Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Week 16 (Thurs 14 Feb - Production Theory 2)

Today was focused on our next assignment: Making a 30 second commercial for a product or service, once again in teams of two (this time I was paired with Jessica McMullen. To get the ball rolling, we watched some product pitches made by one of the main characters in the television series Mad Men, and how he would talk about the product and its uses, and how in turn, the company could market it and sell, bringing up ideas of 'Family', 'Time', 'Freedom' and 'Quality' and how that appeals to the ideals and dreams of the American consumer.

Then, we watched some real advertisements for different products, looking at how the film makers approached it and sold the product: some were very straight forward and displayed the product upfront, and some were more inventive and about leaving an impression, including a Coca-Cola tie-in with Skyfall that had people going on timed challenges across a train station, set to the Bond theme, and a commercial for the Guardian that used a 'real-life' version of the Three Little Pigs story, and how social media would be used to react to the actions of the pigs and the wolf, the news all being handled by the Guardian on different platforms (newspapers, social media, their website, tablets etc.)
Though some argued that the ads didn't make one want to buy the product, others argued that it was about keeping the brand in public consciousness and relevance.

Afterwards, in today's task, we went off in our pairs and began pre-production on our commercial, selecting what we wanted to sell and how we would do it. Me and Jessica selected make-up, feeling it would stand out from the more expected food and drinks we imagined others would do. We did research, selecting L'Oreal as our company and reading up their history and list of products on their website, as well as studying their previous advertisements, noting the use of bright colours, floating words that display facts and percentages about the product, and the use of predominantly white models in their 20s. With that, we presented our findings and early idea to the class, who thought it would be interesting and quite a challenge, but noting the question of originality and how our advert could stand out from others.

In conclusion, today was interesting, mainly due to the new challenge: one thinks very broadly, at first, of commercials as just tools to sell products, but there is a surprising amount of intelligence and craft involved that seperates the effective adverts from the more mediocre, pedestrian kind, a good deal of which comes down to creativity and freshness, a means of keeping the product relevant in peoples' minds, even if it may not actively try to force it upon them. And this make-up idea definitely presents a challenge, and finding a model within such a small time frame will not be easy, but I enjoy a good challenge, and this is a lot easier than the philosophical nature of the 'Space' piece from the last few weeks.

Week 16 (Tues 12 Feb - Communicating)

In the seminar, we returned to the subject of documentaries, going over the types again (see previous week's post for more details) and from that, we went into our group exercise, where we had to name a strength and weakness of each type of documentary:
  • Poetic: (Strength)-Creative visuals. (Weakness)-No investment or interesting narrative, just pure spectacle.
  • Observational: (Strength)-Seeing the entire event from inception to eventual termination. (Weakness)-like Poetic, no investment or interesting narrative, just pure spectacle. 
  • Expository: (Strength)-Additional information/tidbits for the audience. (Weakness)-Might spell out the message/idea when the footage can do that just fine.
  • Reflexive: (Strength)-Honesty and depth, making the piece more profound and self-aware, giving it more of a 'life'. (Weakness)-the audience questions the validity of the film and what is its 'point' in existing if it itself isn't sure.
  • Participatory: (Strength)-Pro-activity, the documentary having a more direct influence and effect on its subject matter. (Weakness)-There is a lot of bias and potential skewing of facts and other viewpoints may be demonised.
  • Performative: (Strength)-Relatability, entertainment value from the figure. (Weakness)-Once again, bias and skewing.
To further this, we looked at some excerpts from various documentaries, including Aileen, as well as Andrew Marr's History of Britain and the iconic 30s piece Night Mail, and thought about how they approached their material and what techniques they used (Aileen had participatory, Broomfield being a frequently seen character on screen, and playing up the stereotype of the naive 'Briton abroad', History of Britain was more expository, with Marr narrating over stock and archival footage of Britain after the Second World War, and asking questions about what is 'Britishness' today versus that of the past, and Night Mail had the narrator describe the train using a poem while we saw it going around the country, leaning towards the Poetic).

Then, in the screening, we watched Orson Welles' thriller, Touch of Evil (1946), dealing with a war of attrition between a corrupt detective (played by Welles himself in his overweight days) and a Mexican official (played by Charlton Heston) in a small border town. The film drips with atmosphere, thanks to great camerawork and use of lighting and shadow and thus emphasizes the divided and dark nature of the people in the town, as well as Welles, despite his size, being an imposing screen presence, playing off his gruffness and scowling with the slimmer, more upbeat Heston (despite obvious fake tan, even in a black and white picture!). What's more, the use of the protagonist's wife creates suspense as we wonder what the local ruffians will do to her in the motel, sound often being used to emphasize her surrounding and the questionable people nearby.

