What do I say? We started here and now we’re almost sealing the gap and making giving the documentary it’s finishing touches. I guess I don’t want it to end (actually, no it hasn’t), and I don’t think it’ll end. It is better to say there are very many things are have only just begun and a few others that will go on forever. For the record, my first time directing a documentary is an unforgettable one, and I’m slowly developing a passion for documenting with the moving image. Given an opportunity, I’d make a documentary again, and there are some personal projects that I’m now considering – since i’ll be uber free in summer. I started production project with trepidation because, ironically, my diploma in mass communication never taught me much about producing and the production process. It has nothing to do with the program, rather a great big mental obstacle that I couldn’t overcome. I often enrolled into the ‘safer’ more tutorial-bound modules like advertising or media marketing so I could get away from the 5 million gadgets, buttons, equipment and techniques I had to remember. I did like the idea of making a film, but me being involved in a production seemed was beyond my imagination. Yet today I have Russells Old Corner Shop to boot. Of course, I couldn’t have done with without the team – Gloria (producer and writer), Jenny (editor), Lynn (DOP), Deti (web designer).

Teaming for this documentary was also a leap of faith. It started with Gloria and me and then Jenny and Lynn much later (yes, 4 is pretty large for a docu like ours). We came together out of nowhere, started out not knowing much about each other, who each of us worked or our strengths and weakenesses. I’m happy to say we’ve forged friendships and know how to work together well as a group and how to keep each other in check. Our team, also named Urban Vignettes Productions is a special one, I believe we wouldn’t have had this kind of result and relationship with George and Lola if we hadn’t a team of 4 like this. For George, the ever professional actor and thespian, the team is integral and core to the soul of a piece of work. Our team gave him confidence and that slowly built on and I believe we won Lola’s heart too.

Russells Old Corner Shop is here. I really don’t know if there’s anything I haven’t already mentioned in my last entries. There is something about Russells that touches everyone in a different way. Everyone who enters the green heavy doors of the cafe take away rich stories that George and Lola share. Their generosity and simple life touches everyone in a different way. I guess what i’m trying to say is Russells isn’t a story that needs to be penned word for word, one needs to experience it on its own, and we recreate a part of the experience with the observational documentary and the interactive website. We hope that everyone who sees it will want to go down to Russells, and take home a story of their own.

Advertisements

The doco has been progressing, in some ways slowly but surely. Last week we wrapped our shoots (in all we did almost 10 days) at Russells, and a good wrap to it was a 9th September little tea party that George invited the 4 of us to. Together with his other friends Mal and Marty, oh and not forgetting Lola and the pets, we had cakes, pies and tea that spcial Sunday afternoon. I’ve never seen George and Lola this happy, it was a great feeling. We filmed a bit during the party, and I think that footage does add another dimension to the documentary, brining us into another segment of their lives, this time with an insight from their close friends. Once again, i’m awed by the generousity of this couple, not in the way they serve us tea or pies at their place, or let us into the private spaces of their home, but more than that they open the doors into their lives and their past. We have been blessed.

So now we have reached post-production. The dominant issue we faced was trying to identify the key footages to compress into the documentary. We sat down as a team and put together a vague structure, but it felt like nothing would put these snippets of footage together like a jigsaw. Coincidentally, Jenny and I met David casually and he asked us about our documentary. So we told him some of the main problems we were facing, and his suggestion was that we logged our tapes, literally transcribing what was being said in the tapes, the shot list and time code. This suggestion has been taken and the logging process is midway. We should be done by Tuesday or Wednesday so that Jenny can have another 2 to 3 days to deliver a rough cut.

Another breakthrough is that we have found a web designer! More than that she is a multimedia student, who is very familiar with the interactive aspects of the online medium and the bonus is, she is as passionate about the project as we are! For now, we are planning to buy a domain name (www.russellsoldcornershop.com) and some webspace. Suggestions on a webhost is most welcome! The draft logo (which I think is super awesome) is below. More updates on the website soon.

russells

 lol

(Lola Russell)

george

(George Dixon)

More production stills here

I’ve spent the last 10 days or so thinking, living, eating, breathing production project. This actually means there has been quite a bit of progress especially with actual shooting. So it’s week 5 and we’re into snapshot 2, I have to say I’m happy to be taking a step back to think about what we have done so far. Take it as my personal reflection, mid-production evaluation, director’s notes and part-assignment. The last four days on location have been eye-opening discoveries, about people, environment and the self. I’ve learnt a lot from whatever little that has been done so far, yet my miniature scatterbrain barely contains any of it. Writing is now best, if you get what I mean.

