lecture, we (the class) watched the French short film The Red Baloon (1956) and looked at it within the context of a fable (a story, usually involving anthropomorphised beings, like animals or inanimate objects, with some sort of moral at the end):

  • The opening shot of the dark buildings against the early morning sky seemed reminiscent of a painting from a storybook, where many would have read fables as small children.
  • The baloon seems to be alive or sentient in some regard, following the boy around and obeying when told things by him and becoming enamoured with a blue baloon, effectively, being anthropomorphised like a lot of characters in fables (i.e. the tortoise and the hare, the fox in Fox and The Grapes, the raven in story of the raven and the water jug etc.)
  • The baloon at points has a mischevous quality, heckling the boy and other people around the town, again, like a character in a fable.
  •  The other boys steal the baloon and throw stones at it, conjouring an image akin to Christ's abuse at the hands of the romans, recalling the fact that some fables (and parables, which will be brought up later) have their routes in religion.
  • The end, where all the baloons come and fly the boy away, is very reminiscent of the strange or fantastical endings or turns in childrens stories, as well as being open to interpretation, again, like fables.
Then, we saw a short film, The Stag Without a Heart, which was normally a gallery piece that played on loop. The story, told entirely from a man sat on a bed, dealt with a stag who, tricked by a wily fox, get his heart torn out by the king of the forest, the lion. Regretful, the lion gets the heart of another deer and gives it to the stag. The fox returns and tricks the lion once again into killing the stag, making him think the stag will 'spill the beans' on his methods, the loop emphasising the neveredning cycle of manipulation, the beginning where the fox meets the stag matching up with the end where the fox goes off on the lion's orders.

Afterwards, in the seminar, both fables (the most famous ones, like the aforementioned Tortoise and Hare, written by the greek Aesop) and parables (religious stories, most famously from the Bible, with some sort of lesson or moral at the end) were discussed. We then watched Disney's adaptation of The Tortoise and The Hare, making notes of changes and alterations made to the story:
  • The story has been Americanized, notably with the Hare, who has been made into a American jock/sports celebrity type, complete with boxer robe and cocky attitude.
  • The addition of female characters, both as background characters and the four rabbit girls who flirt with the hare (potential sexual element?)
  • The addition of jokes/gags (mainly visual/slapstick).
  • More acute humanisation (the addition of clothing)
Then,  after reading a version of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, the class was split into groups to come up with their own versions of the core idea of the story. My group changed the story's setting to the beach, and instead of a wolf, it was drowning. And after that, we took a closer look at parables and looked up the story of the Prodigal Son and how it fits into the concept of the Hero's Journey, which we looked at last week:
  • The son goes off to another land (Crossing the threshold)
  • Wastes his money on drink and pleasure (Temptation)
  • Goes back to his father (Atonement with the father)
My closing thoughts are that, once again, its interesting to see how universal and timeless these stories are, and how they can still remain intact and have the same morals in them regardless of how many times they have been adapted and modernised, and, in the case of the Disney version, think about elements that don't seem to be of major importance, but do affect how the story feels, flows and how the moral works.

Week 2 Of University (Thurs 18 Oct)

Today, we had our lighting workshop with Eddie, introducing us to lighting equipment and how we prepare for that. First, we went over the lighting plan and Three-Point Lighting, comprised of the three most important lights, the Keylight (lights front and can control brightness of the actor/subje cts), the Fill light (from the side and helps balance shadows) and the Backlight (seperates the actor(s)/subjects from the background) and, as the title implies, sets them up in a triangular fashion.

Next, Eddie got some of the class to get up and prepare the equipment, showing how to do and NOT to do certain things (get the tripod out first, open the barndoors on the lights if on, putting cases in the way of equipment, only 3 lights per electrical ring, check the equipment beforehand, don't force the stand, weigh down lights with sandbags etc.) and then, when the camera and lights (in this case, two pampas lights and one smaller lamps which can also be attached to the ceiling) were set up, I did camera duties and we (the 3 others who were on the lights) tested out the different lights on another classmate who was in the middle of the lighting triangle, and we saw how each light, as mentioned before, affected his appearance on the screen.