After, in the lecture itself, we discussed the concept of authorship (or Auteur Theory), a concept developed by French critics after WW2, when there was a huge deluge of American films being shown back to back, where they began to notice recurring styles and patterns by certain directors. Traditionally, they fall under two categories: Hitchcock (who have recurring visual and stylistic imprints and tricks) and Howard Hawks (where the recurrence is more to with themes and characters), the former including people like Terry Gilliam, The Wachowski Brothers, Tim Burton and Zack Snyder, while the latter is more common, boasting names like Steven Spielberg, Barry Levinson, Robert Altman, Christopher Nolan, Robert Stevenson, Ken Annakin and countless others.

We moved on to talking a little more about Welles himself, a prodigy who already had accomplished a lot by 26, including successful imaginings of Shakespeare, starring in the popular radio series The Shadow, the character being the grandfather (in his native pulp novel form anyway) of modern superheroes, made the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast and filmed Citizen Kane. Something of note is that Welles often likened his works to the tale of the Frog and The Scorpion, a simple fable about betrayal and backstabbing, a theme common among Welles' work (such as in Touch of Evil, where the law turns on Heston's character).

To close off, today was one of the best I've had thus far in this course, the second half being extremely immersive and the ideas of authorship and the ways some use it was extremely fascinating, especially when you think of how many directors there are across many genres and how, despite face value differences, you can find common elements, both visual and thematic in their works, and learning more about Welles was an added bonus as, though I was familiar with him (partly due to my being a fan of The Shadow character) and had seen Kane the previous year, I was surprised at what he had done and how high he set the bar, especially stunning given that we're all young film makers who want to make it big and have great films to our name, and that he did all that at such a young age, and more, is astonishing. And we got to see Cottis do magic. What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Week 16 (Mon 11 Feb - Storytelling)

Today's tasks were about modernist narratives. In the lecture, we watched the French surreal black comedy, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, directed by Luis Bunel (a Spanish film maker, who famously posed for an Oscar, for this film nonetheless, while in a wig and cartoonish sunglasses and even joked that he had bought off the Academy to win it), which dealt with a group of wealthy French couples and their friend, an ambassador from a South American country, and their various misadventures over the course of the film as they try to dine with each other, which turn out to be dreams. While watching, I wonder if ZAZ (Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker) were influenced when they made Kentucky Friend Movie, which was similarly a comedic film with a surreal edge that had a number of different sketches in it, and the same for the Monty Pythons. The film is not necessarily laugh out loud funny, but it's manipulation of the audience's expectations and turns into the macabre make it a very different type of film, especially from the early 70s, which was the beginning of a 'Silver Age' of film making and moved away from the stuffiness and overblown nature of most films, and bringing things to a much lower-key, more restrained note.

Moving on to the seminar, we looked at Modernist narratives, a concept that originated in the early 1920s, often having internal contradictions and multiples events going on at the same time, obviously owing to the rise of psychology, spearheaded by men like Freud. It was a style that tossed out conventional ways of creating narrative, often handling time in complex and interesting ways, and often putting events in a non-linear fashion (seen today, similarly, in films like Pulp Fiction and Fight Club). Our first exercise was to create, in groups, a plot that concerned a character who feels guilt and wants punishment that never comes (in part brought on by an excerpt from an Italian film concerning a man who feels guilt over the death of a cat that we watched beforehand): My team came up with a teenager who steals a car to impress his hotheaded friends, but having seemingly killed someone with it and damaging the vehicle, feels guilt and attempts suicide,but decides against and turns himself over. Turns out, the kid was fine and the car was on its way to scraping anyway.

Briefly, we turned to writer Frank Kafka (most famous for Metamorphisis, the tale of a man turning into a giant beetle), who had a distinctly modernist tyle of writing, often having a great deal of dream-like uncertainty and ambiguity, an unreliable narrator (again, think Fight Club) and often dealt with guilt. We saw an excerpt from Orson Welles' adaptation of one of Kafka's works, The Trial, noting its dark, dream-like quality, thanks to its atmospheric cinemtography with great use of shadows, and how it, in many senses, lacked a set ending and could really go on with these characters ina never ending pursuit. Moving along to the second exercise, we took the character from our previous exercise and put them in an environment that reflects their mental state: we chose a dingy, dark, claustrophobic basement to reflect the isolation and despair our teen protagonist feels at his actions.

