It’s always fun to look back at how you got to where you are. If you asked teenage me what I was going to pursue years later I highly doubt “videography” would make the list. So here’s a little tale about how I got started with video.
Very Still and Hard to See
This event was a play I attended at Shepherd University. A classmate of mine was in the play and suggested I check it out. I hadn’t been to a play in a while so a friend and I took the evening to see it. The play, in short, was phenomenal. It wasn’t one continuous story as many are, but rather a collection of loosely related supernatural short stories. Each one had a supernatural spirits and creatures that all dwell within a hotel built on some supernatural site. Guests experienced everything from monsters to possessions and the stories all kept you on the edge of your seat. I haven’t gone to many school events so it was nice to take a night to see what the school had to offer.
The battlefield is a site I’ve visited many times over the years through various school and non-school related outings. I have never been to the actual museum at the battlefield, and since I pass the battlefield every day on my way to and from class I figured it would be worthwhile to stop by. The exhibit wasn’t very big as far as museum exhibits go, but it had just about everything you’d expect from a battlefield museum. There were bullets, shot, and cannonballs that have been found across the battlefield, along with rifles, muskets, and bayonets on display. Union and Confederate uniforms sat in a case next to one another and another case had a Civil War drum and drumsticks. There were a few 19th century surgery kits from the battle, which was interesting to see because of how far field medicine has come. Living in this area means you are constantly around Civil War era history, and the unfortunate side effect of that is that you can easily take this access for granted. Just as I have to remind myself that not everyone in the country can easily visit the capital on a day trip, not everyone can see historical battlefields and locations like these either. It was good to get out and see the history that is a stones throw from the places I go day to day.
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
I’ve been all over the country and seen many beautiful parks all across the country (and in other countries), and in all my travels Hagerstown City Park is still one of my favorites. Hagerstown gets a bad reputation for being an “uncultured” or “unrefined” city, but while it has its elements like any other city, it still has some very nice locations, and the Museum of Fine Arts is one such location. I’ve been to this museum many times in my life both with school trips and just for fun, and I enjoy it each time.
The park in which it is located is very well done and the museum itself is one of my favorite buildings in the area. The atmosphere is wonderful and It’s always nice to see new artwork as it comes into the displays. I looked around the museum and recognized pieces that have been on display since I was in elementary school (and likely before that) and other new ones I had never seen Before. One in particular that caught my eye was an untitled abstract piece (right) by Reuben Kadish. I haven’t always liked abstract art but it has grown on me over the past few years. It was nice to see the museum again and I hope to return soon.
This is the second capstone event I’ve been to. The first was last semester, and while all the presentations looked nice I didn’t really talk to many people. This time around I made sure to not only walk around and look at more presentations, but talk to my classmates as well. All the presentations were well made, and I had quite a few good conversations. I talked car culture with one student, asked another about her travel stories, discussed local music and heavy metal with a third, and joked around about various movies with a few more. One project that stood out to me was a short film called Sticky. The short film stood out to me because, aside from the fact that I am a big movie fan, I plan on doing a short film for my capstone project. I watched the film and noted the various elements of framing, lighting, and film angles. I payed attention to how it was cut and the audio elements. Overall the movie was enjoyable and I was able to talk to the creator/director and talk shop about low budget filming. I got a few pointers and insights regarding low budget filming and talked about the production of Sticky as well. The capstone presentation event was very helpful to get a look at the kind of work other people have done within the major.
Fans of classic poster board displays will be pleased to know that every event had a poster board with various audiovisual elements. The electronic media added spice to and complimented the warm comfort of the classic grade school style display methods. No The presenters were well dressed, but no dress code was enforced for attendants which created an interesting juxtaposition that I think added to the tone of the event. The spread was nice and there was a variety of snack options with classic event staples all around. Brownies and cookies were out for the “treat yourself” options, and a vegetable platter with dip served as a more health conscious option. The apple cider was a 2017 vintage with notes of cinnamon and sugar and apple-y overtones. The atmosphere was minimalist, yet comfortable, and the lighting was in a lovely median that illuminated projects without being too harsh on the eyes. My one complaint was that the pastries were too tasty and I ate more of them than I intended, so that does lower the score.
Capstone Event Score: 9/10 overall
I’ve found a lot of helpful resources as far as books and documents go, but it has occurred to me that one crucial resource hasn’t been visited: primary sources. I mentally write off YouTube sometimes when I’m working on academic project because I associate it with recreation, but I forget that much of what I’ve learned in the “how to” department has been using that site, and filmmaking is no exception. I decided to look up interviews with filmmakers in order to see what they have to say about how they started out.
