Wednesday, January 25, 2012

BOSCPUG Quick Report

Here's a quick report on last night's Boston Creative Pro User Group meeting held at Emerson College's Bright Family Screening Room.

Dan Bérubé began the evening by recounting the history of the Boston Final Cut Pro Users Group, which began about 11 years ago. But he said that since 2008, the focus has moved increasingly away from Final Cut Pro. "I don't care what you use" he said. For that reason, and with the "death" of Final Cut Pro 7, Dan decided to change the name of the group to the Boston Creative Pro User Group, though the focus and direction of the group won't really change at all.

Final Cut Pro 7 may be dead, but it still made an appearance!

He did say that he hopes to provide more ways to encourage filmmakers to collaborate on different projects in the upcoming months.

The event was billed as Visual Storytellers, with two featured speakers/presenters: Rick Macomber and Paul Antico, though several other local filmmakers were invited to show their work as well.

A Canon C300 was present

DP/Editor, photojournalist and multimedia specialist Rick Macomber works as a news cameraman for CBS Boston and is the winner of four Emmy Awards, nominated for eight Emmys in Videography and Editing and is a ten time first place winner for the Boston Press Photographers’ Association. Rick has really honed his craft, and has the ability to tell a story quickly and beautifully while shooting quickly and efficiently.

Rick talked about how he got into the business, recounted some of his experiences through the years, and showed some of his news reporting as well as several of his personal projects. One of theses was the piece shot for the 2011 One Day On Earth project. The clip, and the story he told about shooting it, can be found on Vimeo:
Up until the final moments before sunset I still had no idea what I was going to do for One Day on Earth this year. As a matter of fact, I had been so busy working all day, I was about to blow the whole thing off and head home... until I saw the sun setting across the street from the TV studio along the Charles River, a place where only a few weeks ago had been the staging area for the world famous Head of the Charles Regatta. I hustled over there with my gear and slogged through soaking wet grass and 3 inches of mud to get to the river just in time to set up my sticks as the sun was going down. At the time I had no clue that I was about to be surrounded by flocks of geese that probably come to the very spot in which I was currently encroaching upon at dusk every day. I suddenly found myself in the midst of them, flying around me and landing right next to me. I was so still while documenting them, I think they saw that I wasn't a threat to them so they stayed within reach of my lens. I got lucky on this one and I was glad that I had thrown my gear bag and sticks in the car when I left the house for work in this morning!

11-11-11 One Day on Earth - Boston from Rick Macomber on Vimeo.

Paul Antico works for The Department of Homeland Security/TSA, and showed for the first time publicly the DHS/TSA Boston-produced documentary "Why We're Here." Shot using the Sony NEX-FS100 and Canon DSLRs, Why We're Here explores the 10th anniversary of 9/11/01 and how it has changed the lives of those at DHS. The project was shot on a small budget, and with an even smaller crew, yet has very high production values.

Produced for internal use, Paul had to jump through some hoops to get permission to show the video publicly, and this may be the film's only public showing!

Why We're Here

A number of other filmmakers showed clips from projects they are working on. Ben Eckstein showed his latest entry in the Boston 48 Hour Film Project. You can read about his experience here.

A Path Through Fire - 48HFP Boston 2011 from Benjamin Eckstein on Vimeo.

Oddly enough, I interviewed one of Ben's collaborators on the project some months ago: Keith Wasserman: On the 48 Hour Film Project. The Boston film scene is a small world...but I wouldn't want to paint it.

Following Ben was Benjamin Chou with the film his team made for the same 48 Hour Film Project!

Rook - Boston 48 Hour Film Project

Rook - Boston 48 Hour Film Project from Christopher Lee on Vimeo.

Emerson Alumnae Nathaniel Hansen showed a segment from his documentary The Elders. The following is the trailer for movie, not the clip that Nathaniel showed. The clip was a really interesting - and poignant - interview with a man who worked on the first rocket-powered aircraft ejection seats.

The clip actually provoked a rather lively discussion, including a question about whether including the voice of Nathaniel asking a question at one point was a good thing; the questioner felt it was unnecessary, and that it interrupted the emotion of the moment.

I wish I could point you to the clip, because I thought it was an interesting question; though I don't personally agree that it was a problem.

The Elders - Official Trailer from Nathaniel Hansen on Vimeo.

Matthew Hashiguchi, also an Emerson Alumnae, showed the trailer for his movie The Lower 9, saying that this was the first time it had been shown in a theater.

The Lower 9: A Story of Home trailer from Matthew Hashiguchi on Vimeo.

Other films shown included a short segment shot for NASA in the early 90's on which Dan worked as the sound man! The audience got to see a diverse set of locally made films, and the evening provided a great opportunity for the filmmakers to see their work projected on a large screen.

Finally, Dan had teased us at the beginning of the evening with the promise of footage taken with the Canon C300 that had been shot the night before. I know there were at least three of us there who were eager to see it! ...And we ran out of time!

Maybe next time?

All we saw of the Canon C300 footage.... (*cries*)


Loren said...

Nice report, Michael!

To me, the most interesting discussion came from The Elders screening, which provided a teaching moment par excellence. The questioner of Nathaniel's clip was correct; this sort of intrusion into an otherwise compelling clip simply breaks the proscenium without advancing story indicated by the title.

I discussed this with Anna Feder afterward; she assured me that because I hadn't seen the other 80 minutes of the show I was wrong. But this clip was a prototypical example of the material and brought the voice issue to the fore.

There is no right or wrong, of course; there is only *effective* and true to intent. Until the voice came in to redirect the subject matter, I was watching a great little clip about an engineer, and was pretty absorbed by it. When the interviewer's voice intervened, the spell was effectively broken, and I was watching an unfinished cut.