Then finally, Eddie talked about gels, sheets of colour that can change the intensity and colour of light, such as blue, white and orange, as well as the gain controls on the lamp to affect the light's intensity, and the 'barndoors' on the actual lamps to direct and increase or decrease the amount of light and where it points.

My closing thoughts are that I quite enjoyed this lesson, mainly due to Eddie's blunt and upfront approach while taking it with a bit of humour and cheek, his actual experience in the industry I imagine becoming an invaluable assest in the coming months when we will go out and shoot or work on film jobs during summer breaks. Additionally, though the lights were bulky and need quite a bit of attention, it was fascinating to see how a slight change in temperature or direction could alter the feel and mood of a scene.

Week 2 Of University (Tuesday 16 Oct)

Today, the Communicating In Film seminar went over Narrative, discussing the elements such as Story (What the piece is about), Plot (what actually happens/the events), Diegesis (what the characters do/hear/see within the film), Time (When things in the plot happen), Space (Where they happpen i.e. Locations), Cause and Effect (Something happens and its effect(s)), Dialogue (What a character think/feels/can be used to inform us of details like backstory) and even Credits (can set the tone and transmit a lot of information about the upcoming story. In this case, we watched the opening to Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and from there deduced the story's tone (dark), the setting (American city/urban) who the characters were that were going to appear and their relationships with one another (hugging each other, smiling to one another, being close etc.)).

We also quickly touched on what is different between Film and Television Narrative, mainly that TV offers you more time to explore themes and characters thanks to episodes/parts, however, visually, film is more basic with less edits and less extravagant cinematography/camera experimenting, usually just close ups, midshots, some tracking and a few wide shots, mainly to establish location. Following on from this, we watched the last episode of the famous sitcom Fawlty Towers and examined how its narrative was structured and utilised:
  • The opening credits established the location (a dreary hotel).
  • The plot was mostly a contstant stream of gag setups and then the punchlines, with some running ones like Manuel's pet rat escaping and the health inspector, which culminated at the end of the episode in one final joke).
  • Set within one space (the hotel, with loads of miniature spaces, like the rooms, kitchen, bar and restuarant).
  • There was not much editing variety (nearly all straight cuts) and the camera work was mainly static, with some instances of tracking or zooms, but not much, as well as mainly using midshots and closeups for reactions to the jokes.
  • The time the story took place was over the course of 2 days.
Afterwards, in the lecture, the class sat down and watched Alfred Hitcock's Rear Window and examined its narrative:
  • Credits (the opening credits show us the neighbourhood within the apartment blocks, showing us the different neighbours (like the ballet dancer 'Miss Torso', the elderly couple who sleep outside, 'Miss Lonely Hearts' and the couple who will become important later in the story, as well as our main character, played by James Stewart).
  • Story (RW is about Stewart's character, the photographer Jeff, who, housebound after breaking his leg, begins to suspect that one of his neighbours has murdered his wife.), 
  • Plot (Over the course of the film, we learn about Jeff's background and follow him and his associates, the nurse and his girlfriend, as they attempt to unravel what happened in their neighbour's apartment, once even breaking into their backyard and into their apartment to look for clues and evidence that the man killed his wife, befor efinally Jeff and the killer have a confrontation and the killer is arrested).
  • Diegesis (the sounds of the neighbours, the street below i.e. vehicles, music from the piano players apartment and what Jeff sees through his window, using his eyes, binoculars and finally, camera).
  • Time (The plot takes place over several days, though some time has passed before the story starts due to Jeff's injury).
  • Space (The entirety of the plot takes place within the apartments, mainly in Jeff's one.), 
  • Cause and Effect (Jeff's suspicions get the girlfirend and nurse involved, he brings in his private detective friend and then his investigations arouse the suspicion of the killer, who then confronts Jeff and tries to kill him).
  • Dialogue (We get told about Jeff's relationships, his prior job and about his accident, as well as background on the various characters, like the nurse who cynically recalls some of her past clients).
Finally, we quickly went over some of the basics of editing for next week i.e. Graphic Relations (the relationship between two images), Rhythmic Relations (tempo/pacing), Spatial Relations (space/locations) and Temporal Relations (the passing of time between shots) and quickly touched on the concept of Classic Hollywood Cinema (1917-1960), which Rear Window was made at the tail end of, and some of its traits i.e. heterosexual characters, seamless editing that doesn't draw attention to itself, a plausible premise, no amibiguity (very clear characters), straightforward motivations and a set, clean ending.