Making of Clerks is a documentary I came across on YouTube that looks at the making of Clerks, which was not only the movie that really made me want to be a filmmaker, but is one of the sources of inspiration that I drew upon for my screenplay/intended short film. There are interviews with the director, Kevin Smith, as well as various cast and crew from the movie. Clerks was Kevin Smiths first major production and the film was completed with a very low budget and limited resources while Kevin was still working at a convenience store (which was the same one the movie takes place in). In the context of my capstone project this documentary allows me to look at the behind the scenes aspects of a well known independent film. The interviewees discuss various things they did to work around their limited time and budget, which can all be applied to my capstone project since it is also a low budget and limited time production (though my budget isn’t even in the thousand dollar range as Clerks was.
This interview looks at Richard Linklater, director of Slacker. The interview does look at other works of his, but Slacker is a primary focus because Kevin Smith has mentioned that it was one of his inspirations for Clerks. Novelty of “the film that inspired the film that inspired my screenplay” aside, this interview is also a good resource because of how similar the action in my screenplay is to that of Slacker. Linklater discusses how he went about the format of Slacker, and how it does not follow a traditional narrative, but rather follows a “slice of life” style with individual vignettes. I don’t plan on going towards a route quite as experimental as Slacker (my film’s plot is much more structured), but I do like the slice of life style that the movie uses and it may be helpful to be able to look at what Linklater has to say about his film since it served as an inspiration for my own project both directly and indirectly.
Up until this point, most of my resources have focused on the technical aspects of filming and organizing production. These resources can certainly help me out quite a bit, though I feel that I have not looked at the artistic side of things enough. Since my capstone project is going to be a low budget short film, I figured it would probably behoove me to look at other low budget short films for inspiration and ideas.
Rugged is a low budget independent short film written and directed by Thomas James Henderson (a local filmmaker). I first heard about the film because a few of my close friends played the lead roles in the movie. The story is a bizarre tale of a girl that drank herself to death and finds herself mysteriously alive once again. While it is an interesting story, the plot of the movie is ultimately not the reason I chose this as a resource, but rather aesthetic and the nature of the film itself. The plot of my film is far more lighthearted (I’m going for more of an indie comedy spin) than this film, but the aesthetic of the film is similar to the style I’m going for (though I plan on mine being in black and white). I can look at how scenes are filmed, locations, and cutting/editing techniques used in Rugged and see what works or doesn’t work in the case of my own project. The nature of the film itself is also a reason I chose this as a resource. This movie is a low budget indie flick just like mine is, so it’s good to have a reference of what films exist on this scale.
This film is a modern piece loosely based on the classic Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story that addresses the heroin epidemic of recent years. This film was created by former Shepherd student and classmate Austin Susman for his capstone project. The usefulness of this film as a resource is similar to the other film mentioned here in that it was a low budget “amateur production,” but differs in that, unlike Rugged, this film is a capstone project. Since my film is also for a capstone project, it will be helpful to look at another short film project as a reference reference, even if my film’s genre is totally different.
An added bonus to these resources is that I have mutual friends with one director and know the other more personally, so it is also possible that I can speak with either about their filmmaking process should the want or need arise.
Until now I’ve been looking at books and resources that I’ve found through Google Scholar. For my next two sources I decided to change that. There is no real problem with Google Scholar, the reasoning for the switch is because I realized I’ve spent hundreds of dollars each year on textbooks, but I have rarely opened them for anything outside of the classes for which they were purchased. This oversight means I have been sitting on valuable research sources without even knowing it.
A History of Narrative Film (fifth Edition) by David A Cook
This textbook was assigned for the history of film class that I am currently taking, and it has film information ranging from the creation of motion picture to the modern day. This book seemed especially useful since I am doing a short film for my capstone project. Not all of the information in the book is relevant, since I don’t see myself shooting on early Edison era technology or anything like that, but there is plenty of useful information regarding film techniques used by great directors and cinematographers of the past. A specific idea that caught my eye was a section about the use of long takes and deep focus. Both long takes and deep focus were used in films like Citizen Kane and The Grand Illusion, in order to capture a sense of realism that could be lost if a scene is overcut or overedited, or too obviously seen from a camera perspective rather than a human one. The long take does seem like something I will apply more, since I don’t have many elements in any scenes that would require the action to unfold in a deep focus scenario. The film I plan on doing is nowhere near as serious in tone as either of these two films, but the ideas of the long takes and deep focus do intrigue me since I do want to keep a sense that my film is ultimately grounded in reality regardless of any unrealistic aspects.