First things first, Urban Vignettes is no longer a student project and Lynn may well agree with me on that. I did start off being dead set on a high distinction for this compulsory module, albeit a clandestine endeavor that kept me going, but things have changed. In the initial stages of this project our group somewhat ‘made it a point’ (in other words, had to force ourselves) to go down and befriend our ‘talents’. We were not close with them and it was almost dreadful at some stage with Lola, who was in nature more reclusive and rightfully less cheerful to see us. Then came the time when we presented our production schedule to George, half expecting to be turned down – our schedule included following them throughout their daily routine almost everyday. It’s been surprising however – George happily accepting the schedule, and even giving us suggestions for the film. In the last 2 days of shoot, Lola was also very amicable and less grumpy. Only then did we realise we had mismanaged our talents – often focusing our attention on friendlier George, and going less to Lola. However Lola was natural for the camera and very happy to open up. Since then, this project has become a process of discovery, learning and relearning. Each time Lynn and I visit George and Lola we learn something new about them and about ourselves. Urban Vignettes is no longer a student project, it is a personal story waiting to be told.

After some discussion with David on our project during one of the extra documentary classes, we also decided to move from a more conventional documentary style to observational as we felt that it could bring our project into a more intimate level. That did change some of our intended objectives – where we first wanted to focus on the heritage of Melbourne. Our refocus took us to another level of documentary – intimate, exploratory and sometimes dangerous.

I feel that I have learnt directing this. Being initially afraid to meet new people, not to mention making conversations with them, I find myself more open to approach others. I also have learnt to think quickly on the spot, expanding and developing questions so as to ask my subjects questions that are relevant, and to help us understand them better.

Moving on, I will continue to establish a close relationship with George and Lola. I also think it is crucial that the team continues to stay together, hence we will start organizing weekly meetings to discuss our website flow. Another immediate consideration is digitizing the footage and sitting down with the editor to talk about what is best to put into the documentary. Excitings weeks ahead!

As Director of ‘Urban Vignettes’, my vision for this documentary is to tell the story of a charming elderly couple, their family heritage and their unique lives as thespians and owners of one of the few surviving pre-gold rush buildings. Using an observational style of documentary – voyeuristic and intimate – My team and I will follow the owners of the Russells Old Corner Shop, George and Lola, through various facets of their daily life.  While doing so, I want to highlight our character’s passions, lifestyle and habits, their views on the arts scene in this contemporary age and their likes and dislikes. At the same time, the documentary should accentuate the rustic charm of this hundred year old establishment which they run. Despite being trapped in time, within the secret hiding space of their café where we will base our entire documentary, we want to explore a side of Melbourne unknown to many, through the eyes of George and Lola.

Addtionally, I will aim to achieve the group’s agreed theme of our documentary, by understanding George and Lola and developing a relationship with them. By doing so, I believe we can create a piece that is salient and truly reflective of them as artists and creative people. As we create this piece of work, I think we also have much to learn from George and Lola, who are lovers of film, music, theatre and fine art. George himself also taught a course many years ago in RMIT, called ‘workshop theatre’. He has also written scripts for television and plays, and has acted and directed them also. As a director, I will be most involved with our characters George and Lola. I think it is imperative that I not merely understand them as subjects of our project but also as people with interests, emotion and alot more. That said, I trying to answer my own question: If you put yourself into the shoes of your characters, what does this project do for you? How do you / will you react to it?

Personally, i’m excited to embark on a (fairly) large and different form of production. I say different becuase i’ve never worked on a documentary before and becuase our project is designed for an online audience. Working on this will definitely widen my portfolio as a creative and media person. Shooting a documentary may be new, but it’s a genre i’m very keen to explore. As I work on this project, what will constantly be at the back of my mind is how it is accessible as a new medium, since we are passionate about delivering history and heritage in a way that is interesting for a young audience.