My thoughts on Today's lessons were that, while the materials and ideas presented were very interesting, I wish we had a little more time to really explore and better understand them, as at points (mainly due to time and watching the pieces of media) it felt a tad rushed and the 'lecture' part of The Lecture, right at the end, also felt like this and I wish, maybe, we could start a little earlier to allow for more lecutre time to properly look at what's being presented.

Week 2 Of University (Monday 15 Oct)

NOTICE: Blogs will now be broken up according to days and subjects from now on, allowing me to be more in-depth and specific than the prior format.

Monday: Today's lecture was viewing the 1939 musical classic The Wizard Of Oz, following on from reading the first chapter of Hero With A Thousand Faces and examining the Hero's Journey and how the film utilised aspects of this structure:

SEPERATIONS
1. The world of common day (Dorothy is a poor country girl who lives in the Kansas countryside, the dullness and 'ordinary' aspect emphasied by the monochrome used to film these scenes).
2. The Call to Adventure (Dorothy's dog Toto is taken away, and after it escapes and meets with her, they decide to run away).
3. Refusal of the call (Dorothy decides to go back home to her aunt after talking with a travelling mystic).
4.Crossing the threshold.(the tornado sucks Dorothy up and transports her to Oz).
INITIATION
5. Meeting allies/mentor? (Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Good Witch, who help her on her journey to see the Wizard).
- Boon/goal (The group must recover the Wicked Witch's broom for the Wizard to prove themselves worthy of what they want).
6. Apothegis/Mastery (The group overcome the Wicked Witch and defeat her).
7. Goal of the quest (they retrieve the broom and the Wizard shows them that what was in them all along (Lion-courage, Scarecrow-intelligence, Tin man- a heart), though Dorothy gets her desire to go home later thanks to the Good Witch after the Wizard flies away).
RETURN
8. Refusal of the return (she will miss everyone there, having grown very attached to the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow)
9. Crossing the threshold (she clickes her heels, says 'There's no place like home' and goes home, revealing the whole thing to be a dream.
10. Helpers in our world (the farm hands, Dorothy''s relatives and the mystic all come by to check on her and explain what happened to her).
11. Freedom to Live (Dorothy's adventure is over and she is back home with all those she loves).

Afterwards, in the actual 'Storytelling seminar, the class went over the aforementioned structure of the Hero's Journey once more (bringing up other aspects of it not used or not relevant when examining Wizard Of Oz)) and thought of other pieces of fiction where these elements could apply:
SEPERATIONS
- Helpers/Aids/Mentor (can appear earlier in the story. Famous examples include Alfred from Batman, The Fellowship in Lord of the Rings, Abu and Carpet from Disney's Aladdin tc.)
INITIATION
- Meeting with the goddess (meeting the love interest i.e. Mary Jane in Spiderman, Evey in the Mummy films, Ilsa in Casablanca, Adrien in Rocky etc.).
- meeting the temptress (femme/homme fatale/bad girl or boy of the story, like Breathless Mahoney in Dick Tracy).
- Atonement with the father (making peace with elders or the past i.e. Simba seeing Mufasa's ghost in Lion King, Vader and Luke in Return of the Jedi)
RETURN
- Escape with the boon (getting away with the reward/prize/experience i.e. Scrooge learning the true value of Christmas in A Christmas Carol, Rick leaving the ruins of Hamunaptra with Evelyn and a bag of treasure in The Mummy etc.).
- The Master of both Worlds (achieivng something in both/overcoming the obstacles i.e. SImba overcoming his past fears and becoming King of Pride Rock in Lion King).
- Resurrection (a return to life/rebirth (though not lieral) i.e. The Doctor's regenrations in Doctor Who, Gandalf going from Grey to White in LOTR etc.)

