ASPERA Conference

by stronged

DAY 1: SWINBURNE UNIVERSITY

8.07.13

PANEL 1:

Georgia McClean from Screen Australia touched upon three of their recent reports: Beyond the Box Office; What to Watch; and Hearts and Minds. She explained how new media forms are still considered complimentary to conventional modes of media output (i.e. The Block a project complimenting Redfern Now). She mentioned that Screen Australia are still funding innovative stand-alone projects such as #7 days later to satisfy a growing participatory online community. It was good to hear that Australian’s are still interested in Australian content, the average Australian viewing Aussie productions playing a small yet important aspect of a diverse diet of global screen products.

McClean mentioned that many generators of online content (e.g. Beached As) believe that if they have received a million hits they therefore have an “army” of loyal followers – an instant fan-base of supporters that will invest in their future project. She pointed out that the online community is a fickle one, a completely different animal to the cinematic or television audience. There is no loyalty there, they are not willing to lay money down on the line. Audiences are becoming increasingly fragmentary, which is moving the goal posts of user engagement.

Joe Connor from Renegade Films pointed out that documentary films are still in high demand for they sculpt raw information into a definitive viewpoint, unlike Broadcast News networks that merely present information on mass. It is incredibly important to provide a platform for information to be filtered into a representative aggregate, allowing people a chance to join the dots between often times infrequent and/or concealed information. I realise this is a debatable topic, as I find Broadcast News Networks are increasingly shaping information to suit their own needs and their sponsors agenda. I’ll just nip that tangent in the bud right there and resume the review of the conference.

Crowd-funding was briefly touched upon in the Q & A, the panel agreeing that it is a valuable model to conduct market research into the audience demographic of the project as much as it is used to accrue funds. WA and SA were brought up as innovative models, matching the the crowdsourced funding three to one.

Genevieve Bailey was last to take to the podium, briefly encapsulating her project I Am Eleven before succinctly elaborating on the differences between American and Australian creative mindsets: If a man was to stand up in a panel meeting in the USA and proclaim “I’m the man!”, the members of the panel would turn to each other agreeing that he is in fact “the man.” They are happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe in his statement full hardily. If the same situation occurred in Australia, the man would be told to “sit down and shut up” or instantly labelled an absolute tosser. The tall poppy syndrome we face in Australia is aimed at regulating the good quality products from the bad quality products. However, this is unfortunately not how this mechanism manifests, instead operating as a destructive gatekeeper to more risky projects.

PANEL 2:

Adrian Miles expanded on his narrative Triumvirate (the qualities of a networked soft-assemblage system):

Porousness

– must be open both internally and externally to effectively work within a soft-assemblage.

– does not want to monopolise the users attention, instead, allowing a spatial awareness to co-exist.

Granularity

– the smallest units that still have closure and coherence.

Facets

– the smaller the unit the more connections can be enabled.

He then showed an image of the Geodesic Dome to illustrate the difference between nonlinear and linear systems of operation:

GeodesicDome-Dusk

The structure within represents an x-y axis common in linear narratives, whereas the netted dome encapsulating this information shows how the interconnectivity of information can act as a rhizomatic narrative. He believes that these relational nodes of information link together qualitatively instead of quantitatively. It is only through multiple viewings an interactant discovers the “contours” of this networked system.

Seth Keen was next up, who described his transition into New Media as a change in title: instead of documentary filmmaker he now credits himself as a “documentary designer.” Tying Nichols’ labelling of Fredrick Wiseman’s work as a “mosaic” with Shields’ usage of “bricolage” in Reality Hunger, Keen has employed these concepts in the experimentation of idoc systems in his VideoDefunct projects (eg. RealVision Bogota). As each units facet (connection) is dependent on how it has been indexed, the devil is in the detail of deciding what metadata to encrypt each piece of information with. The film assemblages cease to become about the content but the form it creates as the interactant navigates through the database – “story as software.”

Keen explained that he underwent a kind of “reprogramming” of his brain to think in micro-narratives (or narrative units) as a “documentary designer,” Adrian interjecting to emphasise that the functioning of facets is dependent upon the conceptual relations each unit has with one another, external to the shot.

Tim Thomas used a term that I was not familiar with but I feel will come in handy in the future: “Nexting.” This describes the action of jumping ahead in a database of information or toggling forward when watching a digitised video clip. One of many pop culture terms i can add to my vocabulary that allows a shorthand within the world of New Media.

James Verdon then offered a glimpse of the research he has been undertaking as senior lecturer/researcher at Swinburne University. His project is titled: “The Problem with Perception: Locating the materiality of Digital Moving Images.” A fascinating study into how we recognise real from digitally generated images in filmmaking. Comparing synthetic images (CGI) with optical images (in-camera) Verdon unpacks The Third and the Seventh…

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/7809605″>The Third & The Seventh</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user1337612″>Alex Roman</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

…and Above Everything Else, both by Alex Roman (Jorge Seva) using the filmology principles (7 levels of filmic reality) of Étienne Souriau and Christian Metz’s “trucage” (“trick photography”).