So school’s started again, which is odd becuase it still feels like yesterday we were scrambling to put our funding application together. Just when I was getting used to having late nights watching movies and (and the whole season of ‘Heroes’!) literally no mornings, I’ve now got to get back to some kind of routine. Which is good, i guess. I was hating myself for becoming such a sluggard.

And it is time again to dig up our old work for ‘Urban Vignettes’ and it is this semester that we finally get to shoot it. It is rather pressurizing becuase we did promise alot in our pitch and funding application, and I guess we as a team really do want to perfect this.

 Personally, i’m excited to embark on a (fairly) large and different form of production. I say different becuase i’ve never worked on a documentary before and becuase our project is designed for an online audience. Working on this will definitely widen my portfolio as a creative and media person. Shooting a documentary may be new, but it’s a genre i’m very keen to explore. As I work on this project, what will constantly be at the back of my mind is how it is accessible as a new medium, since we are passionate about delivering history and heritage in a way that is interesting for a young audience.

I want to develop people skills throughout this project. As a director, I will be most involved with our characters George and Lola. I think it is imperative that I not merely understand them as subjects of our project but also as people with interests, emotion and alot more. That said, I trying to answer my own question: If you put yourself into the shoes of your characters, what does this project do for you? How do you / will you react to it?

Update

April 23, 2007

It really does feel like we’re taking a few bigger steps and moving ahead with our production project. We finally went down as a foursome to tiny Russell’s cafe and met with George. The difficult part was putting the question forward – “George, can we do a documentary on you and your family history?” Which we did, and there was a very awkward 5 to 8 minutes, before his reply, where George left us (our table) to speak with someone. And between that lapse of time I’m sure Gloria and I wondered then if we’d bruised the friendship we took some weeks to build. But George, proves to be a generous gentleman and he might be old but still very sharp and alert. He used to teach workshop theatre at RMIT, and still being an active playwright and director, his clause to his agreement was that we had to show him our script.

Today Jenny suggested we visited the Melbourne Barber Shop tucked very inconspicuously along La Trobe St. We spoke with a middle-aged George (yea another George) the barber and talked a little with him about his job and his really big hobby – motorbikes. His place isn’t super old as compared to Russell’s but you could tell just by talking to him he could open doors to a lot more history than his barber place could afford.

Then I took Jenny down to Pellegrini’s espresso bar, and we met with the owner whom at first hand turned down our offer to feature his place. But we told him our intention to interview him, not so much just his Pellegrini’s, but to find out his history. He gave us his number and his name and then a timeslot to visit him if we wanted to interview. This guy’s done many interviews in his time and I suspect he has been frustrated with all that’s been asked again and again. The tough part with Pellegrini’s is building the friendship with the owner and getting him comfortable with us and around the camera.

Can’t wait to get this show on the roll..

Jenny said in lecture about being aware of who our audiences are when creating our Production – that’s an apt reminder and a crucial factor to why we work on our productions too. An audience is something easily taken for granted when working on a project. I’m guilty of ignoring an audience’s need because each time I work on something the aesthetic is the first of my concern. But working with an audience in mind makes a lot of sense. Imagine a high budget experimental art film produced for a children’s channel. The money would definitely be down the drain because the meaning of the film would be lost and so would children’s interest in the product. Jenny mentioned the easy way to identify a target audience would be to identify the communities that your piece of work is dedicated to. In other words, the piece of work that we create for the communities should have a purpose and that is to meet particular needs within the circle.

Two points i’ve brought home from Jenny’s lecture:

  • Economics – Can your audience afford to consume?
  • Technology – What media technology does your audience have access to and /or are comfortable with?

Taking these questions into account, I want to think about the audience of our production project. We are working on an interactive video documentary about the lesser known / forgotten heritage places in the Melbourne CBD. Our project will be published online – featuring 5 to 6 places, each of them in dedicated pages with links, video interviews, audio clips and a visual tour.

  • Our audiences are visitors to Melbourne City/ those who live out of the city, maybe in Victoria ??/ those who live out of Victoria / out of Australia. Our audience needs this site because it helps them zoom into specific places of interest – locations that have rich heritage that they can experience.
  • Our audiences are travellers. They like to explore and learn about culture, history, heritage. They like new experiences, they value information and are resourcesful in looking for them.
  • They are the 25s to 55s.
  • They have internet access and are tech literate. Their resourcefulness drives them to the online resources.