I even interjected a suggestion that Nathaniel loop his questions on mike so he seemed closer to us, if he insists on constantly reminding us we're watching a construction, which was the way he described it.

But to my mind this is not a useful or necessary excursion for us, his audience. It's always more effective for the subject to appear to volunteer his story unprompted, even of short fade out- fade in's are needed to break them up. That's a function of judicious editing. It's not about old school- new school. It's about professional filmmaking.

The magic of any film watching (a related craft) involves allowing yourself to overlook the construction and mechanics of storytelling and go to the emotions and ideas expressed. The filmmaker's job is normally to facilitate that illusion, not call attention to it. Otherwise it feels like indulgent performance art at the expense of interesting interviews, and that's often an ethical dilemma.

I think Nathaniel needs to evolve this show further along the editing process, to trust what he's chosen and what his subjects convey, and leave himself out of his show. Most of the time his show will be seen without him present to explain why he is so determined to destroy the watching process. Most important, he needs to learn to trust his audience.

Otherwise, don't call it The Elders, call it Nathaniel Films The Elders-- a show I might not be quite as interested in. Hopefully he'll realize that his actual voice will not be needed to tell his story of The Elders-- they can be left alone in front of his expert camera, audio and lighting to express the things he loves about the subject. That is the docu filmmaker's credo. Film the reality you love most. That's the unheard expression. That's the only voice you need to include.

I have worked with dozens of documentary filmmakers over the years who have struggled with the question of if and how to bring their actual voices into the show. One student Oscar-winner I cut, SINCE '45, includes the filmmaker as a character in his exploration. But normally, weave your world with invisible hands and let your subjects tell the story.

The other thing that bothered me was the disjointed edits. Nothing seemed to be gained by not "cutting on the commas" and using closeups for greatest effect; as I understood, Nathaniel could cut from one camera to the other anytime to emphasize high emotion. That was lost with off-beat cuts.

No student should wall himself off from a sale opportunity at the earliest, because filmmaking is a costly and time-consuming process. Anna makes it her job to get interesting product in front of mass audiences,( she's to be credited for many of the evening's nice roundup). A well-crafted show will sell to programmers with money and get seen on mass media. Such placements complete the film.

Without prompting questions, and properly cut, I would expect to see The Elders on the LifeTime Channel, or on PBS, placed through the American Television Service, or some other special cable as a pickup. It holds great promise.

Rick Macomber said...

I totally agree with you Loren on this. It was indeed jarring to suddenly hear the off mic voice of the interviewer. Nonetheless, as you said Loren, Nathaniel's emotional subject matter, excellent camera work, lighting and professional sound quality drew me into the world of this elderly character.

admin said...

Guys, I agree with all the points made (especially the discontinuities in the interview cuts, I won't defend that), but I would focus the critique on the clip, and less so on Nathaniel or his film. Having seen the entire feature about a year ago when it was screened at the Paramount, Nathaniel's presence is established and effectively set up from the very beginning of the film.

Do I like Nathaniel's presence? On principle, not really, just as I don't like voice overs in films purely on principle. When not done well, both are often intrusions in the film, or reflect lazy filmmaking. However, when done well, it can be anywhere from acceptable to great.

While last night's 7 min clip made Nathaniel's presence stick out like a big, fat, sore thumb, Nathaniel's feature is able to establish his presence and character fairly seamlessly and makes it acceptable within the world of the entire film. Does Nathaniel's feature really require him in it? I don't feel it does, but Nathaniel makes it work for the feature, and that to me qualifies as effective filmmaking.

If it had been me, for the sake of showing a clip, I would have taken my voice out, in order to make the clip effective and stand alone. Sadly, that wasn't the case, and instead of showcasing a clip that could have very well been one of the most positively talked about and emotionally engaging moments of the evening, ended up getting overshadowed by this critique of a promising filmmaker, and a film people haven't seen.

Michael Murie said...

Just incase it isn't clear to readers, the previous comment is not by the administrator of this site, even though the account name is "admin"

admin said...

That's weird. I have no idea why Google is labeling me as "admin". Drop me a line if you can point me in the right direction to fix that. Sorry Mike.

- Chris Portal (eeyorehoop at gmail)

Michael Murie said...

No problems Chris. As long as Google hasn't actually made you an administrator for the site, I'm not too worried!!

AnticipateMedia said...

At first when I heard the comment I was thinking "that's a bit much". But reading Loren's well thought out follow up, I have to agree. I used my own VO in my 9/11 piece, but only as anchors to the acts. To pull you in, to move you along, and to pull you out. I think if I had started talking in the middle of the interviews to the subjects it would have seem like you were being pulled out of the moment.

Now there's not anything inherently wrong with either approach. Frontline, for example, uses both methodologies. Some episodes you never hear the interviewer. Other times they are part of the story, and they appear on camera and in the audio, usually narrating as well as asing the questions.

I think what happened here is we saw one quick clip. It's impossible to judge a complete work based on one moment in time. We can get an idea of the complete piece in theme and production quality (and the Elders seemed quite interesting and nice in those respects), but we really can't judge the whole thing based on a smippet.

As another commenter mentioned, the full piece makes it clear that the filmmaker is part of the film. So, much like judging a film based on it's trailer we shouldn't necessarily do that here.

I do agree on one point though: if Nathanel intended to be part of the film he should have had a microphone on him. Bad sound is a jarring thing (I've learned this the hard way - from experience); people just won't overlook bad sound as easily as they will a not-so-great picture.

A handful of the pieces shown had bad sound and it hurt the works.