Friday, November 9, 2007

adieu - part II

So we've been asked to do a wrap-up post of sorts to conjure up our thoughts on last week's screening. A lot of what was asked for I posted in the previous post anyhow - but there are a couple of points I'll address separately so that all bases are covered.

Seeing my group's documentary up on the big screen was both terrifying and exhiliararating. Everything looks different when you're in a cinema-type setting and not just viewing a timeline on final cut through a TV monitor. It's a completely encapsulating experience. All the flaws of our work were magnified for all and any to see - and all the beauty we marveled at in the beginning radiated tenfold. It really was quite an overwhelming experience, especially considering the depth of my involvement with this project. Hearing Rachel and other members of the audience roar with laughter at Amazon's jokes made me feel completely.. accomplished I guess. Just like the moments of candour when he spoke about getting beaten up in and out of home for choosing to dress in drag. And the way a wave of awe swept over the audience when they saw Amazon as a finished product just blew me away. To be able to elicit those kinds of feelings - to have achieved our aim in terms of creating this project - made everything so incredibly real.

From its inception, to its initial stages of production, to the editing, fine cutting ,fine tuning, peer assessments, etc - I can honestly say that I've made something that I am proud of, in spite of its imperfections. Maybe it was kinda raw, and sorta rough around the edges, but it spoke to people. It brought to the fore a side os society and the human condition that does not get explored everyday. It uncovered the individual story of one person whose charms were both majestic and engaging... and it will not be forgotten.

Of course, we need to go through *once again* and fix up the sound.. this time it was too soft.. God only knows how that keeps going awry...And that little blip od blackness I swear I saw before one of the photo clips. I'd also like to do a proper DVD set for it. Maybe go through and re-do the first cut away. If it were possible it'd be great to have filmed Amazon doing a live show ourselves... Aside from that, everything else I was pretty happy with.

There were a couple of other group's docos that just left me spellbound. "The valley", "Mirrors with Memory" and "A Darker Shade of Night" spring to mind... The former, for its evocative and clever structuring, not to mention completely masterful infusion of archival footage.. I can't imagine how long it must have taken to go through it all and produce such a fine result. "Mirrors with Memory" was just funny and compelling through its richness of character... I loved the absence of English, and the whole 'lost in translation' feel it carried with it. Not to mention the gorgeous, picturesque cinematography. "A Darker Shade of Night" didn't really do it for me at the beginning, but the way it was shot and edited just eked with beauty. It was smooth and sensual, and though it did not conform to strict documentary-style conventions, it was somewhat uplifting. "Asian Beauty Pageant" and "The Gift" deserve honourable mentions.. for their completely candid humour if nothing else. I really liked opening sequence of the former. Was not one bit amateurish and made me both proud of my peers and honoured to have had the chance to work with them a second time 'round. I am going to miss them next year.

And so it seems I've arrived here once more: the bitter-sweet end of a long, trying, draining - yet intrinisically rewarding, and uplifting - road.

Friday, November 2, 2007

TV2: So long, and thanks for all the shoes

Well, last night really capped off what has undoubtedly been one hell of a semester.

As stated in my previous posts, I have had the time of my life putting together this documentary, and I think the quality of the work reflected the deep level of engagement myself and my group memebers had in this process.

It was also heartening to see so much fantastic work, and to have the fruits of a laborious semester amount to something. It is quite astonishing, the far greater levels of skill as filmmakers we have acquired since last semester. So many docos stood out for me last night, far more than the dramas. Yeah, they all had their little flaws (OMG I'm positive I saw a flash of black in ours, and the sound was TOO SOFT - why oh why?!?!?!), but they took me to places that 9/10 dramas could not - i.e., they actually made me think.

Working with this medium has been so richly rewarding, and I'm not sure if that's because I have always had a marked partiality towards it or because my experience in TV1 was so dramatically different (read: negative). I don't think the two semesters could have been any more opposite in my mind... I literally never even saw the final version of 'Potato Cakes' before it was screened, and could not have cared less if someone had blown up the harddrive and erased everything. With Amazon, however, I was only ever more than willing to spend as much time as needed to make it as polished as possible.

To some extent I had no choice in the matter (that is, with my level of responsibility), but the fact is I genuinely enjoyed every minute of it. And that counts for a lot. As imperfect and rough around the edges as our documentary may be, it connected with people, and gave me the opportunity to do something beautiful for a good friend of mine, who has only been too supportive of the project as a whole.

This is quite possibly the end of the road for me as far as production projects go. For a little while, at least. I have Honours to think about now, and at this stage I am looking at doing a thesis instead of a production project. I have to say, though, that it was good to go out with a bang - and even if I'm not working on something of my own next year, I have big plans to hijack as many gigs as possible... as long as I can pluck up the courage to take on more technical roles, but you never know. Stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

'I like to be the man'

Though this is a joke I frequently make in reference to bedroom exploits (I have half of my friends convinced I own a deadly, 12 inch strap-on), I can't help but feel that it is an apt call to make in reference to being director.

Being cast in a role where you call all the shots is at once exhiliarating and terrifying. The pressure associated with such an intimate duty of care is enormous, and you know that the failure of anything - on or off the scenes - is likely to be attributed to your own performance. Coming from a project where I had the bar minimum of say in last semester really meant that this was a 360 degree turn for me. At the same time, though, nothing has ever felt so natural.

As fantastic as Deno & Anthony have been over the months with their technical prowess and their willingness to contribute, neither of their interests in film are much concerned with creativity and aesthetics (though Deno does have a very smooth hand for operating a camera). What made this group dynamic work so well was that the visual side of the production was my forte - literally every decision made in post came down to my discretion. Right from the positioning of pictures, footage, transitions, music, etc, to making the end credits. Every cut on action, every smooth progression within the conversation, I oversaw.

And to have had people compliment the work is just the most satisfying experience for me. To literally have seen this idea materialise from a conversation with a friend to a tribute to their career is fairly mind-blowing. Directing is such a personal challenge - and by that I do mean, blood, sweat and tears. But at the end of the day, there's no way more fulfilling to be involved with something.

Monday, October 22, 2007

'i love an audience.....'

With so many things in the midst, the editing of this project has unfortunately gone on the backburner until next week - and it feels strange having such a gaping creative absence in my academic schedule.

The question we have continually posed ourselves in the making of this project, is "why would anyone care?" or "what have they learnt from watching this?". It is something that has been constantly been at the epicenter of our working 'agendas' if you will - it is the core of what it means to create a documentary.

What we really want is to focus upon the character of Jamie/Amazon and his evolution or metamorphosis from masculine to feminine form. Applying the makeup and getting ready for a show seemed to be the perfect backdrop for revealing the subtleties and nuances surrounding his unique dual personality experience that was shaped by his performing career. What started out as a form of artisitc expression resulted in being completely enveloped by a whole other part of his psyche - the feminine - who was the tough, bold, more indepedent of the two. And this is the story element we have tried to convey more than anything.

It is not so much us making a documentary about Amazon, but rather a documentary for him and people like him. Something that can commemorate the years of hard work and effort he has put in to get to where he is, on both a personal and professional level. It offers a brief insight into life as a performer and then delves into the psychodynamics of being a drag queen and reconciling both elements of the male/female.

The overriding intention was never to educate our audience about being a drag queen - alas, how dull. It was to showcase Amazon's talent and to delve into the depths of his mind. Of course, there is quite a degree of risk involved here as we wanted to approach something relatively 'tired out' with fresh eyes. Remember, even though we crafted our questions, we were essentially filming responses which we wielded little control over. It will make you think and question the ways in which you make your judgments. Take or leave it I guess.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

w13 - bye bye birdie

So, no more pracs, and no more classes - for that matter. Gotta love week 13.. Lucky for some, unlucky for others.

For those of us seasoned veterans, 'Week 13' has come to be synonymous with 'Self-Assessment'. Good old self-assessment. It really drives me bonkers because if you give yourself a shit mark, no-one's really going to argue with you (unless you truly deserve it), but if you give yourself a good mark, people are going to just think you're full of it (in which case, you wonder if you actually are).

As it happens, I chose the path of awarding myself a good mark. I rightfully deducted a mark for the lecture I didn't attend, and was going to deduct one for the tute I had to come late to, 'til I remembered all those times I returned the filming gear on my own, all the running around I did in aid of making our production run as smoothly as possible, all the money that came out of my pocket (petrol, tapes, props) and realised I'd be doing myself a disservice if I didn't nominate to receive a HD.

Moreso than last semester, I have gone out of my way in tutes to give as much feedback as possible. I am not that ridiculously competitive that I would dream of inhibiting the creative process of other students' work; if I think something can be improved, they deserve to have that brought to their attention. The other 2 groups had real potential with their projects, and for the most part they did really, really well in driving home exactly what it was those projects were about.

And while being on the receiving end of feedback has never been something I've enjoyed, again I've done my best to take everything that other students (and my tutor) suggested on board, and the changes we made were evident in today's screening. For one, the sound has improved in leaps and bounds, and the cuts make more sense than they did in our rough cut. Our work has evolved from something we were cringing at merely 3 or 4 weeks ago, to something we are proud to show off.