Definitely not an exhaustive list, but something our group will continue to build upon. With these in mind, we are going to create our heritage website for our target audience, making sure their need for information – knowledge and visual accuracy is met.

That, is how our project can be considered a successful one!

Stereo-trip

April 3, 2007

ster·e·o·type (stěr’ē-ə-tīp’, stîr’-) Pronunciation Key
n.

  1. A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image.
  2. One that is regarded as embodying or conforming to a set image or type.
  3. Printing A metal printing plate cast from a matrix molded from a raised printing surface, such as type.

stereotype. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved April 02, 2007, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/stereotype

Can we really be blamed for stereotyping? If that is our credit for understanding the world, albeit in a way that pushes us into molded ideologies. For the record, I am like everyone else, inclined to stereotype when the situation calls for it. It is something that comes very naturally, even unconsciously, I’m sure. I can’t imagine a world without stereotype. How complex will the world be? Imagine a world without stereotype – perhaps that handshake and a ‘hi’ with the new guy I’ve just met would take forever for me to process. Say, “The Simpsons” wouldn’t make any sense at all to me, if stereotypes ceased to exist. Much as we all know the negative connotations of stereotype, we constrain our understanding of our world into standards, molds, methods, type, color, size – we don’t want to run the risk of complicating the world, so stereotype is our safety net (or maybe not).

Ninos Malek, a graduate student in the Economics Department at George Mason University gives examples of why stereotypes work in his article “Stereotyping Defended” :

…assume that you are walking down the street and you have only two choices — either walk on the left side of the street or the right side of the street. Before you choose, you notice that on the left side there are ten tattooed, muscular men with shaved heads walking and talking together, while on the right side you see ten “clean-cut” men wearing dress shirts and ties carrying Bibles. Now, what would you do?

Malek, N. (2006) Ludwig von Mises Institute. “Stereotyping Defended”. http://www.mises.org/story/2282 

Culture
Once again, it is difficult to break stereotypes, especially those that are culturally ingrained. I wrote about my initial production idea about a film that reverses social and cultural norms. Should I have gone ahead with my idea, it would be interesting / funny / hilarious and possibly mocking to have cultures clashed, social norms turned topsy turvy. But stereotypes aren’t far-reaching concepts, it’s something we get fed with right from the little boxy thing sitting in our living rooms. As Singaporeans (and possibly Asians), our relationship with the fair-skinned, towering men and women (also colloquially and affectionately referred to as Ang Moh), were those we knew on TV. We knew them as larger-than-life, friendly, street smart and open minded characters from F.R.I.E.N.D.S’, adventures or heroic, buff and intelligent just like Clark Kent in Smallville. And what of Asian heroes? Those I know next to none – except Jackie Chan and martial arts, and his almost non-English speaking (or barely) Asian counterparts.

Asians. And the stereotype of us as weak English speakers – An idea that seems to have been translated into our understanding of the real world. When I just stepped into Australia, a friend introduced me to his Australian mate over a party and we chatted casually for sometime until in his curiosity asked, if I was really Singaporean like I’d mentioned. To that, of course I’d said “Yes”. And in surprise he said, “Wow! I didn’t know you guys spoke English, and you have no accent!”. It was a funny statement but it got me wondering about what his idea of ‘an accent’ came from. Funny, but an obvious cultural pre-understanding that made him misunderstand me.

Race & The Media
Having delved more into stereotype research, it seems to me that stereotype isn’t something entirely ‘wrong’, but that stereotypes can bring about problems, like prejudgement (or prejudice). A problem perpetuated by media portrayal – particularly around race. Sasha Torres, an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, writes extensively about the American television’s representation of race:

“… American television has tended historically to anchor ts depiction of raced bodies – and this has meant, for the most part, African-America bodies – to particular social conditions which it understands to be both undesirable and inextricably linked to racially marked communities. These conditions have included racist oppression and life in the “ghetto,” with its attendant signifiers: poverty, unemployment, substandard housing, female-headed households, and drug trafficking and abuse, and violence. Whether African Americans are represented as falling victim to such conditions or bravely rising above them, such representation attaches them inexorably to the social problem.”

“Race and Television,” in A Companion to Television, ed. Janet Wasko (Blackwell, 2005).