Closing off, today was really fascinating, opening up strongly with Discreet Charm setting a strange bit accurate tone for the work, and the seminar, being jam packed full of information and concepts that really make one look at writing in a new light as more than just purely questions of say, mere characters and plot, and any discussion of psychology, given my background, is always a highlight, and the team activities allowed for some laughs and fun as we pooled our minds together.

Week 15 (Wed 6 & Thurs 7)

On Wednesday, we were meant to have our next Editing workshop, but once again, fate had other plans: No one turned up for the 10-12 workshop, and I waited for half an hour for people to show up, managing to have a little chat with the technician while there (forgot the chap's name, but he started out as a Sonic Sound exclusive tutor, until moving into more general sound).

As for Thursday, we showed our 'Space' shorts today, which, after each, we would give constructive feedback to. Ours, dealing with personal space as personified by Alex's room, was met quite positively, with praise going towards the use of contrasting colours and lighting to indicate the two different moods of the room in the film (a dull, washed out white for gloom, while being a bright, vibrant orange for a more joyous sentiment), as well as some nice shot variety, mixing up different angles, shots sizes and even some track and panning to give the room a sense of size and scale, but there was some criticism at the use of static at the beginning, which was a little too loud and harsh.

In conclusion, Wednesday was, frankly, a complete waste and I can't really comment nor analyse, save for raving about the lack of attention my classmate apparently give to the actual schedule. Thursday, though, was a considerable step up, thanks in part to the sheer variety of styles and approaches taken: some going for psychological space, including a black and white dance video about expression, and some more literal, like one dealing with a jar being filled with an assortment of objects, challenging the perception of 'full', and the class really provided some interesting and insightful critiques of each others film, without being overly harsh or pompous.

Week 14 (Fri 1 Feb) Space Production

Today, I went over to Alex's dorm in Colindale to help film our segment: with assistance from Jesper, we filmed some shots and pans of Alex's room, first in a barren state, then in a brighten up condition, bringing in posters and various trinkets to give the room some personality and life. After, we assited Jesper in the filming of his piece, doing some quick shots in the student kitchen, which necessitated us moving the chairs and tables around, and then outside in the car park, where we did very exaggerated strolls and movements ala Inspector Closeau, pretending to measure the ground.

This is a short update, as I can't really say more than today was quite fun: Jesper and Alex were a good and polite team, not to mention quite fun, often bantering back and forth about ideas on the fly as they shot and planned each new shot, and Alex's resourcefulness with such limited time and resources has to be commended, which, as a producer, I find a very strong asset and would definitely make me want to work with him again in the future.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Week 15 (Tues 5 Feb)

In the seminar, we returned to the subject of subtext/intertextuality. To begin with, we looked at some clips and trailers, and made notes on what we saw as the intertext of them (which also plays into audience expectations for these films):
Les Miserables (2012):
  • Director Tom Hooper (drama, history, critical acclaim)
  • Hugh Jackman/Russell Crowe (action, blockbusters, tough men)
  • Anne Hathaway/Amanda Seyfried (romantic comedies)
  • Sacha Baron Choen/Helena Bonham Carter (eccentric, over the top characters)
  • Musical (singing, dancing, big set pieces, extravengance and scale)
  • Period setting (lavish costumes, sets, attention to details, English accents)
Gran Torino (2007)
  • Clint Eastwood (Action, thriller, 'tough guy', never backs down from challenge or threat)
  • Youth gangs (gang violence, slang, ethnic minorities, robbery, murder)
After, we took a quick re-examination of 'subtext' (what it's about i.e. Godzilla, the danger of nuclear science and tampering with nature, Karloff's Frankenstein dressed as a hobo, a frightening and familiar sight in the 1930s etc.) and the four horror archetypes, as claimed by acclaimed horror writer and icon Stephen King (the vampire (sex, lust, foreigner, predator), the werewolf (transformation, the beast inside, the id), the ghost (fear of the past) and the unknown force (things we do no understand, something without a name)). On that note, we then each had to make a story for a film about one of these, in groups, mine getting the werewolf: Our story deals with the son of a survivor of the Chernobyl Disaster, a mutation in his genetic makeup caused by the radiation causes him to trasnform, triggered by race memories of the disaster, and when transformed, begins killing the scientists and businessmen responsible for the disaster, as determined by the people in the flashbacks).