There's nothing I wouldn't have done for this subject. It has consistently been prioritised over everything else, and for good reason. This has been my sole creative outlet for the semester, so I have only been 110% willing to get behind it.

Thankfully we also had the privelege of David & Christine working together with us to hone these concepts and guide us towards success. And after seeing how far each group has come, they have certainly done a fantastic job.

Friday, October 12, 2007


David described our footage as 'elegaic' in class the other day. He said there was something about the composition, the shots, the tones, etc - that gave the piece a kind of poetic, reflective feel.

His comment made me remember the beginning of the semester and the theoretical grounding of documentary it concerned.

Bill Nichols' ‘genre-categorization’ for documentaries is a particularly useful way to teach students how to understand the sub-genres of documentaries and how they are put together.

His modes can be divided into the following groups:
Expository Documentaries; Observational Documentaries; Interactive Documentaries; Reflexive Documentaries
and the less commonly used (not necessarily his):
Performative Documentaries; Poetic Documentaries

I would have to say that ours is a blend of both expository and poetic. Expository documentaries tend to carry an ethical burden due to its nature to expose people’s lives. As such, they are highly constructed, with a well thought-out storyline that frequently addresses the viewer. They usually propound a strong argument or point of view, via the use of voice-over, narration or titles. From a stylistic perspective, they can be both informative and descriptive (this could apply to the ways in which Amazon describes what he does and how he does it, and recounts his experiences). The narrative itself is then carried forth by a rhetoric that forces an audience to read the images in a certain aesthetic fashion.

Poetic documentaries, on the other hand, are much more abstract in nature, with form taking precedence over content. Paradoxically, this format emerged as a response to the heavily content driven and rhetorical documentaries that were far too reliant upon continuity and the lineal structure of time and space. Coherence was abandoned in favour of more fragmented elements of form, color, and movement, making them far more impressionistic and lyrical in nature than their predecessors.

I think that having a project which corsses and blurs boundaries makes for far more compelling viewing than one that sticks within the limitations of a specific format. Documentary is forumlaic by nature and if it weren't for the innovators and pioneers of the past, it would not be possible for all these different kinds of documentaries to exist. Even with the more recent phenomenon of 'docu-drama' reality TV, this kind of viewing would not be made possible if filmmakers had not taken it upon themselves to appropriate different elements from both genres into the one production. If there is one positive thing to emerge from Big Brother et al, it is the gateway of possibilities that we are now posed with when we go to craft our own works.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Well, we had our tutes 2 hours earlier today and one of our groups forgot! Well not totally, but they were only represented by their director. Crazy times. I guess they are though when you think about it.

Christine was particularly excited at finally getting to see Amazon on the screen - from one Kiwi to another, of course. She was especially glad that we had managed to delve beneath the surface of the subject (as our proposal had stated) as a means of uncovering the duplicit side of his personality - which is what really set us apart from any other media featuring your generic 'drag queen'.

We also got favourable feedback about the sound quality after inserting yesterdays recordings. It's amazing how a few bit of decent sound can dramatically alter the whole thing... And David was totally rapt about us getting the 'tour of Amazon' audio synched up perfectly! The closing sequence looks (AND SOUNDS) totally unreal now.. which is what we want, because the opening is so dramatic - we need this to balance it out!

To have the end of the road in sight is pretty exciting. Next week is when everyone else grades our work, so we've got the suites booked for a few nights between now and next week... Students grading other students are notoriously critical, so we have to give it our all as none of us can really afford to lose marks at this stage.

Dinner time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Well, this afternoon was officially 'Day Two' of filming for Project Diva - we just hung around outside the State Library, filmed ourselves an intro, before moving off into one of the rooms to do the few bits of voice recording that we needed.

Here is where we thank our lucky stars that we chose a subject with such extensive experience in the realm of performance. We got lucky. Asking him to re-do his audio was something we could not have avoided, but the fact that we were able to synch up parts of it, as one might within a drama, has made an enormous difference. Yes, the majority of it will need to be used as voice over.. but it kind of works in our favour. As it happens, all the majorly bad sound was woven into the clips where Amazon talks about the way in which the feminine side of his persona came to dominate the rest of his life... and to have that now as clear sound, layered with visuals of him doing other things gives it a much more nostalgic feel.

We stayed back late again so we could get all the new stuff slotted in. I'm looking forward to Wednesday and hearing what everyone else has to say.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I had a thought today regarding our documentary which harked back to one of our earlier readings (Paul Arthur - Feel the Pain). The implications of which stemmed back to including myself - the filmmaker - in the documenary itself.

Strictly speaking, in the history of documentary, directors have not played any on-camera role within the fil, and if this was the case it was either inadvertent or there was no way to work around it. More recently pioneered documentaries such as Michael Moore’s Roger & Me, however, offer a much more integrated relationship between the director and the content on screen.

Technological advances, which have entailed the “availability of inexpensive mini-cams and readily accessible video-editing equipment” have enabled emerging filmmakers of the next generation to tell their “literary memoirs”, as it were.

Such documentaries commonly include subjective voiceover narration, a mixture of interviews as well as found material. Whilst ours does not contain the former, there definitely is a marked use of the latter two, and my inolvement is pretty well apparent throughout the piece. And I would definitely class this as an almost 'unavoidable' inclusion because there is probably less chance that Amazon would have been as open and honest had it been anyone else asking the questions.

I have tried to minimalise my involvement on the screen as much as possible, but there are just some points where it cannot be helped. I guess the reality here is is that I wanted my viewers to fall in love with Amazon the way I did, and in order for that to happen I had to have quite an intense level of personal involvement. So far it seems that this has been a success - and it will be interesting to see whether any other groups in the other tutes utilise this mode of reprsentation, too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

'Tis the season

Well, we're on holidays. 10 Weeks into the semester, and we're on holidays. Go figure, haha.

We're spending all of today putting the final touches to the rough cut. We figured this was the best approach to take, as 'stop-start' bursts of editing are far less effective.

I also stayed back last night putting together the intro, it took my FOUR FREAKING HOURS. For just 20 seconds of footage, what does that ratio work out to be?! Although due to the number of effects I applied, I reckon more time was spent rendering than anything else. Got the music happening & all. 'Stand Up' is going to be our intro track - gotta love the use of camp, club/house music. However, the idea is to have people glued to their seats, so we'll see what reaction that gets next week.

The dossier has finished, much to my dismay. As ridiculous as it sounds, I have actually enjoyed relaying my thoughts through the academic proofferings given to us. Will pick up where I left off next post.. for now I have to meet the boys.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Damn, forget about boom in frame - we've got something new happening in this doco.. it's called.. DEDO IN FRAME!

Okay, alright, so the dedo was not switched on, but it's there alright. And it's right in the background of a shot we plan to use with its synched dialogue.

I realise now just how crucial seeing Week 7's lecture was... We were given the chance to visualise just how we would need to set our own lights up to create the desired effect... I mean, it might seem pretty straight forward to outsiders but there is actually a shitload of thought that goes into each and every shot, and even though you can't properly storyboard/map out a documentary from shot to shot, you do wield a great degree of influence over the aesthetic feel. Fortunately, the dedo being in the shot does not affect the overall look of our rough cut too badly... could have been a completely different story if this were drama, though.

I guess the idea is, no matter what genre you're working with, you HAVE to walk onto that set as prepared as you possibly can be - i.e. with the right tools, the right crew, if you want to create the perfect project.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Getting practical

According to Megan Cunningham, there are the three versions of the story that we negotiate in our viewing.

The story that the director is trying to capture
The story that the editor sees in the rushes viewing
The edited version of the story.

These are all going to be laden with slightly different meaning. Our group has so far edited in unison, although I much prefer to work alone, I have appreciated the presence of Deno & Ant - the last thing I want is to turn into some egomaniac director who makes their project 'all about them'. While I'm willing to accept that most things are, indeed, about me, this documentary happens to be about Amazon. And I need to work with people who don't know him on the same level as I do so as to gague their reactions to the aesthetic devices I am implementing.

The first part of yesterday's tute was spent going over some of the techniques that are a useful way of keeping things in order throughout Post. Such as the paper edit, transcripts, summaries etc.. Basically you want to know exactly what is in each clip so you know where to look when you want to include a certain aspect in your story. The last thing you want to be doing is re-watching hours and hours of footage looking for a bit you could easily have denoted at some point beforehand. The more organised one is, the less time one spends in the suites.

We then moved into the suits, and spent more time editing tonight, and most importantly David was pleased with what he saw. The sound is obviously an issue but the actual footage is really quite captivating.. I hate to toot our own horns, it's just that Amazon really looks fantastic on camera. And the set-up of the bathroom ended up working really effectively, and the more we piece this doco together, the more affirming the whole process becomes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sound bites

So last night we went through our rushes, and Anthony ended up staying back late and getting all the clips from ALL FOUR TAPES onto Final Cut. Everything is looking superb, but lo and behold, THE SOUND SUCKS ASS! In parts, at least. As my long-term readers may recall, I HAD THIS SHIT SOUND PROBLEM LAST SEMESTER! After everything this has caused me, I wanted to have kittens when viewing the initial takes. How could something so imperative screw up for us? It's almost like everything that could go wrong, has (well that's not entirely true, but we the Market were utter bastards). But it may be possible to work around it in the final cut, it's just gonna take a lot of genius engineering, and time, and effort. At least I've got the last two.