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/15630517″>Silestone — ‘Above Everything Else'</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user1337612″>Alex Roman</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

He also showed the example of Marco Di Lucca’s self portrait that refines the art of CGI rendering to represent human skin and features. Half of the image below is optical, the other is CGI:

marco_photo_vs_render_v2_660px

Verdon used the phrase “icon of recognition” to describe the process of identifying characteristics that we perceive as “real” or “truthful” within images. For example, the rougher texture of the skin in the right of the above image may indicate a more realistic depiction of the imperfections we encounter in human skin. Whereas the smooth skin in the left of the image we may attribute to a computer generated image (CGI). Both are “icons” of distinction within the world of recognition.

Adrian drew parallels between Verdon’s research question and that of creative non-fiction writing – recognising that both forms manipulate our sense of “reality.” The blending of computer generated imagery with in-camera footage is often used within the world of cinema and television to extend the depiction of reality into “hyperreality.” Similarly, the new wave of memoirs and creative nonfiction blend factual scenarios with imagined or subjective impressions of the event. Often, the story-world is established with relatable factual information before being manipulated with a fictional perspective or character.

PANEL 3:

John Hookham of Swinburne University presented a paper on how “memes” (units of cultural ideas that we store in our memory and transmit through behaviour and expression – such as the arts) mutate and evolve through “conceptual blending” (Faulkner and Turner spoke of blended mental spaces that are networked together, ala synaptic pathways, and similar to packet-switching or sparse distributed information) when different modes of documentary filmmaking merge into hybrid forms of communication (i.e. Hookham used Seabiscuit (2003) as an example of blending dramatic recreations with expository documentary techniques).

PANEL 4 (Round Table Discussion):

Definitely felt like a fish-out-of-water in this discussion involving some of the targeted goals for ASPERA as an industry body. They spoke of bench-marking in order to create a standardised mode of tuition in screen education across Australia. I do not think they are after a National mandate to regulate their educational curriculum such as the Gonski Report, instead, they are seeking a way to explicate the various institutional models of education across the country. Trish FitzSimons asked me to contribute as an advocate for the film students. I was a bit tongue-tied at first, but jotted down some notes in a stream-of-consciousness. The main point that kept propping up was FLEXIBILITY. The craft of filmmaking can be taught in a myriad of ways, but from my experience does not flourish with restrictive pedagogy. Sure, deadlines are crucial for the creation of end products, but without wiggle room in how filmmaking taught assessments become stale and tedious.

DAY 2: RMIT

9.07.13

PANEL 1:

Jon Rubin presented his online film collaborative network to the ASPERA candidates. Based in New York State, Rubin co-founded the SUNY COIL CENTRE that offers a chance for filmmaking students to collaborate across the globe. A great concept that is quite hard to imagine how it would realistically manifest. I feel the differing cultural sensibilities would create road blocks in the production of ideas. However, that’s me playing devils advocate. I love the idea and would relish the opportunity to collaborate with film students in other countries. Rubin noted that having international students involved in the process motivated the local students to perform at a higher degree.

PANEL 2:

Matthew Campora of AFTRS presented his research on academic essay films using the online platforms Audiovisualcy and Press Play as examples. Here’s one from the former:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/35870502″>Wes Anderson // From Above</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/kogonada”>kogonada</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Campora first broke down the essay film into two categories:

The explanatory mode:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/56335284″>The Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user459576″>Kevin B. Lee</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

and the poetic mode:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/50382946″>Cinema Poetry 16 – Histoire(s) du Cinema</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user3876579″>Max Tohline</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

He then began to list particular characteristics that would define an acceptable academic essay film, including that it consists of: an audiovisual work; be of seven minutes in duration; brings to light specific academic theories; expands on those theories with the audiovisual work; acknowledges it’s sources; and consists of one easily shareable file.

He proclaimed that “scholars should have the right to express themselves through any medium,” finishing his presentation by showing one more video work: an excerpt from Miles Joseph’s film titled Remediation:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/26375692″>Remediation</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/milesjoseph”>Miles Joseph</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

…that reminded me of Nash Edgerton’s Evermore music clip I was impressed with a few years back…

…both use the visual language of cinema to emphasise and juxtapose what is spoken on the soundtrack.

The chairperson for the seminar, Gillian Leahy, agreed with Campora that audiovisual works should be accepted academically as stand alone documents of research – much like Martin Wood’s Lines of Flight – offering the recent UTS monographic ibook series  Media Object as an option for peer-reviewed audiovisual works. Sadly, I have been unable to find any mention of this publication online.