Then, in the screening, we watched Nick Broomfield's documentary Aileen: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which followed Broomfield as he interviewed people connected with the serial killer during her trials, including her adopted 'mother' and her overweight, comical lawyer. The film used a mix of interviews, location shoots and archive footage, but interestingly, Broomfield himself is quite prominent, appearing throughout, asking the questions and talking to the different people, including Aileen, playing a rather quiet, subdued Englishman, no doubt to make him less imposing and more able to onvite peoples' confidence. After, in the lecture itself, we began to look at the concept of Documentary, 'The Creative Treatment of Actuality', the term itself being coined by film maker John Grierson in the 1930s while making shorts for the General Post Office Film Unit.

There are several types of documentary:
  • Poetic Mode (Doesn't have a narrative, but rather is a string of images)
  • Expository Mode (Narration/Voice Over, with a very clear cut argument)
  • Observational (No involvement from the production crew, just the camera recording events)
  • Reflexive (Self-concious, aware of itself and what it does)
  • Participatory (the the film maker becomes an active participant in the piece)
  • Performative (The film maker's own life becomes an important element of the piece)
In fact, one of these, the Participatory, leads into a movement called the 'Nouvelle Egotiste', where the documentary makers become characters in their own films, and have a big impact on them i.e. Nick Broomfield, Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock etc. all of whom are just as famous, if not more so, than their films. Also, bringing this to a close, we had a quick look at Aesthetics (how the film serves as a window on the world, the intermittent editing, the use transparent/symbolicimagery to convey ideas), Aural (the use of sound & music to create tone and atmosphere, accents in voices and manner of address to show us the classes and races involved) and narratology (narrative structure, how a film is structured and put together, and multiple strand narratives, where more than one thing is going on at any given time).

In closing, today's classes both had a lot of substance: in the former, we got to do some analysis of footage as opposed to just sitting there and throwing names around, much more how I imagined this course to be, and the group worked allowed us to pool our creative juices togther and come up with something cheesily fun. In the latter, Aileen offered a refeshing change from just watching regular films, and seeing Aileen in the flesh definitely was unsettling, much more so than just hearing about her from other people, and I found the amount of ways to approach the topic of documentaries really interesting, as I had always viewed them as just the one way of making them, and everything else being a gimmick or variant of the same idea, though not so, it seems now!

Week 15 (Mon 4 Feb)

In today's lecture, we watched the 1943 adaptation of the classic novel, Jane Eyre, directed by Robert Stevenson (best known for his work at Disney in the 50s and 60s, helming many beloved childhood classics such as Mary Poppins, In Search of the Castaways, The Absent Minded Professor and laer, Island at the Top of the World in 1971), and featuring legendary actor Orson Welles as Mr Rochefort. The film details the struggles of Jane's life, from unhappy and tormented child, to a relationship with the wealthy Rochefort, who hides a dark secret from his own past. Welles made for a commanding screen presence, as expected from him, thanks in part to some brilliant lighting that added a ton of mood and made for a beautiful black and white film that oozed with atmosphere, and made you forget you were looking at backlots and painted sets (this was during WW2, when there were very strict limitations on filming in Hollywood).

After, in the seminar with Cottis,we looked at Novels and Novelistic Narrative, the concept arising in England and France during the 18th century, which also coincides with a historical movement that sought to challenge conventional ideas and beliefs, the Enlightenment, giving the individual rather than the government more power and freedoms. This new type of writing concerned itself with details, and the specifics of time and space relating to the story (making more efforts to adhere to the chosen time period and setting, proven by the tendency of novelists to write a lot of description in their tales, something not as common in previous types of story telling).

Other aspects that form part of the novel's way of writing include first-person narration (which can create mystery, identification or dramatic irony, depending on what the author desires), the Picaresque novel (which often had a questionable/roguish protagonist on a journey (some argue it inspired the 'road movie', which emphasized the journey rather than the destination, again playing to the descriptive nature of the medium) the bildungsroman (the moral and psychological growth of a character over the course of the story), the Pathetic Fallacy (what gives inanimate objects emotions/reflects the situation in the scene i.e. raining at funerals emphasizes the loss and sadness) and objective corrality (a term coined by famous writer T.S. Elliot, who saw it as an object representing something subjective i.e. a family portrait informs us of that character's relationships).