And at least, now, we have something to make a rough cut out of. I have to say, Amazon was brilliant to work with, and kept all of us entertained while being as helpful as he possibly could - i.e., welcoming us into his house. Last Friday was one of the biggest demonstrations of friendship I've ever experienced, and makes being enthusiastic about this project one of the easiest things ever.

It's just so surreal... As well as calling the order of shots, I kept everyone in order and on top of their game while we filmed, but at the same time, I wanted to allow the boys (especially Deno) their own creative licence. It was my main aim to keep us on schedule as much as we possibly could have been (okay, so no-one foresaw we were going to need 4 tapes... it was a good thing Officeworks was only 4 blocks down the road!) One thing I regret was not having the little viewer connected while the boys had their eqiupment - a few shots stuffed up with having the boom in frame, and even though it's fixable, changing the composition still impedes the shot a bit.

Ah well, the worst is over. Or is it? There are going to be countless hours spent holed up in V1 from now on. Can't say it doesn't excite me, though, because it does.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Keep rollin'

Well, at about 4:40pm last Friday we were officially rolling camera... And were so doing for the next 3.5 hours! God, even though setting up was nothing compared to the onerousness of drama, I was still bloody buggered at the end of it all.. and now I am paranoid about the sound because Deno & Ant both reported a buzzing, which in the end wound up coming from THE DEDO LAMP BEING SWICHED TOO CLOSE TO CAMERA. what the?! SINCE WHEN DO DEDOS INTERFERE WITH BOOM MICROPHONES?

Suffice to say, I was not a happy camper! If we, the late mob, have to re-film all our stuff, I am gonna sphincterise someone!

Yes, sphincterise. Watch out.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

question sheet | in order of asking

How did you get your name?

At a guesstimate, how much money has Amazon cost you over the last two decades?

They say perfoming on stage is all about sex, drugs, and rock n roll. What percentage of it is sex, what percentage of it is drugs, and how much of it is rock n roll?

How did your family react when you told them you wanted to wear womens clothes and perform for audiences?

Have you ever been banned from the stage for any reason whatsoever?

Have you met any other famous performers?

Not everything about being a diva is glitz and glamour - what was it like the first time you were beaten up?

How did Amazon become such a dominant personality?

How does what you do affect your cultural beliefs?

To have a 'husband', and to settle, is Amazon a part of your identity that you would be prepared to sacrifice?


If any randoms have any questions you'd like asked of a drag queen, speak now or forever hold your peace!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Well, we're officially the Late Bloomers of the bunch. Alex & Jen's group had feedback to offer on their first day of shooting, which apparently went well. They went down and filmed a dramatised sequence for their piece - which is basically an overview of how modes of communication have evolved, and how the prevalence of web-based mediums (eg: MySpace, Skype, FaceBook) has made it easier for people living away from home to remain out of their country... I'm sure it's well-trodden ground, but I do like the fact that they are adding in little experimental, stylistic extras to jazz the subject matter up, and give it a unique feel.

I think David is officially skeptical of our project, since everything to date has seemed so touch n go... Hopefully by this time, next week, some of that skepticism will be eliminated.

We did, at least, have the concert footage available for him to view and some pictured to peruse. At least everyone knows our subject is real! Unfortunately Anthony left drive #32 at home so we weren't able to transfer any of the stuff, but will get the DVD-tape thing happening at some point before Friday so all that we need to craft the rough cut will be at our fingertips. Don't want to be stuffing 'round at the last minute, considering how 'last minute' the filming process itself is beginning to feel... deep breaths.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Getting into that mode again

Preparing, once more, for Friday. Save one of us losing multiple limbs, it looks like it's going to be the goer.

We only had one reading to do this week. 'Manipulating Time', by Sheila Bernard. A relatively long read, but a pretty useful one, especially cosndiering how our narrative is going to be structured.

Anyone outside of my tutorial class probably isn't aware of the overriding 'plot' I guess that is going to drive Amazon - him applying his makeup, or 'putting on a face' in preparation of going on stage. Of course, he isn't really going on stage, in fact the only gigs he has in the near future are corporate gigs that us rogue filmmakers are not privy to viewing. Thus, the order in which we ask our questions is going to prove elementally crucial in how this thing comes together. Because the beginning of the piece is going to be more observational before moving into exploratory mode, we need to get the timing exactly right. It usually takes Amazon a good 2-3 hours to apply full drag makeup - right from shaving to putting on the wig. If we ask all our questions at the beginning, the audience isn't going to be able to see his transformation.

The challenge for us is going to be compressing 2-3 hours worth of rushes and synthesising a decent 'story' out of it. The other media we plan to use - past shows and photographs - can help to bridge some of these gaps, but it's going to be bleedingly obvious if you weren't on top of your game during filming.

Moral of the Story: Like Sound, the structuring of time is probably far more crucial in documentary than in drama filmmaking... Given that there is somewhat less room for 'trickery', and every move you make serves to reinforce a particular message about your subject...

3 more sleeps.

Monday, September 10, 2007

More of a chance winning Tattslotto, I wonder?

Well, I'm back. A little older, a little wise (ha!) and a whole lot more fearful about the direction my life is taking! YIPPEE.

In short, I think the real reason lecturers throw 'guest lectures' in every now & then is to scare the pants off people. Phlippa was an aweseome presenter - getting to hear about someone who is out there & 'living the (proverbial) dream' is always somewhat grounding... But it just makes you realise how BLOODY IMPOSSIBLE the Howard Government has made it for those of us who care deeply about documentary to make a real crust out of working with it.

I have done some research into this based on the information that was presented today and the reality is really quite bleak for our industry at present. I would like to take a moment to point you towards Lisa French's edited work, which has helped to contextualise exactly what we (as the future of this industry) are going to be dealing with.

French, L. (2001) Patterns of Production: The Australian Film Industry in the 1990s (ed. Craven, I.), Australian Cinema in the 1990s, first edition, Frank Cass, Essex

This piece – compiled by one of our homegrown lecturers – paints a very comprehensive overview of the political factors that have affected Australian film funding over the past two decades. It identified the election of the Howard Liberal government as the cornerstone of this demise, as its election in 1996 was made on the premise to cut spending to almost all areas, including the arts. Unlike its Labour predecessors – most memorably the Whitlam and Keating governments – whose public backing of federal funding towards cinema was at its peak, the Coalition has done precious little to encourage the production of local films. Rather, its strong Capitalist principles have resulted in the encouragement of foreign investment and the production of foreign films in Australia, which, predictably, has had a dramatic impact upon the local screen culture. With the market dominated by mostly American product, it has proven excessively difficult for Australian feature films (and to an even greater extent, documentaries) to replicate the successes they reap, mainly because the processes involved in getting government funding in the first place has become elongated and intensely limited. As French rightfully points out, there is no foreseeable time where films will not be reliant upon government support – thus the more restrictive and dollar driven it is, the less able we are to cultivate our unique cultural aesthetic.


Having an affinity for the creative? Sometimes, it just bites the big one.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I may be director, but that doesn't mean I don't get to have my moods pampered on occasion, too!

Spent most of today's tutorial once more bouncing ideas off one another as far as our docos were concerned. Josh's group have already got some stuff on tape, sons of bitches. Nah, good on 'em, this isn't a competition, but if it were they would definitely be a few goals ahead of us. We're going to be so behind by the next tutorial, because we decided not to get the gear out this weekend, either.. Yes, folks, it's my birthday in two days' time, and one thing I was NOT entirely enthused with the prospect of having to put on the 'uni face' for my once-every-365-days' respite from reality. My deepest apologies... BUT I had a presentation + 2 things to hand in on my birthday last year (my 21st) and I swore black and blue that uni could go to hell whenever I had a birthday next.. And as much as I love this subject, there's no breaching my credo!

Anyway, the 'Stacey' doco is looking pretty cool... I mean, for the first viewing of the rushes, they seem to have done well. Some cool pans, and for the most part the sound worked out well. It's good to know that lapel mics are pretty powerful devices. We're in two minds about using lapel mics or just relying on the boom in ours.. Now that we aren't using a public space anymore, it may work out better to just use the boom. Amazon's flatmate has agreed to let us use his (fairly decent sized) ensuite (which is also a laundry, which would account for its size). It's relatively enclosed, nothing like the theatrical back-stage feel the last location had.

We've short listed all the photos we'll be using in the doco. Some of them are real pearlers... haha. Gotta get my arse off to Teds and print them before next week. Other than that we haven't got much else to prepare for. All our questions are finalised and we are in a good space as a group for the upcoming filming process. I'm actually really glad to have landed a group of only 3... it's so nice only having to coordinate 2 other schedules besides my own, and the boys are really flexible when it comes to meeting after hours etc.

