The Critical

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The Critical – “more on your mind”

The LNS boys have had the benefit of two years of intensive production work with a professional film maker. Having produced 4 short films in total, they have an advanced awareness of the structure of film, the processes of production, the vocabulary and the realms of the cinematically possible. In comparison with many contemporary school film projects, theirs was privileged access. I wanted to discover what residual critical insights remained once the tripods had been collapsed, the final cut was carved and the applause had died down.

I interviewed the 5 main players in the library of their school asking largely unspecific, broad ranged questions. See interview transcript and interview schedule and a link to the full audio interview on Soundcloud.

The questions were designed to assess the way they felt about the production process. I also refer below to videoed footage of the boys whilst editing and have produced a 22 minute film (embedded link below) with time indicators for ease of reference. Often discussions around the affective were good pointers to both a heightened critical awareness and also to a puncturing of the rhetoric around some people’s perception of all young people’s inherent fascination with and aptitude for digital media representations.

When asked what they hoped to get out of the project:

John: I hoped that I’d be able to get some experience … not so much experience but erm sort of knowing what goes on behind the big films and stuff and such.

Furstenau’s concept of “access to the movie-dream” (2009:7) is in evidence here. A few of the boys mentioned ‘experience’ and ‘skills’ which to me suggests they have internalised ‘school-speak’ about good opportunities for job experience or “credentializing” (Buckingham, 2003:189); but he quickly reverts to a more personal motivation.

Lyall: Erm, I think I thought I was gonna learn a bit.. some more acting skills …yeah… maybe a bit more filming as well. I was intrigued.

For Lyall film is about acting and his preference for ‘top deck’ rather than ‘engine room’ activities is illustrated by the manner in which he responds to questions. Whilst being interviewed he seems to ‘deliver his lines’ rather than converse.

Tim: Um, I just wanted to make a film … so…..(pause)

Tim is comfortable with “synaesthetic experience” (Sefton-Green 2005:109), he displayed the attributes of a ‘natural’ audiovisual choreographer. It was his cut that was selected early on in the editing process for screening in Paris. He is a boy of few words, no gloss here, just the simple facts suggesting some organic impulse he doesn’t fully comprehend himself. Perhaps his talent is for assimilating and re-presenting cultural norms.

Interviewer: What inspired you to want to do that?

Tim: I dunno … I just….(pause)

Lyall: I think Tim means like, he was interested like by the film, I mean so he just wanted to see how it was like to make one,

Lyall interjects, assuming a spokesperson’s role and doesn’t really add much, except his voice to the recording.

Bob: I knew what I wanted to do, I think like, I wanted to gain experience from it I can use in later life,  even if I didn’t go into the film industry … I think in a way it helps you in all aspects once you’ve done it and I think it really broadens your perspective on life… your attitude on something … if n like your visual interpretation of stuff is different.

Bob is the most mature and articulate member of the group and assumed the role of Director from the start. Again there is a reference to gaining experience but qualified this time in relation to life. By using such words as perspective, attitude, and interpretation, Bob seems to have an understanding of context and the constructed nature of media texts. His father is a film-maker and so his confident manner may spring from his own family context.

Interviewer:: So what… how do you think this whole experience has er, might have influenced other areas of your life…?

Bob: Er, like, I think if I wanted to think of a certain image or something … I know I’d think of that image and then through the film workshop the mentors that we had would tell us how to do that or a shortcut to make it look like this and so it makes you think about your art more and what you want people to feel from what you’re doing, so…

Bob again displays intellectual acuity as regards the power of editing to influence audience perception. He suggests that guidance from film-making experts helps to realise his vision to affect the audience in specific ways. See Bob talking about the editing process and the audience: @ 2:45 mins.

lns_shoot_editing from Michelle Cannon on Vimeo.

This level of heightened awareness illustrates Buckingham’s notion of de-centering mentioned earlier as well as the value of time spent articulating and finding solutions to design problems.

Interviewer:: So the other person?

Bob: Yeah, also, I think like erm if I was to do English or something, just working with stories and stuff which make you … with your … more on your mind and so you might want to progress that further.

As well as influencing his art output, Bob mentions that film-making has developed his storytelling instincts in English. The phrase more on your mind is telling and illustrates what Reid et al transposed from the context of writing to that of editing: “the act of juggling a number of simultaneous constraints” (2002:76, drawing on Flower and Hayes).

Lyall: I think it makes me look at stories in a whole kind of new way by watching films and seeing how they’re made, it makes me understand like stories and films, just like, just that bit more and I kind of think like that’s a good skill to have.

Lyall echoes Bob’s comments and suggests that such a skill is interdisciplinary. I (audio-)interviewed Morlette Lyndsey, (LNS English teacher and lecturer at the Institute of Education) and she corroborated the fact that Bob in particular brought a filmic sense to his narratives using advanced visualisation to enrich his writing. See an example of his written prose which she maintains is substantially influenced by his involvement in film production. Their task was to put themselves in the shoes of a much older person recalling an event from the past in monologue format. Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4. She suggests that immersion in film production processes inspired an evocative piece of writing which reads like the opening voice-over of a film, where there is a strong cinematic sense to the rhythm, the nuances of accent, the detail and the description of a thirties New Orleans jazz club.