For the exercise, we had to go off, in groups, and come up with a Picaresque story: my group came up with the idea of a young writer who hitchhikes with a young woman, who reveals herself to be a rogue and robs him. Eventually, the two meet up again, the tables turned, and the two begin a relationship ala Bonnie and Clyde, the writer deciding to live the adventure he so often imagines for his stories. Then, after brushing up on some Oliver Twist and briefly discussing Dickens (whose writing style was very filmic, often being very atmospheric and tightly written, much like a movie), we then ha d one last task, which was to be the basis for this week's assignment: make up eight characters to use in a sprawling narrative ala Nashville, Magnolia, Prarite Home Companion etc. My team came up with the following:
  • Lawyer
  • Transvestite
  • Builder
  • Unemployed mother
  • Two school children
  • Retired actor
  • Wealthy widow
To close off, today's work was quite jam packed with many details and interesting concepts: the novel has a surprising amount of depth and styles to it, something often forgotten when some of the less-than-stellar works (Twilight) gain a lot of attention despite lack of artistic merit, and it was good to refresh ourselves and really go back to the heart of novels and how they began.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Week 14 (Wed 30 & Thurs 31 Jan)

On Wednesday, there was supposed to be a workshop dealing with sound and how to manipulate it in Final Cut Pro, but computer and software malfunctions meant that we could do it practically, and it became more of a lecture. Looking at an example from an American airplane documentary, we looked at sound levels, how to seperate the video and audio via 'locks' on the timeline, and how to manipulate the sound to fade in and out by clicking on 'points' in the timeline.

Moving on to Thursday, we began today's lesson by talking, in our pairs, about our ideas for our short films concerning Space: I came up with an idea where our main character is enduring stress before a major exam, and every time we cut to him, the space around him changes size to reflect that e.g. depression and strees would lead to a very small confined space, while success would mean big, wide open spaces. The group responded well to the idea, but questioned its workability and how well the idea would translate to screen, which certainly got me and my partner thinking. Afterwards, we then did a film making exercise, where we took on roles and go to practise using the dolly, a camera on rails that allowed us to follow the characters very smoothly without any of the jerkiness of handheld. The first half, I was second AD, helping the cinematographer with the camera, moving he camera where needed and changing the lens when required. Then, in the second half, when we got new roles, I was Dolly grip, which meant I'm the one who moves the camera while its travelling on the rails and surprisingly, it's not heavy at all (unlike being a boom operator!) and was really smooth.

With class concluded, me and Alex, my partner, went away and thought about our idea. We decided it wasn't workable and instead swapped it out for another idea, where we would film his room and look at 'personal space'. We would film it over the weekend, with assistance from a fellow classmate.

Going over my thoughts, Wednesday was fairly uneventful, though no fault of the tutor, hence why I could only offer a short recap, and I have a feeling this will probably be rescheduled for the fututre and it will go significantly better next time. As for Thursday, I really got into today's lesson: everyone produced interesting ideas and they really brought up a number of different approaches to space, some literal, some metaphorical, and I was impressed with a lot of the creativity. The second half, however, I really enjoyed: it was good to get some more hands-on experience on a film set, and we had a good laugh while making it and had good camaraderie with each other, essential for good, smooth film making.

Week 14 (Mon 28 Jan)

In the lecture, we watched the Irish prison-political drama Hunger (2008), which deals with the troubles in Ireland during the early 1980s, specifically prison protests by members of the IRA,and makes reference to figures like Margaret Thatcher, who was notoriously harsh on the Irish. The film, in my view, speaking with experience as a film critic, was of two halves: the first half was unfocused, with an ultimately inconsequential subplot on a security guard at the IRA prison who serves as nothing more than cheap misdirection (which I find pointless in a film based on true events) and indulgent (a number of shots border on pretention, with long-haired IRA members in white towels being dragged around by guards. Obviously not blatant Christ allegory!) while the second half was deep, powerful and visceral, with a powerhouse performance by the increasingly dependable Michael Fassbender and seeing his weakening and decay during the hunger strike, creating some disturbing imagery and legitimate response from the viewer.