Filmmaking in Action: Your Guide to the Skills and Craft
This book is more of a comprehensive guide to filmmaking (it’s the textbook for my digital filmmaking class). This book touches on a bit of everything with content ranging from various roles on a movie set, to camera operation, to sound editing, to common terms in the field, and it even includes commentaries from professionals in the industry. If there is “one book” that a person could use to get started on filmmaking this would be it. Sure it’s not incredibly in depth but it covers a lot of topics. As a novice this level of textbook works for me since I’ve only ever once scheduled a multi-day shoot and I know very little about pro level equipment and practices. This book will work well as a quick reference guide for my capstone project as this project will be my first major project since my friends and I made a movie about Julius Caesar for a project in 8th grade.
I’m currently thinking of heading in the direction of a narrative short film for my project, so this week I took a look at some sources that might help with the low budget/independent filmmaking process.
No matter what I do artistically for this project it will have to be low budget, so I figured the best place for me to start my research was with looking for guides to low budget filmmaking. With the help of Google Scholar I found this book, which is a fairly useful independent fillmmaker’s handbook. The book is split into multiple sections ranging from chapters regarding the “do what works” nature of low budget filmmaking, to tips and tricks for the scheduling and business side of things. The book has a wide variety of knowledge from the theoretical to the practical.
The relevance for this source is obviously that it contains a lot of quality knowledge that can be useful to me as a (more or less) totally novice filmmaker. I know basics about cameras and editing, but I’ve never marketed anything seriously, scheduled multi day shoots (save one time in middle school for a project), or done any of the less-artistic-more-logistic elements that are necessary for film production. This book, from what I’ve glossed over, includes a lot of good information in a very usable and beginner-friendly format that I could see being very useful for my project.
Second Source: Amateur Filmmaking: The Home Movie, the Archive, the Web
This source delves a little more into abstract/artistic land than the other source mentioned. The book covers the subject of amateur video and its place in the world of cinema and art. Now it should be noted that because of the abstract and theoretical nature of the subject, this book is difficult to summarize in any detailed manner without in depth reading. The book seems to look at the effects that amateur footage has on viewers and discusses video anywhere from “funniest home video” type shows that show camcorder video, to mentions of feature length “professional” works like the film Life in a Day that use amateur footage in an artistic way.
Like the nature of the source, the application is abstract. I don’t think that I will go so far as to use amateur footage and take the avant-garde approach to my project, but I do think that this source helps to change the way I look at the way things are filmed. It’s easy to shrug off amateur footage as just bad filming, but there is more to perception than just the idea of “high versus low quality.” More or less “professional” looking shots can evoke different emotions or reactions that could, in the case of my project, be used to dramatic or comedic effect. This source may not be as “practical” as others but it shows potential to be an artistic source.
This first source deals with producing and directing short film and video (if the title did not make that clear). This source is very much a general “how to” on the filmmaking process. It includes details on the jobs of producer and director as well as charts and schedules for the various duties of each job. There are sample schedules and flow charts for each job and there are explanations to go along with each chart. I haven’t chosen my topic just yet, but I do know that I want to do a video project of some sort, so no matter what I choose this source will be helpful. Whether I choose to do a narrative short film or a more documentary style video it will be helpful to have this insight on the organizational structure and production steps. Aside from one project from middle school and a music video for another comm class I have never done any serious video projects that involve anything more than compiling a bunch of footage to a soundtrack (I mostly do skate videos), so this text will be especially helpful when it comes to getting into longer format video.
This second source is not as general as the first one mentioned here. This source focuses on storyboard structure and the storyboarding process. There are sections discussing the more psychological aspects of storytelling along with sections addressing the more concrete “form” aspects of storyboarding. The source includes examples of storyboard panels and includes some “do and don’t” type sections as a basic guideline for those new to the storyboarding process. Storyboards are essential to any high quality video project so no matter which specific video topic I choose this source can apply and help me on my way. Storyboards have always been one of my weak points since I don’t generally have the patience for drawing even basic images, though I hope to improve on that because storyboarding is important. This source seems like it will be especially useful since it starts off with basics which makes it very friendly for storyboard novices like me. The sections of this text that discuss the more psychological aspects of narrative will only really apply if I choose to do a narrative film project. While there are certainly some aspects of documentary style film production that overlap with ideas from narrative film, “story” is not quite as central to how the piece works.