Time to do my Australian Cinema reading log. Yay :P

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

sound, glorious sound

Could I have said it any better??
"One of the major stylistic characteristics of documentaries that use sounds recorded on location is the lack of clarity of the sound track. Ambient sounds compete with dialogue in ways commonly deemed unaccpetable to in conventional Hollywood practice. A low signal-to-noise ratio demands greater attention from viewers to decipher spoken words. Slight differences in room tone between shots make smooth sound transitions difficult."-Jeffrey Ruoff

Yes, I am quoting from the Dossier! But only because he is RIGHT ON THE MONEY. Documentary is so contradictory because so much of it depends upon location, location, location, and the nature of the recording environment (where you want to tackle somewhat INTERESTING, INNOVATIVE ground) works completely against the fact that you need shit hot sound in order for it to work! ARGH.

Unless, of course, you're planning to make a documentary about a recording studio. Now there's an idea.

Monday, September 3, 2007

the hills are alive... with the sound of evasionnnnn

Well, I returned the gear this morning and, suffice to say, we did not end up doing any filming this weekend. I imagine this is how it must feel for pregnant women who end up going to the hospital, expecting to go into full labour but find out it is just a false alarm. Bollocks. It's not like it was anything any of us could control, but at the same time I just wish I'd got them to confirm their consent in writing so that we weren't all just stranded like that. Makes me feel unprofessional and amateurish, and no matter how true either adjective may be, they still don't sit any better with me.

Anyway, enough of that. Today's lecture focussed on - ta da! - Sound. Always a winner with me. It was good to get an idea of how to set up the perfect recording environment as far as lighting is concerned. As most of you are no doubt painfully aware, I am Technologically Challenged to a fault - not necessarily with all electronics, but certainly with filming equipment. Part of my being Challenged can be attributed to a deep-seated fear of the apparatus, and what will come of me if I damage it, and the other half is merely plain ignorance. Obviously there is no excuse for that. So you can imagine how beneficial it was to sit in on today's class and just get real pointers on how to achieve nice, clean sound.

As we've had it drummed into our heads over the past 2 months, sound is THE MOST IMPORTANT element within documentary filmmaking. Even if your visuals are shit, your last saving grace will come in the form is crisp, levelled sound. The reason for this? Well, think about it. If you're viewing a documentary about something unfamiliar to you, you could pretty much have any visual thrown at you, but if you're distracted by poor quality or stilted sound, there is no way you (or more specifically, your audience) are going to remain engaged for that entire 3-7 minutes.

There are also many varieties of sound one needs to take into account when crafting one's documentary. Keeping in mind we're working with stereo (thus working wtih both left and right channels) we are going to have to sub-divide all our sounds in order to make sure their effects are being maximised. Meaning we would need to keep all narration, music, atmos, sound effects, dialogue, foley etc separate, or at least in separate tracks. This is pretty much how it was done last semester - if there is one thing that horrific experience with ADR in drama has taught me, it is how to set up the perfect synch sound pallet on Final Cut - even though I'm not a pro with connecting all the gear up.
Besides, that's Anthony's job :P

Saturday, September 1, 2007


Well, we got jibbed. The venue (Market) who had originally agreed to let us use their dressing room facilities has conveniently decided that they don't want to pay someone to open up early for us, so here we are, frantically trying to make other arrangements with other hotels.. but we have a slight issue... NONE OF THE GAY BARS ARE OPEN DURING THE DAY! The earliest bar opens at 4, which happens to be when I finish, which happens to be when we were MEANT to be on our way to South Yarra in order to film. What a bloody nuisance! I have all the gear in my car and everything... and I've been psyching myself up for this all week and I'm worried about what David will say because this will effectively put us behind all the rest.. ARGH! So much stress, especially from where I'm standing. I mean I love being Director, don't get me wrong - but I just can't help but feel like the onus is on me 99% of the time, 'cause I'm the one steering this ship.. so to speak.
I'm waiting impatiently for a miracle here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

counting down the days

With just two days left until we officially begin filming, things are rapidly beginning to fall into place.

We picked up the gear this afternoon, after our meeting with Christine for the final verdict on our written submissions. She gave us a few more handy suggestions - ones that we could have done well to receive before actually HANDING IN the final copy, but them's the breaks. The only notable change is that we'll be bringing along copies of the photos we are using in the montage to have Amazon give us some anecdotal stories.. The idea of having him comment upon the current Miss Melbourne Drag heats came up in conversation, but there is the very real possibility that we won't get time to incorporate everything in the time frame we've been given.

Other housekeeping stuff like requesting copyright was brought to our attention - and as far as aethetics go, we've been told to be mindful of not letting style overtake or get in the way of the subject's story. Although this was never our intention, I guess it's something we need to take on board seriously if we want this to be as successful as we're hoping.

Speaking of which... I really hope this week's exercises don't get shown to the other classes (as with Lenny last semester). I went to edit the footage the boys captured on Monday night and couldn't find any of the original stuff; I was sure we had more angles than what they used in the 'sequence' - I swear that program is elusive! Still, I edited what was there down from 1:13 to 1:01, and like I suspected, the audio really did turn out an embarrassing shambles. Thank god we get the opportunity to do this stuff before hitting the road - I can't fathom the thought of going through the whole gut-wrenching process of production only to have it turn out like that. That said, it probably wouldn't bother me so much if I wasn't a part of the on-screen footage, at least that way other people wouldn't automatically associate me with complete and utter mishaps :P

Well. The next 48 hours are going to be... intense to say the least! Bring it on I say.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

fascinating viewing

One documentary I have been meaning to comment on for a while is Flight from Death - one of the most gripping cultural commentaries I have had the pleasure of viewing. The recipient of a modest 5 reputable awards, I am surprised this text has not been included in any of our lectures to date.

Based on a bestselling book by Ernest Becker, the purpose of this documentary is to examine the fear we have manifested within ourselves as a race of the very inevitable - death. Even though the film is of the ominisciently narrated variety (by Gabriel Byrne), I found the visual playbacks to be sufficiently enticing and did not feel that the content was subtracted from in any way by this. Both thoughtful and thought provoking, it really did a fine job of resonating with ontological reasoning we have been conditioned by since day 1... and what it also cleverly managed to do was turn that reasoning around into something more questioning of our everyday existence, highlighting just what lengths we have gone to in order to prevent the natural act of dying.

Without giving the game away too much, I will just say that everyone reading this blog needs to check out this film. From the beautiful prose and accompanying, moving nature photography to the insidious commercial profiteering (signposted by a wicked soundtrack), Flight from Death contains both rich, complex mind-material as well as a beautifully balanced audio-visual treat. Something to extract ideas from as well as broaden your understanding of the genre as a whole, and possibly come to grips with the way you see your own life (or death) headed in the years (or moments) to come.

Monday, August 27, 2007

cinematography - not just limited to 'drama'

As the title suggests, this is an aspect to documentary that requires virtually just as much planning across the genres. Today's was quite an informative lecture, and I really liked the fact that David and Paul has Christine sitting down as the subject, offering different suggestions about conducting our interviews. These suggestions ranged from the lighting, to mise en scene (eg- the rule of thirds), to depth of field and focal length - the kind of nitty-gritty that can dramatically affect the end product, and is pertinent to the day of shooting so needs to be well thought-out.

One thing I'll need to clarify with the boys is the way we intend to use lighting.. I think we can really do better than one redhead (currently what we've opted to hire) and think imaginatively about how lighting can compliment the transition our subject undergoes. It is something worth thinking about at least and definitely worth finalising in the next couple of days.

I found the reading about Kirsten Johnston quite inspiring this week. Particularly given that she has worked on a lot of autobiographical documentaries, a lot of what she had to say is both relevant and useful. Nicely tied in with the ethical boundaries we discussed last week, she commented on the notion of politically questioning documentaries, and the need to take risks with people who (she) believes have a vision about a particular subject matter. This really reflects the direction in which we wish to steer Amazon - ours (and his) dream is for the eventual cohesion within the gay community and worldwide understanding/acceptance of all character types, whether it be drag queens or another minority group.

The ways we then use the production elements can then act as a salient reinforcements of this positive vision, but only if they are executed in a subtle and engaging manner. The way the shots are framed, for example, needs to be quite specific depending on the content we are discussing. The start and the end of the film are going to be quite different in emotional tone, and thus the other elements such as lighting and compositon need to be able to complement this shift.

Friday, August 24, 2007

done and dusted

Well, with the final proposals all tweaked and submitted, there's not much left to do except sit back and wait for our next meeting with Christine, while preparing anxiously for our shoot in little over a week's time.

It's too bad neither of the boys are on campus today, because I'd have liked to make a start on editing the material we filmed in the tutes the other day. For those out of the know, we were asked to film an observational scenario, i.e. a conversation, by getting a few different angles (but keeping the audio consistent in editing) and just seeing how the production elements turned out. I am positive our sound is going to be crap, as we filmed at a noisy construction site, for starters, and the guy who spoke to us about what was happening - while an altogether friendly and likeable character - spoke at the rate of a million miles a minute in his exceedingly thick Irish accent. We didn't get enough time to film anyone else, so it'll have to do, but I have a feeling we're going to be blushing (me in particular, cause I have a feeling I'm on the tape too) in front of our peers when we go to play it back - ah well, live and learn I suppose.