Then, in the seminar with Cottis, we returned to our groups from the prior week and went over our notes on the respective news story (the Oslo shooting and bombing back in 2011), and seeing which elements would make for a good motion picture: the human element of people surviving a horrific event and then banding together to help each other would really resonate with the audience and make the characters more relatable and powerful, and given that many different people from different classes and races were affected, we could a diverse and broad palette of characters and viewpoints.

After, we turned to today's subject (and what our news investigation warmed us up for), 'Based On A True Story', a concept in writing of fictionalizing an actual historic even, irrespective of scale or significance, for the sake of a narrative. In fact, of note, he disclaimer often put a the end of films, 'All persons.... are fictitious... any resemblance is purely coincedental' came about because of a 1930s film about the Russian mystic and political figure Rasputin, where one of the actual people around during the events hat the film presents was not flattered by the portrayal and sued the studio.

Of course, as with most types of writing and story construction, there are a number of categories that this type of film can be divided into: 1) Springboard (using an actual historical event as a starting point for your story, and then builiding on it from there. Both Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre draw on real life events, but are not direcly adaptating or representing them), 2) Fiction with Added Fact (A real event, but parts of the story and characters are fictional for the sake of a narrative and entertainment. James Cameron's Titanic and Day of the Jackal both use this idea, adding people and situations that weren't part of the actual events), 3) Real Events Dramatised (the actual events shown on screen are more or less accurate to how it really happened with some minor exaggerations i.e. Schindler's List, The Longest Day, Frost/Nixon follow the actual histoical accounts, despie some changes for the sake of plot and characters), 4) Biographical (follows the life story of a real person, often allowing us to relate and sympathise with them as they feel more human. Famous examples include Gandhi, Chaplin, Malcolm X and Oliver Stone's Nixon to name a few) and 5) True Crime (exacly what it sounds like: Dillinger, Bugsy, Donnie Brasco and The First Great Train Robbery are all films based on real crimes and criminals).

And with that, we close off today's session. How was it? Well, though the film in the lecture was a bit of trudge ar first, and I wish we could've really gone into a deeper examination of this different types of 'true stories' and the implicaions/connotations and what hat says about us as both consumers and makers, today's work was really interesting, given that historical and biographical films are quite common, and its interesting to look at the sheer amount and variety of them and how they represent the history of their subject, and how that in turn, it connects with us as an audience and let us get into these events much more so than say, reading a history book.

Week 14 (Tues 29 Jan)

In the seminar today, we returned to the subject of history, and to put us back in the appropriae mindse, we rewatched some clips from Platoon and quickly went over what we felt the film was about (Vietnam War, Race, Reality of war, Moraliy/making choices, Man's cruelty to man, Internal fighting in the platoon between the troops, good vs evil as personified between the two sergeants, anti-war sentiment). On that note, we also looked at a quote from film maker Francois Truffant, 'No such thing as an Anti-war film', and discussed i's validaty (many felt that, as long as we have some type of sympathy or emotion for the soldiers on screen, then we still are somewhat, in a way, supporting war rather than dismissing it completely as one would think for Anti-war).

Then, we did an activity, in groups, where we came up wih a story for a film about 9/11 (sort of following from an exercise we did some weeks ago dealing with representation) and what approaches we would take: For a narrative, we tossed a bunch of ideas, such as there being an internal conspiracy (playing on various theories hat have been discussed over the years), the event being used as propoganda for the Iraq and Afghan wars to gain popular support, what motivated the terrorists (religion, social views, hatred, psychosis?) and even looking at more of the aftermath with the soldiers and their thoughts. As for characters, aside from the latter, we felt it should focus on the actual citizens of NY and how they reacted/feel during that incredibly harsh event, and maybe look at a cross section of society (the poor, the workers, public services, the rich, politicans etc.)

Afterwards, in the lecture we watched the two episodes from the second season of the acclaimed horror-fantasy-action series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, in which the main character's vampiric boyfriend turns back to evil after experiencing true love, something that fulfilled a curse placed upon him by the gypsies. For me, while the ideas presented here are interesting, and having a dependable actor like Anthony Head involved defintely raises your quality, in my view, there's nothing here that makes me want to carry on watching, as I found it a tad too melodramatic for my taste. But that aside, we then looked into Text & Subtext (what something is, and what something REALLY is i.e. a werewolf film is a monster/horror film (text), but its subext could be repressed sexuality, aggression and loss of control. In Buffy's case, vampires lend hemselves very obviously towards sex and all the issues surrounding that). More specifically, we looked at three main aspects: Subtext (just discussed), Intertextuality and Legacy. In the case of the latter two, Intertextuality is to do with what other works does the piece in question draw on, for example, in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, Martin Landau plays Bela Lugosi, who played Dracula in the 1931 Universal film. Landau's daughter also played a vampire on Buffy, bringing it full circle. As for legacy, that refers to the impact and subsequent effect/influence of something on other works i.e. in the revived Doctor Who series, the relationships between the Doctor and his companions are more akin to those in Buffy, and have a bit of a romantic undercurrent, no surprise given that the producers of 'Who' were also big Buffy fans.