She encouraged him to read Zusack’s “The Book Thief” and its portrayal of Death’s perspective. She felt that he may not have been motivated to read over 500 pages without the inspiration and framing of a filmic point of view. Ref. morlette4april2011.mp3 @ 9:20 > 11:20 mins.

I asked them to tell me about how it feels to be editing:

Lyall: Me personally I dread editing … I’m sure probably that no-one here shares my opinion, but I just hate editing

Lyall makes clear his feelings about editing which in many ways debunks what is commonly perceived as a universal teen readiness to ‘get at the computer and start creating’. But this attitude has to be balanced against other possible contributory factors. It could be that: with extended access the novelty factor has worn off for him; he feels others in the group are better at it than him and so opts out; editing detracts from his identity as an actor; he enjoys contradicting what has been packaged as a positive experience or his level of self-direction is not as honed as the others.

Interviewer: That’s absolutely valid, give me why.

Lyall: I think, I’m not expecting it to be all action-packed, I just expect myself to be doing something like practical in the film, like I know editing is practical as well but I just prefer to be doing something like a stunt man or just being an actor, being an editor is just not my preferred position.

Interviewer: Could you be more precise about what it is that you just don’t like about it? I accept that you prefer to be in front of the camera…

Lyall: just the sitting down on the, you know, computer when you could be, you know, outside filming a shot again so it’s finally good and just.. I know this is kind of a stupid thing to say, but I honestly… I know that there wouldn’t be no film without no editing but I just don’t see the real fun in it.

References to stunt men and practical action may indicate a need for physicality but observation and research data recorded later in this account contradict this assumption. I feel that Lyall would benefit from a different pedagogic approach offering more guidance and encouragement which would focus his powers of reflection and embody it on the screen.

Interviewer: OK. Does anyone disagree? … (laughing) OK, go for it.

Mali: Erm, well, yeah, editing’s not really supposed to be fun, it’s just something you have to do in order to make the film look actually good, or stuff like that.

Mali’s agreement with Lyall is further evidence to suggest that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to media design processes. He needs more scaffolding than the software alone could offer and would have benefitted from concentrated one-to-one attention to move beyond mere sequencing of clips to adding more complex cut-aways, shot length variation and reaction shots.

Tim: Erm well I enjoy editing, some people hate it, yeah and adding in all the music and putting the film together

Tim makes reference to the composite nature of film and the pleasures of integrating the whole. There’s a marked difference between interviewing Tim at the interface and interviewing Tim … well… anywhere else. His increased confidence, sense of purpose and complete lack of self-consciousness in front of the screen is striking. See embedded link above: @ 4:14 mins

Interviewer: yeah and what do you feel when you’re actually in there, doing it, looking at the screen?

Tim: I just think of what could be done better, maybe we need to film that again or something.

Tim’s comment reveals the open-ended nature of the design process, the potential to keep on revising and refining. Tim’s speed of working is impressive and although he’s economical with his words he displays a dynamic, dialogic interplay with the screen. As Sefton-Green writes:

“digital software shows itself as an accessible social process locking a kind of ‘pedagogy’ into the relationship between screen and user .. a dialogue between producer and production” (2005:109)

Learners like Tim signal the need for a deeper understanding of the processes of selecting and combining from a database, in short, the anatomy of software and its impact on the imagination. Buckingham also raises the question of whether:

“the level of control afforded by digital technology somehow automatically encourages a more systematic approach” (2003:185See embedded link above: @ 4:30 mins

Interviewer: Right OK, and you know when you make decisions, editing decisions … what do you think informs whether it’s a good or a bad editing decision?

Tim: whether people like it!

Like Bob, Tim is aware of audience enjoyment and interpretation. Although this reveals a certain need for endorsement, over time and with mass accumulated approval this may well morph into confidence with his own style of output. The boys exemplify Jenkins’ assertion that:

“Media education needs to be framed for participants, a role distinct from yet closely related to both producers and consumers as they were classically conceived.” Jenkins (2011)

John: When you feel like it’s not, you’ve got to like be, you’ve got to have a mindset, when you’ve got to think you’re an audience member who’s watching the film, and you’ve got to think about that… is this gonna look really cheesy or is this gonna look decent when they’re watching it cos there’s some shots like .. like making people cringe…

John also articulates the complexity of achieving something original, plausible and engaging that avoids cliché and conventional cheese. Feeling when a shot looks decent whilst rationally maintaining the mindset of the audience is the ultimate aspiration of the editor. See embedded link above: @ 2:54 mins. Indeed this could be said of all creative media output.

Benjamin Franklin:

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn."

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