I should add, though, that I thoroughly enjoyed the next instalment from Rabiger in this week's dossier. I just love the way he has put information together to create such cohesive and ultimately helpful chapters. Given that our main interview is so closeby now, having his suggestions for setting and technique have really been a timely source of inspiration. He makes a point that I touched upon in one of my earleir posts, about how directing 'need not be manipulative'. His way of defining an 'interview' - as a meaningful exchange between two or more people - really forces us aspiring doco-heads to consider the ways in which we approach our subject, as not just an interrogative force but an entrusted body. It is setting, preparation, skill and forethought all rolled into one - it is the essence of the production and the sole foundation upon which audiences will base their concluding judgements.

Due to its brevity, this is the sort of thing that can't be 'winged': audiences will be able to discern whether or not this relationship is a truly trusting one or just a 'face' for the camera. Fortunately I have spent quite a bit of quality, get-to-know-you time with my subject, who in fact offered to be involved in this production without me having to ask. Fingers crossed this will come through in the material and the final product, because I would hate to think my own lack of preparation or consideration could affect everything else... like a dangerous domino effect in reverse.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

advice from the king

We booked the equipment today - and are all gung ho to begin shooting next Saturday. The 1st of September - what a way to start the month, and the season. To say I'm gut-wrenchingly nervous is a complete understatement.

We have confirmation on the dressing room at Exchange, so at least the location/logistical side of things is sorted. Thankfully I have a car so we can get all gear as well as the 3 of us there, and Amazon now lives just 3 blocks away, so it works out to be a convenient location for all of us.

The final version of the treatments is due in two days - we've completed the bulk of it, but it's the fine-tuning and actual articulation of what we want to do that's seemingly taking the longest. One aspect that we had not put much considertaion into for our initial draft was our target audience - and it would feel as though this aspect is taking the longest to craft. So far we have a couple of paragraphs, which I might just put up here for the sake of it, in case anyone in cyberspace has any musings to offer on the topic:

While we are confident that vast kinds of audiences will be able to appreciate Amazon’s story, the main target audience of our work will be Victorian homosexual men between the ages of 18-50 – that is, the key demographic that are most familiar with and likely to partake in drag activities themselves.

Because our subject is widely known within this community, an exposure of his personal story will indeed be of interest to those that may have seen him perform in the past. And given that the main conflict within this story – besides that of Amazon’s dual identities – reflects critically upon the divisive nature of the modern gay world, the underlying message is one of hope that drag queens will someday become a more widely accepted part of not only society as a whole, but in particular among gay men.

Furthermore, this demographic are a media-savvy, media consuming bunch who will probably have watched many documentaries on their favourite performing artists. Indeed, for someone with so much talent and experience in this arena, precious few Victorians (let alone fellow Australians) are aware of Amazon’s impressively unique - albeit somewhat colourful - history. This two-fold process of ‘revelation’ will take viewers on a journey that may well not be far in physical distance, but will nonetheless transport them to a captivating, yet painstakingly realist atmosphere (one which audiences either young or old can certainly appreciate).

Sounding alright? I can't believe how long these things are shaping up to be - we're looking at something in the vicinity of six pages. I suppose there are considerably less pre-production aspects to doco than there are to drama, so I can see why they'd want us to be absolutely specific at this point in time. Still, it's a fairly consuming process - and as nervous as I am about filming, this whole 'a little less conversation, a little more action' (cheers Mr Presley) fever is starting to take hold... cause part of me just can't wait to get my Directorly hands on that set to roll camera and watch the magic transpire all over again.

Patience, they say, is a virtue.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

the ethics of filmmaking

It's an onus few of us really take the time to stop and grasp - the ways in which we are portraying another person's life to the rest of the world.

Essentially, this is the premise upon which all documentary filmmaking lies. The presence of the camera, the exlusion (and by extension, deliberate inclusion) of certain material and the physical manipulation (i.e. editing) of material are not merely aesthetic choices, but things that affect the viewers' relationship and impression of the subject in very purposeful ways.

On one hand, the audience expects that it will be left with a certain image and discovery of the subject, but on the other, the subject expects that they will be treated with adequate care and responsibility, so that they are not portrayed (or worse case, chastised) as sympathy-grabbers or whores of attention. It really is a difficult balancing act - because every decision you make from pre- to post- production can affect the overall tone of the piece, and contributes to a representation that you, as an integral artist, wish to produce. I would argue personally that this isn't nearly as much about manipulation as it is simply just trying to be fair... I also guess the fact that I have a personal friendship with the character in our piece affects my stance on this and makes me ultra-wary of not overstepping the boundaries and painting him the in the 'wrong light' completely.

The underlying ethical issue, for us, is the reflexive commentary we wish to make on the gay scene itself... We do not want to make drag queens appear as 'offbeat' nuisances, but we are definitely not looking to turn it into a mass plea for pity against these so-called social outcasts. I know Amazon would hate that, and so would we. Thus we need to be very careful of the questions we ask, the wording, the order, the technical conventions we employ and the consistency of the tone.

The fact that someone has entrusted you with their story is a privilege, and one that you can never, ever take for granted. Perhaps the best way to avoid becoming redundant or dogmatic is to constantly source the opinion of others. I know I'll be getting plenty of non-media students to view this along the way and offer suggestions. Sometimes I find the best ways to connect with the 'everyday' viewer is to get someone who doesn't read into films the same way we do and have them explain things in their own words. At least that way it is more of an indication of the reaction we would get if this was ever going to be shown outside of this course.

Friday, August 17, 2007

edits and changes

The meeting with Christine this week was fortuitous. Here are the changes she has suggested we implement:

-try to eliminate the formal documentary aspect and go through all our interview material while he is getting ready - to ensure reactions are not contrived in any respect
-cut out the interviews with the best friends. rather, have them present while we are filming Amazon getting changed
-include, and perhaps begin with, a slice of his 'everyday' existence, i.e. sitting at his desk in his role as a Medibank office worker
-dig as deep as we can into his persona: try to pinpoint the internal conflict faced by having a side to your own character that has the potential to compromise one's own happiness
-focus more upon his character than anything else

The readings this week were nothing to write home about (I'm just being truthful), however I did enjoy the first reading on Musical Documentaries, particularly as I could relate a lot of the material from what we saw of Drinking for England. I find Brian Hill an incredibly inspiring filmmaker and his treatment of the subject in Drinking for England was really quite remarkable... I love how he was able to get his point across without seeming overly pitiful or judgemental of the subject. I guess this is a notion we can explore further next week when the focus is on 'ethics' and what that means for us as the creators (of the representations) of other peoples' lives...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

defining and applying aesthetic concepts

To springboard this week's lecture discussion centering on aesthetics, we watched part of a documentary on John Wojtowicz (whose life was the basis of the film ‘Dog Day Afternoon’). If nothing else, watching this excerpt really hammered home the prevalence and centripetal nature of sound in documentary filmmaking.

The music, to begin with, was the most emotive aspect of the production. Whether to elicit suspense or create ambience, sound was the inherent vehicle upon which every internal reaction in the audience could be solicited. The phone call audio used at the very beginning was also a powerful tool, as it gave a feeling of authenticity and curious uncertainty - the audience were cast almost as voyeurs, listening in remotely on someone's private calls. Implicating viewers in such a scenario is the ultimate tool of engagement here, one that the filmmaker had obviously thought about well in advance.

I guess the most defining aspect of describing any kind of aesthetics is to be 100% familiar with its treatment of style. In the case of our own documentaries, we are aiming to produce a very experimental, boundary-cutting work. Given the nature of our subject and his own colourful existence, we can only do him justice by having our production style mirror the contagious idiosyncrasies of his character.

There will, of course, be some strict adherence to convention as well. Although it will structurally retain a clear beginning, middle and end, Amazon will not only portray a fusion of character, but also a fusion of styles. On one hand, it aims to give an overwhelming degree of visual continuity – that is, to have shots smoothly dissolve into one another accompanied by seamless voiceovers (i.e. to make viewers feel as though they are literally ‘turning the pages’ of a biography). However, to compliment the more complex natue of his personality, we wish to utilise several effects in post-production to manipulate the relationship between time, space and what it seen, giving our documentary an aesthetic edge. This will be done strategically and where appropriate to compliment the content of the subject's accounts.

As with the docmuentary on John Wojtowicz, the overall intention is to produce a technically cogent program to elicit a wide array of feelings, ranging from excitement to suspense (where necessary). Given that the notion of appearances will be thoroughly explored, his costume will be given significant treatment - though most certainly not at the expense of the aural component of the production. We intend to use several sounds – both diegetic and non-diegetic, each being employed to fill their own unique purposes. Sound montages will accompany visual montages, with calmer parts of the background music accompanying the still images, and more rapid bits of film being entwined with the faster beats.