To close off, I feel that today's activities were a tad uneven: the seminar was quite promising, and I did enjoy looking at the ideas of anti-war and how we treat that, and cerainly Truffant brought up an interesting idea that we got to play. As for the seminar, though David Cottis delivered an extremely entertaining lecutre, and the subject was interesting, I wish a different example had been used, as Buffy's subtext is pretty obvious, and I would've preferred something less conventional than just vampires=sex. I found it a little underwhelming, but even so, it served its purpose, and I see why it was chosen.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Week 13 (Thurs 24 Jan)

Moving on to Thursday's workshop, we began by going over our experiences making the final projects last term (for more, look up my previous posts concerning the production of 'Spotlight' with Nina Shaw). We then got a quick rundown of the upcoming term and activities (a couple of workshops, making a commercial and campaign film, as well as what I will get to in a moment). We then turned to our new assignment, 'Space': to make a short 2-5 minute film that shows our concept of what space is. To get a general feel, we were shown some of the work of previous years, so as to be concious of what NOT to do (overlong titles that pad, indulgent shots that dwell too long and above all, NOT making the piece an advert or music video (we saw one set in a riverside park with a girl in a skimpy outift who, poor thing, was red all over from the cold, not helped by an overbearing song underscoring the entire piece).

We were parcelled off into pairs, and I ended up with Alex Dima. We exchanged contact details and agreed to email each other, thinking up seperate ideas over the weekend. In closing, today went quite well, as not only did it give us a chance to reflect and share criticism with one another, but it was also interesting seeing other peoples' attempts at tackling this subject, so we were aware of what traps to avoid when making this, and ensure our film had a meaning to it and not end up being a prententious 'artsy' piece with no rhyme, reason or accesibility. I very much look forward to this challenge, and well, fingers crossed!

Week 13 (Tues 22 Jan)

Today, despite a temporary change in rooms, we began the new term for 'Communicating', and today's seminar began with a quick debreifing (more details available via UniHub, of course) of the term, the subjects (including History, Documentaries, Westerns and a number of others to study in the coming weeks) and the assignment (a visual essay, a piece where we talk about a film/group of films and analyse in video form. Appearing on camera is optional).

On the note of essays, we then watched one from acclaimed director Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Kundun, Hugo) where he talked about old B-Westerns and their deeper meanings, such as political commentary (one being an allegory for the McCarthy communist witch hunt prevalent in the 50s). In pairs, we quickly discussed our own choices for a visual essay: me and my partner decided to go for director Christopher Nolan, whose films are very smart in both their writing and plotting, and have a running theme dealing with the characters' psychologies (The Batman trilogy, obviously, with childhood trauma, Insomnia dealing with guilt and The Prestige dealing with revenge and duplicity).

Then, in the lecture, we watched Oliver Stone's (JFK, Nixon, W.) acclaimed 1986 war film, Platoon, starring Charlie Sheen (Red Dawn, Wall Street, Men At Work), Willem DeFoe (Spiderman, Boondock Saints) and Tom Berenger (Gettysburg, Major League, The Gingerbread Man), which deals with a young soldier's experiences at the height of the Vietnam War in the late 60s. The film is unapologetic in its visceral and realistic tone and presentation, characters often commiting reprehensible acts on both the Vietnamese and their fellow troops in the name of patriotism and victory, Sheen's character often torn betwenn the two. In fact, an attack on a Vietnamese village, and the murder of a number of the townsfolk there causes a rift in the group, which leads to backstabbing and betrayal throughout the second act.