My final thoughts were that this was a highly interesting set of lessons: the dissection of all these classic films that have become part of popular culture and how much they have common with each other and older stories was absolutely fascinating to me as someone who has dabled in writing before, as well as being a film buff in my spare time.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

First week of University (8/10/2012-11/10/2012)

This blog will now be an ongoing log of my activities and evaluation of said activities during my time of studying film at Middlesex University.

First week-

Monday: We began with a lecture, watching the 1962 short film La jetee, a sciene fiction tale that deals with a post apocalyptic world where people have been forced underground and used in time travel experiments. Among them is a man, a former soldier, who survives the early trials and is sent back to Paris, meeting up with a young woman and having a relationship with her. Eventually, he outlives his usefulness and is killed in Paris, his younger self witnessing it (as the man remembers the death of someone in his youth) and thus bringing events full circle. The film is composed entirely of black and white photographs, with narration and sound used to tell the story, giving a sort of surreal quality, especially some of the photographs of the underground world, such as the scientists with large, black glasses, giving them an alien, nightmarish appearance that fits the dark tone perfectly. Additionally, the actors have to really entirely on body language and facial expression, given the storytelling style, and they pull it off rather well and you believe in the relationships and tribulations that the characters go through.

Then we went to the seminar, our first 'storytelling for the screen' session, where we met with David Cottis, our teacher, and, after a brief icebreaker where we talked about some of our interests, we examined creation and Fall myths, such as the Zoroastrian (Persian) version and the original creation story from Genesis, which included several differences from later versions of the tale, such as the snake that tempts Adam and Eve not implied to be Satan and the mention of several asian rivers such as the Euphrates where the creation and the actual garden of Eden take place. Through examining them, we discussed Manichaeism (Good vs Evil in black and white/basic terms, and how it's a very western idea, as opposed to the Persian myth which is more ambigious (grey) with who is in the right) and the idea of Felix Culpa (the happy/joyous sin, akin to the mistakes people make in the journeys of their lives) and how some believe that, without it, we wouldn't need Jesus to redeem the world and perhaps, the serpent helped early man gain knowledge and that the Fall of Adam & Eve was a good thing.

Tuesday:
We went to the the first seminar on 'Communicating in Film and Television' and began by going over some of the basics of film/Television analysis, such as Cinematography, Narrative, Editing, Lighting, Sound (and sub-categories like costumes, props (which relate to Mise-en-Scene) and themes). Then, we broke up into groups and assigned categories (mine did Cinematography) as watched the 'kitchen-sink' drama 'Wasp'. Observing the film, we (my group) noted the entirety of the film was shot handheld, giving a raw, rough, almost documentary type of feel, which with the council estates and working class characters of the story, as well as the opening shots using a tinted lens to emphasis the filth and grime of the council estate. Additionally, we noted the film used a lot of over-the-shoulder shots, where we would see the scene from behind someone or something, such a book rack or one of the children, making us feel more like we're there in a more physical sense, and frequently used tracking shots, following the characters around, again, emphasing the camera as sort of an invisble eye/unseen observer.

Thursday:
Today, we did our camera induction as part of the first workshop on 'Film Language and Production 1', where we were introduced to our first cameras (which took SD cards as opposed to video tape_ and began testing them by quickly shooting some footage of us asking each other a question about something that we couldn't see in that person. Coming back, we then analysed the footage and noted issues with lighting and colour balance, as well as sound quality. After, we were showed the buttons and switches on the cameras that controlled the white levels and exposure of the footage, as well as practising with the special microphone for the cameras to improve and focus sound. After class, we were sent off in groups of four to shoot a short 2-5 piece dealing with the motion of an object within a static shot and then show in next week's session.

Conclusions: The first week went rather well, I felt. The groups I were with were well behaved, friendly and did not come off as stubborn or difficult at all, in fact, some seemed very keen on their respective subjects, bringing up ideas and information I wasn't previously aware of! As for the lecturers themselves, they came off as knowledgable, commited to their work and not closed off or distant from their students, and the activities presented did give a good taste of the course and posed an interesting challenge, especially the 'Storytelling' session where we discussed mythology, which fascinated me.