The transition from 'guy to goddess' will provide viewers with a hands-on account of what it is truly like is to go from one persona to another. At the documentary's end, he will transpire as being much more than merely a 'boy in a dress'.

getting there - getting square

I have to say, I am really a big fan of the way prac sessions are being conducted this semester. I love how we have sprung straight into learning the ropes with the technical side of the equipment - something that has never been my forte, for any part of my academic career.

The Z1Ps truly are sweet little devices. If I could, I would bring one home and marry it. The most taxing aspect to wrap my brain around has been (by far) that of sound... Ironic, really, considering it plays such a major role in the construction and coherence of any good doco. Even this afternoon, it took so long just to plug everything in and make sure we had equipment that was in working order... I swear, filmmakers and film crew must be some of the most patient people on the planet. Thankfully, however, I am slowly learning the ropes - with the help of cheat sheets and dossier guides, not to mention easy-to-remember phrases such as 'line in, mic out'... every little bit counts.

It's also been good having consistent exercises to complete in our groups each week. We interviewed one of Anthony's friends this week (informally, of course) about a life-changing moment... probably more camera time for me than what would have been desirable, but it was a useful means of experimenting with the equipment and finding out the advantages and disadvantages of using both boom and lapel microphones.. clearly each has its separate merits.. but this way we were able to discern for ourselves what worked and what didn't within the various recording settings. We'll definitely be using the radio/lapel mic on our subject for filming, and now we know how to hook it up to the camera and sound box which is an even bigger bonus.

All in all, a satisfying tute. I'll write more later on this week's lecture topic - got a few more parts of the draft final I want to work through before blogging about it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

you can lead a horse to water...

'Whatever else movies do, they invite viewers to think for themselves, without intermediary, narrator or correspondent.'
-Robert Drew

...Or do they? In a perfect world, documentaries are a perfect balance of revelation and judgement - that is, their point of view is so subtle and undemanding, audiences are inadvertently implicated within it. The article the above quote came from is part of this week's third reading - the first part, to be exact. Neither the boys (there is only 3 of us now, by the way, as Christine has gone to another group) nor I had even suggested using a narrator for this documentary, however we did stay back on Wednesday after class to watch Sadness - a doco directed by William Ayres, that centers around the life story of William Yang and how he grappled with his Asian identity and losing so many of his friends to the AIDS epidemic of the early 1990s. This film contained quite a bit of narration by Yang, something that both Deno and I thought detracted from the content because of its prevalence. The story would have been much more effective if it hadn't been so formulaic, and had strove to step outside the square much more than it did. Especially considering how powerful some of the content was, it could definitely have been executed in a more discrete manner - a more aesthetic one, at the very least. Something else for us to keep in mind with our own productions, that's for sure.

I want to catch another doco @ MIFF this weekend, seeing as it's about to wrap up, but I'll have to play it by ear and make sure I have enough cash and everything else. It'd be good to see though. I'm also considering hiring out 'Capturing the Freidmans' for a bit more inspo... everyone I'ce talked to about it said it was good, and David did mention that there were a few twists in it. And we like twisted, don't we? (Rhetorical question, I know)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

the great divide: arguing for argument's sake?

The first reading for this week, written by Paul Ward (entitled Fiction and Nonfiction: The Grea Divide?) highlights an ongoing debate between the respective genres of doco and drama that has been simmering away in the cauldron for decades. Personally, I don't see why so many people get their knickers in a twist when one mode borrows stylistic elements from the other and appropriates them as it sees fit. To me, it's kind of like that whole naturalistic VS digital photography debate... it's old! And anyone who thinks otherwise needs to get with the times and move on, and accept the fact that technological convergence has given birth to a certain convergence in genres over the years, that is not nearly as much of a bad thing as the puritans would have us believe.

Take, for instance, Aussie filmmaker Murali K. Thalluri's feature length debut of last year - 2:37. Though it was a completely dramatised account of one girl's final day in school (the day the commits suicide), it contains several interview-style black and white sequences typical of documentary, but used in this case to heighten the sense of drama and conflict within the narrative. In this day and age, filmmakers don't just use these unconventional effects willy nilly, they're there to serve a particular purpose. And if blurring the distinctions from time to time makes anyone uncomfortable, I feel sorry for them!

In postmodern times, we should be revelling in the opportunity to experiment and borrow from other genres. We plan to use aesthetic elements from both naturalistic and experimental documentaries.. there's nothing wrong with hybrids, people! If you can balance one thing with another, then that is a work of genius - not madness. The fact of the mater is, documentary to modern audiences consists of far more than your average discovery channel polemic - it requires artistry and craftsmanship if it is going to succeed against its increasingly stiff competitors - yes, including drama.

Monday, August 6, 2007

time is ticking away

Side note: Today marks the fourth week back at uni for the semester - and my head is totally spinning out at the fact that was are practically one third of the way through already. How scary is that??!!

The lecture today acted as a kind of follow-on from the last week. We're basically being given every hint/tool/tip and trick in the book in order to narrow our focus and establish our storylines on paper, the idea being that audiences will then have a reason to willingly sacrifice their time and embrace what you've put together.

We've so far managed to get about halfway through the proposal.. We've written a synopsis, character analyses, and discussed the 'story' aspect of the doco. The working title we have so far is simply 'Amazon', but we've agreed to change it if any one of us comes up with something more fitting. We're hoping to cover style, structure, and the audio side of things befoe the next class, that way we won't have to run around like headless chooks before Friday. Here's a small taste of what to expect:

The storyline will adhere to classic narrative-style conventions. It will begin with an initial premise – i.e. the vibrant side of being Amazon – before confronting the internal conflict surrounding duality, and how drag queens are both received and perceived within the gay community. By uncovering the personal story of one of the Melbourne (and formerly International) drag scene's hidden gems, the many aspects of his personality will unfold as multi-dimensional layers in and of themselves Indeed, for someone with so much talent and experience in this arena, precious few Victorians (let alone fellow Australians) are aware of his impressively unique - albeit somewhat trying - history. This two-fold process of ‘revelation’ will take viewers on a journey that may well not be far in physical distance, but will nonetheless transport them to a captivating, yet painstakingly realist atmosphere (one which audiences either young or old can certainly appreciate).

We want this doco to have a few different textures to it, in the same way The Butcher's Wife does - i.e., we want to include elements of 'intimate conversation' and infuse those with more character-based activities, such as getting ready and taking to the stage. We've also tossed about ideas of weaving popular culture, or at least iconography into the mix - seeing as drag queens are so often associated with the realm of celebrities and stagecraft. Amazon's already indicated that he's more than happy to dig up some old photos for us to include, so at least we'll also have stills to play with and edit accordingly if need be.

The more ideas we come up with, the more excited I am about seeing this thing come to fruition. It's gonna be a long haul - I know that - but there is something incredibly rewarding about knowing that your idea has a real tangibility to it.. like you have a purpose, almost. I really can't explain it any other way.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

doco shorts

Well, as most of my avid fans would know, I caught the doco shorts programme 2 at Greater Union on Friday night. And, besides the one or two productions that made me nod off, I have to say it was definitely money well spent at the cinema - not something one can profess too often nowadays.

The first doc, entitled I want to be a pilot, was a moving, poetic account of a young HIV orphan, who was later revealed to be HIV positive himself. Turned out that it wasn't about one child specifically, but illustrated the fate of tens of thousands of children living out in the slums of East Africa. The boy had such haunting eyes... and both the pace and texture of the film were just painstakingly beautiful.

Out of all the documentaries, though, I would have to say the biggest highlight for me was The Butcher's Wife. It was just such an awe-inspiring piece, both from a filmmaking and human psychology point of view. To think that one woman put herself through so much and could then come out from that to become the subject of such a wonderful aesthetic is mind-blowing. I especially loved the way her daughter infused the story with bits of dramatised footage as well as more formal interviewing... not to mention the sheer perfection of the sound at all times I guess it was just good to see good quality documentary filmmaking happening so close to home - apparently the girl (Kylie) was/is a student of the VCA. The beginning of a long and vibrant career, I hope.

Lipari wasn't bad, stylistically. It was the only doc that didn't contain explicit dialog, and that seemed to work. The Fighting Cholitas was as informative as it was amusing... really loved the whole corny pro-wrestling touch of the dialogue boxes.. haha. And the way the women were filmed.. both in their domestic and 'professional' settings. Again, multi-layering. And the way it was structured was just really engaging and built up to a pretty exciting climax. This is all stuff I've taken on board for crafting our own up-and-coming short documentary.

Speaking of which, it's high time I did some more work on this proposal. Did I mention this? We've all decided on what we're doing - and my doc it is. :)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

round of applause

Well, thankfully we managed to narrow it down to two choices in yesterday's class - either mine or Christine's (shop-a-holics). I guess that makes the research process slightly less cumbersome. Any progress is good progress at this stage :) And we also have a fourth member! Exciting stuff, it's good to have as many men as we can to lend a hand on deck. AND, most magnificently, I HAVE BEEN APPOINTED AS DIRECTOR. I am so freaking over the moon about this, considering how little input I was able to give last time 'round. THREE CHEERS FOR ME IN THE BIG CHAIR :D

Let's hope I can hold my game, eh?