Afterwards, we touched on the subject of History in film (and issues such as representation, bias,, stereotypes, the concept of 'truth' and 'accuracy' as it pertains and if often contested when it comes to discussing these films) and on the controversy that has accompanied a number of Stone's films, including but not limited to political agendas (some critics accuses him of leaning in a certain political direction, thus tainting his films and their genuine honesty/accuracy to the actual events), bias (JFK showing Presindent Kennedy in a positice light, despite many questions and issues surrounding his administration, such as government affairs and the race movement), skewing history and artistic license (The Doors famously got a lot of flack from the actual band members who questioned Stone's choices during the making of the film).

To close off, today's lecture was fairly standard, and given its the first of the new term, I really can't hold that against it as everyone is getting back into the swing of things. However, the second half dealing with history was where things picked up and became much more interesting, the question of History being portrayed in film is one I, as a big History buff, find quite fascinating, and certainly look forward to its exploration next week, and Platoon certainly was an ideal choice to get the ball rolling, as it was based on Stone's own experiences during the real conflict, giving an added 'punch' that many war films often lack.

Week 13 (Mon 21 Jan)

Funny thing, we were supposed to watch Michael Hanneke's Funny Games, but due to the teacher not being there, thanks to the heavy snowfall during the weekend, the screening was cancelled.

Moving on to the seminar, we discussed a number of concepts relating to the acclaimed German playwright and director Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956):
  • Art as Critique: Brecht believed that art could be used to critique society, thus causing progression through argumentation. In a sense, this relates back to the previous term, where we looked at comedy and satire, which also used art and entertainment to make fun of and critique aspects of society.
  • Dialetical Materialism: Based on a concept from another famous writer, Hegel, this refers to the cycle whereby the state of affairs (thesis) would lead to an opposite (antithesis) and through their collision and mixing, produce a new idea/order (Synthesis). Naturally, a number of real-life historical examples sprung to mind, such as the French Revolution: Monarchy (thesis), Revolutionaries (antithesis) and Napoleon (synthesis).
  • Threepenny Opera: One of Brecht's most famous works, and a critique of the wealthy, we looked specifically at the song Pirate Jenny, where the titular character sings about the impending doom of those around her, and how she, merely a servant, will soon have great power.
  • Caucasian Chalk Circle: A play within a play, set in East Europe that deals with two groups feuding over a valley, and the internal play deals with two women fighting over a child. The end message is 'Things belong to those who can use them well'. This story, as a couple of students noted, bore quite a strong similarity to a Bible story where two women argue over a child, and the king offers to cut the baby in half.
  • Verfremdungseffekt/V-Effect: Make the familiar unfamilar/aware of the aritifice, like say, Cabin In The Woods or Scream, which were very self aware of their absurd, almost farcical nature and really toyed with it.
Closing off the lesson, our assignment was to go off, individually though still linked up as a group, to research on a set news story and look at what elements could be used for a feature film. I, and a few others, were tasked with the Oslo attacks back last year which already have a strong 'human' element/surviving the odds feel to them, and would make for some compelling drama.

And so, to conclude,this lesson was, while still informative and enjoyable, not all it could've been as the snow very severly truncated a lot of today's activities, and as a result the seminar wasn't as strong as it could've been if we had been able to see Funny Games and really have that at the forefront of our minds while discussing Brecht and his ideas. Really, I can't say too much about today, and that is quite a shame.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Week 12 (Reading Week - Tues 15 Jan)

Today was the screening of all the shorts films made as the final assignment of Film Language. Ours, entitled Spotlight, based on the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, was shown second. Feedback was mixed, with praise going towards my editing, Nina's direction, the acting and the ambition of the piece, especially the audition sequence alternating between the two girls, but criticism was levelled at the grainy sound for an internal monolouge of one of the girls, some shots being a little bland or overlong, the characters being pedestrain and conventional, and the ending not being accurate to actual theatrical auditions and procedure.

Other films were based on Red Riding Hood (the best one involved using the colouration technique from Spielberg's Schindler's List, with the world being in black and white save for the jacket of the main girl), and The Good Samaritan (the best of which also used some really elegant black and white photography, and another made use of some TarantinoXEdgar Wright style writing and humour, making it probably the most fun of all the shorts.)

To cap off, I was quite surprised with the creativity and effort being put on display with these short films. Yes, some did succumb to those 'student-first film' traps (blantant, telegraphed symbolism, overworked camera, questionable lighting and sound work, cliched moments i.e. creepy guys sniffing gloves, revenge plots etc.) but a number of them really made the most of the limited resources they had, and I certainly look forward to working with some of these people in the future.