“ I like what they’re doing but it’s lacking creative direction”.
You mean, like “editorial”, which is news speak for direction.
Yeah, I replied.
Every year I get invited to be a judge on the highest awards in UK television news — the tech jury — and others. It’s been a huge privilege, as you can imagine and by merely taking stock of the patterns that have emerged over the years, I’m able to share a couple of thoughts in what I’m seeing in drone, mobile, VR, 360 and video hyperlinking.
Apologies, I’m not a fan of listicles but this is the swiftest way to digest this on the go.
- The swelling chorus within video and filmmaking is that VR’s time has come. Like so many technologies it was always been around, particularly in the 1980s that led Hollywood to put in production this (see Sensorama (80s), Lawnmower Man (1992)).
- Experimentation, stock testing, rehearsals, technology break-ins have been the hall mark of film making since when, often driven by commerce by the studios. Remember the fight cinema picked with television when it went 16:9 in the 60s. The belief was that it would render TV’s viewing experience inferior with audience’s flocking to cinema. Today, techno-fetishism comes across as much the same, as the industry sees greater commerce within new potential consumer-bases e.g. the non-professional. A CTO (Chief Technology Officer) friend would speak endlessly about how hardware tech companies were always keen to lock him into new deals, often with sweeteners, because it would spur others to follow — even when he thought the tech sucked. Hence tread cautiously when going tech buying — not everything will work and be worth the money e.g. google glass (see below I was a tester:(. What’s the best that a frankenstein form emerges with Google’s Daydream?)
- Experimentation is crucial, fashioned by imagination and knowledge. You’ll begin to read material about how auteurs could contribute to, say VR’s language. Talent like Hitchcock in this post or Altman by Mitch McCabe. Both well written. What they suggest, amongst other things, is that our attempt to comprehend the new is often mediated through past theories and technologies and that various DNA strands may be beneficial to your scoping these new techs. There is a legitimate reason why film students are made to study a canon of films by great filmmakers who invent film grammar e.g. Ford, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Tarkovsky.
- If you’re trying to make great news films study cinema. This schtick of mine is not in anyway revolutionary, when I speak about cinema journalism as Michael Moore says the same thing about docs. Cinema is a medium and a mindset, cf: Deleuze. Yesterday on the BBC, I saw five separate shots of drones in one news piece. Exuberant? Yes. A shot is motivated by an action, a thought, what aesthetically you might have in store for the audience. Watching BBC News seemed like a memo had gone round the building requesting drone shots at every turn.
- 360 poses some interesting challenges but by dint of using 360 on everything doesn’t add to the feat of problem-solving (which is filmmaking), and whilst giving the audience greater choice to roam in the frame, if there’s nothing of substance in the variable frame, it diminishes 360’s art form. Films like Fight for Falluja by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Ben C Solomon pose an age-old question for great filmmaking. As Professor Noël Carroll, one of the world’s leading film theorists would say sometimes the content stylises the film. Most films that grace the news are not from war zones. Hence direction, what you set up in the frame (composition), the mis en scene, and now what’s behind your direction will be up for examination. It’s more difficult than you think. It’s the equivalent of peering through a fluid Brechtian 4th wall, of a photographer allowing you access to their negs when viewing that one killer shot, of you thinking spatially and temporally how to hold your audience in 360.
- The modern entry into film and video making has invariably been sold as a ‘run and gun’ on equipment. Grab the mobile and then within 5 hours you’re away, but few, if any great filmmakers will deny that the tech can often be the enabler to what you want to envision. The greater prize is the comprehension of the psychology of film and the ever expanding visual and literary language that impacts on the psyche of viewers in specific ways. Tarkovsky knew this well. Film isn’t a fixed grammar. It works as Kuleshov and Hitchcock showed by a) montage b) Visual schema effects (see video below) C) other things.
- In 2000 working for an ad agency we were asked to contribute to the theory behind moving projections on the underground/subway. The general thinking was that certain movements induced reactions (e.g. motion sickness) that could contribute to fatal accidents on the tube. If you’re watching a slow zoom, invariably what you don’t realise is that imperceptibly you’re also leaning forward. Hence in the rush for experiences, you might do well to attach researchers to explore the hidden affects. That moment when virtual and reality are becoming indistinguishable will yield an array of problems. The BBC, rightly so, has guidelines for what’s filmable in real world. Newsmaker need to carve out guidelines for 360 and VR.
- My gut feeling, hunch, intuition, tells me that some of the most innovative filming within these new paradigms could exist in locations in developing worlds or in cultures where pedagogy does not enslave hegemonic quasi-conventional modes thinking and production. It Sounds ridiculous, given that 51% and 49% of VRs presence can be found, according to Greenlight VR Estimates’ Virtual Reality Map, in the US and Europe respectively but this feeling is bourne out of potential. One of Nonny de la Peña’s break out pieces was Project Syria. Incidentally, I was near the Syrian border making a film about the incredible individual and Syrian filmmakers whose footage was used (without his permission) for Project Syria. That moment too when Snow Fall (multimedia) New York Times emerged was an orgiastic conflab for every other publisher who fancied themselves to ape this mono-narrative. I’m excited about what I found in India.
- That time is coming, when WTF becomes untenable. As we march blithely towards one tech after another, the damn on patience and who’s paying is going to be breached. The Internet is being hived, says it’s founder into closed social networks. These new techs rather than helping shape the world to rejoice in its diversity appear to be slowly inexorably moving towards monomyths. For what it’s worth new tech may help you fashion new stories, but you need to want to do them and so far it looks like toys for geek boys and girls.
- Put the tech away for a moment and ask where it all starts. Human cognition. The allegory of Plato’s Cave. Now imagine a 360 cam on a drone, or shared VR without the visors, and video-hyperlinking into contextual stories. Isn’t that what tech brings to the fundamentals of story telling? Is that not how we are entertained?
Scenes from past cinema that influence modern day filmmaking -from VR, 360, Interactive Factuals etc.
Notes . Do watch @Lynda420 video pressie for walk-in info
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a storyteller with 30 years experience working in a number of fields e.g news, docs, coding etc. He is behind a film form called Cinema Journalism which he’s taught around the world ( see from Chicago, Cairo to Chongqing) and is interested in sharing his ideas with groups, individuals and at conferences. He’s a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster and is the recipient of several awards.