It was good getting to dissect each group's ideas properly in the class. I guess what we need to focus on now are visual arrangements and how to best go about wowing our audiences with style as well as content... I love the thrill of the challenege though. Drama kept us so confined in what we could and couldn't do, whereas in this mode I feel like we can afford many more aesthetics or at least experiment with them on some level. Moderation is the key, folks, always remember that.

Off to catch the second run of the docos at MIFF tomorrow evening. Will be sure to report back on my observations :D No doubt I'll want to cry and throw in the towel and have a whinge about how jealous I am... but still..!

Monday, July 30, 2007

pre-production with a twist

So the course seems to be moving full steam ahead as far as moving our projects along is concerned. This week we're focusing on the research aspect of our proposals - seeing as the written draft is going to be due at the end of next week. Talk about a whirlwind process! But it's keeping us on our toes at least.

Having read Rabiger's reading for this week, I am starting to feel a little overwhelmed. There just seems like there is so much intense ground to cover, so much thorough preparation that we need to undergo... and we haven't even decided on what to do as yet! I know that a strong pre-production is essential for any final production to work out... Things can't exactly go according to plan if there is none! But it just feels like the undertow of the semester will drag us all with it unless we get cracking - sooner rather than later.

On the plus side, it's good that we have been told just what specifics we need to address. Thus eliminating the possibility of leaving anything out. I really do hope we get to follow through with my concept; I think a subject matter such as a drag queen will give us a better chance of crafting a documentary that is both engaging and contains a visual edge. Either way though, the way we go about it will determine the outcome - and as long as we're all prepared to put in 100% then I'm sure the outcome will speak for itself.

Getting the chance to make a documentary on a subject who happens to be my friend will also give me a chance to examine the nature of our friendship. Which, for reasons I won't detail here is quite complex. The lens of art would be a brilliant dimension to add to it though.. Which is why I am quite intent on seeing it through, because I really think it will be a positive dynamic not just for the purposes of this project but for the possible enrichment of one of my dearest friendships. Creativity is a wonderous thing.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

getting it together

Groupwork is on the horizon again - this time I'm not the only Prof Commer in the group, in fact there are two of us so watch out folks: strength in numbers!

I'm with Antony and Christine this time around. Really looking forward to working with these guys, they seem really enthusiastic and willing to include others which is always a plus.

Both of this weeks readings served to reinforce what Christine covered in the lecture - that is, to focus on the nature of storytelling and to define that burning question in pre-production (in other words, to pin down the 'main point' that you wish to illustrate).

Unfortunately I won't be able to make it to MIFF this week - being flown to Sydney tomorrow afternoon as part of a work function. BUT I will be getting my rear into gear next week, so hopefully there will be a few familiar faces there. Would hate to think of myself as the one and only doco geek in this entire course :P

Also, not that is even deserves a mention, but the final of Big Brother is going to be on next week. Even though I never watch the show during the 'season', I always like to tune into the final, keeping up appearances with popular culture so to speak. And, although it pains me to admit it, reality TV has changed the face of communications forever, and as annoying as it is, I can't really spend an entire year of my life having studied the intricacies of both 'drama' AND 'documentary' without fostering some kind of appreciation for the formats in which they converge.

And that, friends, is what the real success of 'reality TV' - for all its unmistakable crassness - can be rightfully attributed to.

what say you?

Alright, so this is the concept I am going to be pitching in today's class: opinions anyone?

Oh, and for those out of the know - I am a faghag by trade and Amazon is a good friend of mine. :D

What a Scene

When exotic stage performer Amazon celebrated her twentieth birthday in June of this year, Jamie turned thirty-four. With two decades of solid experience as a drag queen, What a Scene is an expose of the rich and colourful character that resides behind the glitz and glamour of a seasoned scene professional.

Hailing from New Zealand with Islander parents, Amazon spent the first fifteen years of her career establishing a name for herself overseas. Having ‘come out’ about her sexuality in her teens meant that she was able to establish herself as a name early on. However, this admission came at a personal cost as her lifestyle conflicted with the traditional beliefs held by her parents, who sternly rejected their son’s flamboyant homosexuality.

Consequently, the earlier part of her career was very much a lone journey that resulted in numerous risk-taking behaviours, almost jeopardising her career. Then, in her early twenties, Amazon was later diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder), for which she sought treatment and promptly returned work. She literally took the Auckland gay scene by storm, performing 6 out of 7 nights a week (with one week off in each month) for the next 4 years.

In 2002, after re-establishing a relationship with her family, Amazon’s quest to broaden her sense of self brought her to the shores of Melbourne, Australia, whereupon she has continued to win hearts and wow audiences. Although she no longer performs full-time, she is a very prominent and respected figure within the queer talent scene. What a Scene will delve beneath the wig and false eyelashes, documenting a step-by-step transformation from being Jamie to becoming Amazon. It will critically explore the subtleties and nuances surrounding identity, femininity and performance, and how they affected the other areas of her life.

The documentary aims to reveal the difficulties she has overcome in order to express her inner creativity within a minority group that is becoming increasingly rife with exclusion and divisiveness.

Word count: 315

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

belief: what is it?

Well, how do I define something that is so instilled in our beings since day 1...

Commonly, the term is used interchangeably with 'faith' - be it in religious or spiritual sense. But the term has quite a lot of versatility to it, given that our conditioning and beliefs are often held so deeply and with such conviction. I think it's fascinating that we were given this as a working concept for the medium of documentary, seeing as the crux of the medium operates upon being able to uncover the truth, or what to believe, per se.

But belief can be any number of things. Courage, committment, certainty, throwing caution to the wind... and what about disbelief? Isn't that too a belief in itself? I guess the real difference is that belief is generally given a positive connotation, and rightfully so. So many people have fought for what they believe in, and for that I admire their steadfastness. Belief, to me, is inherently stubborn, but nonetheless, a necessity - for what kind of world would we live in if it were devoid of any of these things? Would the world even exist for us?

There's an idea worth pondering.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Today's lecture brought back missed memories from the Writing Media Texts days... it was great to have Christine back in the lecture theatre, and a treat to have her share her expertise in this field with all of us once more.

The primary topic for today's class was focus: we were forced to ask ourselves what we want to hone in out, topic-wise, so that our documentaries actually say something and now just show. To illustrate the case in point, we watched a bit of a documentary made last year about a Commercial Dominatrix - fascinating subject matter, but it didn't really hit the nail on the head with regards to storytelling. Thus, it didn't reach its full potential.

I think it's all too easy to get caught up in the 'drama vs doco' mindset and end up discarding elements that could enrich the genre you are working with. In the case of 'Dominate', the aforementioned doco, the group really neglected to shape the documentary with a beginning, middle and end. It might sound like basic narrative structuing here, but that's because it is - just because documentary is not fictional by definiton, does not mean that we can just do away with the basic premises that govern all forms of filmmaking.

I guess it was like a 'beware' to the rest of us - know your subject, know your focus. And most importantly, know your audience and what you want them to walk away feeling after seeing what you have to show to them...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

leacock's reading - 'a search for the feeling of being there'

I gotta say, the tone and articulacy with which Richard Leacock recounts his experiences in filmmaking is quite inspiring. Maybe that's something for me to strive towards in this blog - getting just the right amount of description, infused with an insatiable zest and exuberance for a medium as addictive as the air we breathe.

After doing my readings this week, which have centered mostly on how to capture the essence of documentary - and how to define it - I feel like I am in a position to tackle it in a creative sense. Rabiger's reading, entitled 'The Director's role' makes a very resonating quote: "There are no limits to documentary's possibilities, but it always reflects a profound fascination with, and respect for, actuality". From thereon you can take the debate as to what constitutes 'actuality' in any direction you like, but the assumtpion remains the same. Documentary aims to uncover something tangible, something real, and the camera acts as the all-seeing visual apparatus at a level that our own eyes are incapable of reaching.

As a genre, I think documentary succeeds because it connects, most importantly, with our deeply-rooted desires for knowledge. Unlike drama, which plays upon our emotions, it offers us a sense of assurance and even privilege. This, I think, can be attributed to the switch in point of view, i.e. to an more observational mode of filming. Although the drama and doco are becoming increasingly convergent, I think it's important to remember exactly why each has its respective place - both in culture and in the industry.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

'take it like a man'

Well, today was an adventure of sorts. I love my tute group. I don't think everyone was there, but still. It's a nice, small class and I'm not with anyone I've ever worked with before. And unlike in my last prac group, there don't seem to be any pretentious types out there to do my head in. Always a welcomed relief, what can I say.

So we were given the proposition to work with: "Melbourne is..." - At first, we thought of '..abuzz with infrastructure', but I think it turned out to be simply '..noisy', in the end. Each group took five shots to illustrate whatever description they had come up with... My personal fave was the random tractor we got coming up on LaTrobe St from the Swanston St intersection. It was a MasterCard moment - Priceless.