Trish FitzSimons was up next, using her documentary project on the Norman Creek to illustrate how documentary practice can be designated as academic research. Expanding upon Yi-Fu Tuan‘s concept of place – “space plus history equals place” (Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, 1977) – FitzSimons documented the growth of a community combating the effects of climate change and neglect of an integral catchment to greater Brisbane. I found her comment on climate change incredibly insightful, observing that as climate change becomes more of an issue we are becoming surrounded by the literal and symbolic qualities of water. Perhaps this is an indication of our transition into a new era of environmental consciousness.

Susan Kerrigan from the University of Newcastle then spoke of her doctoral research into Transmedia and Multi-platforms. Her study centred upon the packaging of Fort Scratchley into a documentary released in DVD format, a book, presentations at the historical site in Newcastle, and an idoc that encompasses all of this information within the one database.

Kerrigan’s main bone of contention was that non-fiction works should be included within the PGA defintion of transmedia (originally being defined as “fictional storyworlds” (O’Flynn 2012)). Taking Grierson’s (2013) “creative treatment of actuality” as a starting point, Kerrigan has used Henry Jenkin’s (2009) seven characteristics of transmedia to sculpt her creative research output. These include:

  1. Spreadability and drillability (spreadable across various formats whilst also allowing a deeper investigation to be made interactively for the user.)
  2. Continuity and multiplicity (distinct from repurposing material into different platforms, multiplicity indicates an extension of the storyworld across different formats.)
  3. Immersion vs. extractability (the audience can take something away from the experience)
  4. World building (story world or universe)
  5. Seriality (an episodic approach to narrative building)
  6. Subjectivity
  7. Performance (audience engagement and interaction)

PANEL 3:

In a panel discussion focused upon industry and academic practice, Sue Brooks of Geko Films (producer of Japanese Story) claimed that academia affords filmmakers the time, focus and diligence to fine tune their skills base. She lamented that recent graduates and newcomers to the film industry are appointed an attachment role at the “sexy end” of the production process when the project has already been greenlit. The initiate has not been exposed to the arduous task of development and fund-raising that occurs prior to pre-production and production. This embellishes the glamorous nature of the film industry and sets new filmmakers up with unrealistic expectations for their own projects and further employment.

Executive Producer of Fiction at the ABC, Christopher Gist (Jack Irish), reiterated the importance of tertiary institutions placing emphasis on assessments that encourage problem-solving and the development of practical skills in order to equip students with the toolset for a smooth transition into the film industry.

I found the discussion involving tertiary institutions efficacy within the film industry merely went around in circles, not actually resolving any particular issues. Film schools must discard their focus upon credentials securing employment for graduates, instead, redirecting their time and energy into an unrelenting output of content to establish a well-rounded portfolio.

This ties in with one of Hookham’s comments about mastering a skill set. He brought up the example of Charlie Chaplin’s working methodology elaborated upon in the documentary series Unkown Chaplin (1983), showing that Chaplin shaped his storylines through improvisation and a series of gags. Some would work, some would not. The main point Hookham drew from the series, and indeed his own filmmaking experiences, was that filmmaking is an emergent practice, much like all the art forms.

At one point the discussion revolved around whether a seven minute film would equate to a 1,500 word essay. This seemed frivolous to me as duration should not weigh so heavily into the equation, quality of substance and the proficiency of execution play far superior roles in an assessment criteria.

PANEL 4:

The last panel I saw discussed varying approaches to PhD research in the field of screen production. Leo Berkeley spoke of the importance of reflective practice and briefly summarised the theoretical framework he used to support his filmmaking practice – Baudrillard’s concepts of “positions” and “dispositions.”

Michael Sergi briefly summarised his 70 minute documentary and supporting 40,000 word exegesis exploring what occurs in the film directors mind when he pledges “that’s a print” to the cast and crew. He used his filmmaking skills as a bridge to tie together the three areas that academic research involves: academia (the theories and language of higher learning), policy (the topical issues relevant to that particular juncture in time), and practice (the day in, day out use of a skill set). His filmmaking practice disseminated and organised his theoretical investigation in a language he had already mastered.

Sean Maher advised that you need an inspirational supervisor and to follow whichever research group is receiving the new funding in order to excel in doctorate research. It was great to hear how he managed to salvage the bountiful output of writing he managed to achieve into subsidiary publications. He did not worry about what form his research took (thesis or project), he just continued to produce work. The more he wrote the better.

All panelists happily acknowledged that their finished films successfully work as stand alone films. This is my hope as well. An aspiration that doesn’t seem to hold much repute in academic discourse or expectancy. It is much more common that academic screen output serves the purpose of assessment but does not survive outside the walls of academic discourse.

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