I love navigating my way around the PD170s... such a pleasant little electronic device compared to what we were using for drama. Sweet as. I guess the bonus with doco as well is that I'll have much more of a chance to familiarise myself with the equipment - as the roles sound as though they'll be quite fluid and flexible. Thank god for that - I did feel kind of constricted being limited to doing the same thing the entire time last semester.

Introducing myself in class today brought it to my attention just how much of what I love about Cinema and have been involved with can be traced back to documentary... Even just little things, like winning an award in highschool in Year 11 Media for our mini-advertisements for our school. It's stuff like that that you don't really think about unless asked to, but when you do, so much of what's in front of you becomes absolutely transparent. Or, if you're Paul - serendipitous!

Monday, July 16, 2007

the insanity resumes

Well, it was only a matter of time before I made my grand re-entrance into the land of academic blogging. Welcome.

Despite the trials and tribulations of last semester, I did better than I expected. The break has also allowed me to rejuvenate and I can honestly say that I am excited about continuing this subject and getting another chance to put together another production project - and possibly my last during my career as an undergrad.

The lecture I suppose covered a few of the more basic principles of documentary filmmaking. Although I don't have the background some of the students do (those who are majoring in Cinema and did Documentary Studies last semester), I feel pretty confident in tackling the format - mostly because it's what I have been interested in from the beginning, and because I have a bit of a background from doing Broadcast Media last year, in which my group emulated a Getaway sequence. And some very classic documentary-style editing went into practice there.

Most refreshingly, I think, is the fact that the sky really is the limit with documentary - both subject-wise and as far as pushing the boundaries of convention go. There is such a vast amount of information out there that few of us are privy to - I'm not even talking in terms of political exposes... I just mean in general. And now that we have the ground workings in our mind from putting a short drama together, we can really afford to test ourselves as far as this next project goes.

Excited? I think, very :D

Friday, June 15, 2007

the final curtain draws to a close

So it's been two decent-sized weeks since my last real update, and I dont know that I have the energy to write about all that's transpired over them. So I'll just put post-production into a nice little nutshell for all of you, in the hopes that history never, ever repeats itself again.

In short, post was hell. I saw glimpses of it coming in pre-production, a wave of it in production (that I thought I could cope with), but after being told by Director dearest that if 'any of my ideas were good, they'd have made it onto (the Final Cut)'. Of course, hearing that made me livid, and made me realise why, subconsciously, I had given up any real hope of influencing the nature of this project a long, long time ago. I don't believe it was valid of the Director to make such a nasty comment, but at least I felt vindicated for not actually caring about how the final product turned out. That's right, they could have whipped anything up in there and knowing that my suggestions wouldn't have made a dent, I couldn't have cared less. It's just so uninspiring to be singled out like that. Yeah, the film IS good, but that is beside the point. It could have been much better, and time could have been saved along the way had my suggestions been heeded.

I am disappointed, mostly, at not having learnt my way around FCP as much as I'd have liked. I realise this is something I'll need to pick up in my own time, but still. I thought the objective of group work was to work as a team, not to pander to the whims of some hack-egomaniac who thinks he is gonna knock Spielberg off at the Box Office in the next 12 months. Bollocks. I put in a MASSIVE amount of work in pre-production, and my notes will indicate that. I did all that I could on the days of filming, despite what anyone else says, and went to great lenghts to try and learn as much about the technical side of things as I could (HELLO! did you I ever miss a class? I think not). In post, however, I got segregated and shut out, and basically told not to bother... and the only thing that has served to do is a) ignite my rage, and b) make me fifty billion times more determined to kick arse in semester 2.

If I can concentrate my energy on that, then maybe - just maybe - all this political group wank will seem somewhat worth it.

Let's hope that is the case.

'Til then.

Friday, June 1, 2007

pinch and a punch

Before getting my no-good arse into gear with this blog, my earlier entries were scattered between my old host and a bunch of WordPad documents. I fear the memory stick with a good half-dozen entries from April and at least 2 from the Easter break is at work, meaning I'll need to drop by after today's tute and pick it up. Arrgh. So much needless stuffing around. I guess it will be nice though to have them all in the one place, at long last. I kinda dig the look and feel of this blog now, I don't even have any desire to switch onto WordPess for TV2. And since I've figured out how to link everyone elses blog, there's no stopping me!

Last prac today - which will consist of viewing the rough cuts and doing our self/peer assessments. Thus, you can expect some nice, long-winded semesterly reviews in the not-so-distant future. Have I expressed my disbelief having at already arrived at the reflective part of the course yet?

I guess this was inevitable, though, like everything else. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 28, 2007

there's always someone cooler than you

Today panned out to be one of those 'which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?' type situations. So I think I'll just start with the good for the sake of our sanities.

GOOD: Everything looks amazing on film. The lighting is great, white balance is surprisingly consistent, the actors' expressions are flawless. Latch did a steady job as DoP, and things were generally well-timed.

BAD: The fucken sound is shot to shit. Half of it is good, the other half sucks some major hairy moose balls. How gutting. I don't even think we ca blame anyone as Kyle mentioned numerous times while holding the boom that a mysterious buzzing would appear and then disappear. This is exactly what I feared would happen! I never knew nightmares could come true like that. Just.. fuck.

It's just so painful to watch.. I mean to hear it, it literally grates on my ear drums. How can something so good be so inherently bad? argh.. Anyway. So we captured and that process went as well as could be expected. I stayed around until 6pm, putting together the first minute or so of the rough cut on my own. Some of the other stayed back longer, I think Latch was pretty intent on putting it all together in one hit before Friday's class.

There's always the ADR option but in essence that just means more dicking around. I can't quite describe this just-been-kicked-in-the-guts feeling properly. Or maybe nuts would cut it better. If I had nuts I'm sure the feeling would be similar. Drama, drama, drama. Does it ever end? Will it...?

Sunday, May 27, 2007


So, the past two days were spent lugging around cumbersome equipment and finally getting to film... I can't quite describe what it was like to hear 'action' for the first time, let alone in my house, where the first (not sequential, just the first to be shot) scenes took place. It was like being Alice in wonderland and taking a bit of magic cake, where everything around you instantaneously gets bigger, and you begin feel like the most insignificant cluster of atoms in the world. It was a pretty momentus feeling, and one I'm not sure to forget for a long time.

I'm pretty bloody drained, to say the least. Friday, despite the imminent stresses of having so many goddamn people (strangers) in my house, was probably more of an involved experience for me. Saturday, aside from the fact that I battled an unweidly migraine for most of the day, didn't really require as much of my input. Most of my production design ideas were canned (for no apparent reason, which I'm still not happy about), and the space inside Scott's kitchen wasn't really conducive to having as many people around while the camera was rolling. So I got stuck doing the odd jobs - picking up pizzas, picking up the dolly, etc etc... Sure, this stuff needed doing, but I wasn't exactly in my element. Still, things ran as smoothly as they could have, and I had a great time coaching the actors - Mel in particular.

Now I'm just looking forward to capturing our material and cutting it up into some semblance of a drama. Since everything was pretty much filmed out of order, my poor addled brain just wants to slot these scenes into formation so we can work out what effects will work best, and what sounds will enhance the viewing experience. I wouldn't call production an anticlimax, but it was certainly built up to be something in my mind that I'm not quite sure was realised - in full. Then again, that's probably a good thing.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

stage fright

Wish I could have made last night's rehearsals.. am dying to meet the actors, but alas, my stupid job continues to get in the way of more important pursuits. Meh.

At least I know the test shoot went well and by the sounds of things, the cast all get along - which is fantastic, because I'd hate to think that the animosity-ridden atmosphere in the script could spill out into real life. One big bonus is that the actor playing Mike is happy to bring all of his own clothes, which seem suitable (overalls, shirts, typical dadsy stuff), so that will be one less strain on our budget.

So for the next 18 or so hours I'm left to tie up the loose ends, and prepare my house for an entire entourage of crew. Never did I imagine that my involvement with a subject would penetrate my bedroom door, but I believe I have been proven otherwise :P How's that for dedication folks? Can't fault the ultimate sacrifice of privacy, ESPECIALLY when it's willing! Although, my nervousness is growing about it, as I want the room to look like an absolutely perfect set... Like I want to prove my worth as a production designer, so the pressure's on, in that respect.

Dig these posters though: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
(was I an emo kid in a past life or what? ahah, acutally don't answer that question, I might go cry and kill myself :P tsk tsk)

Also, in a serendipitous twist of fate (Hi Paul), I FOUND MY GODDAMN TV1 LECTURE BOOK! It disappeared into the ethers around week 5 and decided to rear it's head again all of a sudden... Couldn't possibly have had anything to do with the fact that I was forced to clean my room from wall to wall in preparation for tomorrow's guests.. oh no. haha. Solved that mystery at long last. Such a relief, too, mind you.

Before picking up the gear tomorrow I shall make a last minute venture into savers to buy a netball skirt. After that, we're all set. I think it's safe to say that I'm more jittery than those actors.

Fingers crossed...