Stereotype will continue to exist, but what do we do as media practitioners? I’d like to think embarking on this Production Project, I will in small ways challenge ideas or preconceived notions that make us misunderstand, and instead give us avenues to think more widely and openly about the world around us.

The Creative Process

April 2, 2007

Production Project Idea #1
This is how my creative process for Production Project 1 started. A morning walk down La Trobe Street to uni, I saw a Caucasian lady at the POST building cleaning the building’s glass windows. That’s really nothing to shout about or be attracted to, she was just doing a simple, commonplace job. But I couldn’t stop looking, because I noticed she was middle-aged but very beautiful. She wasn’t the Hollywood prototypical beautiful, but a lady you wouldn’t fit into the ‘cleaner’s’ stereotype. For a moment I wondered if I would’ve stopped in my tracks if it were an older aged person, someone less enrapturing in looks, or if I’d have thought twice if she / he were … Asian.

It’s funny how things like color can put some on higher esteem than others, typically how the color of skin puts us on ranks of the social hierarchy. My initial thoughts was to do a mockumentary, and I had some sketchy thoughts…

  • A white lady, a cleaner. She is a commonplace woman, just doing her job to make ends meet. In a white society or a white dominant country there is nothing much to be alarmed about her. But take her out of her social comfort zones, and put her in, say, Chinatown. She is happy there, speaks excellent Cantonese, goes about her job oblivious that the rest of the world finds her odd.
  • 2 people, a couple, blind from birth. They’re walking, with aids on the city streets, a dog accompanying. We don’t see their faces, only their feet as they walk. They are making casual conversation – they discuss their route to Chapel Street, the meeting they’ll have with an old friend, his new cellphone their idea of what color their cellphone is… [imagine a conversation scene from Before Sunrise / Before Sunset]. They’re trying to describe color, the strength of fierceness of red, the happiness of orange, they have their personal reservations about green, they think blue is a ‘detaching’ color.
  • An outdoor art class, an interracial group of students (maybe early primary school) are painting a wall mural. Their painting starts off ordered, but soon a paint fight starts, they’re first flicking paint at each other, then splashing larger blotches of a variety of colors. Everyone joins in, gets dirty, but they’re happy. A picture of unity.

Production Project Idea #2

(taken by Gloria Wong (2007) Used with permission.)

Part 2 is actually Gloria’s initial idea, when she went by The Old Corner Shop, better known as Russells (La Trobe, King Street), she went in and chatted up with the elderly owners George and Lola Russell. Their tiny cafe on the ground floor and their living space upstairs has a history that goes back decades (109 years, to be exact) and two to three generations. The couple has many stories to tell. Gloria ‘s been brave to go right in herself and talk with them like they were old friends. When I told her I was interested in being part of her project, Gloria took me down to Russell’s to meet them. What struck me was how rooted and rustic Russells was, admist the cowering modern day office buildings and imposing popular food places. Going right into Russells, it made me feel as if I had been transported to quiet suburbia, removed on the rowdiness of Melbourne’s CBD, very surreal.

I liked Gloria’s idea because my first good impressions of Melbourne were in it’s architecture and it’s preservation of many old structures and establishments. Based on her idea, we as a team have decided to make an episodic series of the forgotten and old places of the Melbourne CBD. Russells shall be our pilot. I am also keen to develop an interactive site containing video interviews, history and visual tour of old and forgotten places of Melbourne. Our inspirations are Vietnam Nurses, usmob & Route to Routes, just to name a few.

We’re now a 4-people group, Gloria, Haslina, Jenny and I – a good mix of researchers, production, edited and conceptual girls. We’re at the research stage and will be going around the city looking for the forgotten or hidden gems of the CBD. Very exciting!

Truths about Creativity

March 19, 2007

“Bach supposedly said, “Anyone who works as hard as I do, can do as well”. If that is true, genius is the ability to work hard.
– Foss, L (July 2006) ‘About the creative process’, Yale Review.

For a long time, Creative is a word I dare not associate with myself. It is as if I put myself on the same wavelength as the great filmmakers of our time – Peter Jackson who directed Lord of the Rings, filmmaker Tim Burton or the likes. I must be honest, I grapple with the word Creativity. We hear the word loosely used all the time, “wow! You’re so creative!”, or “I’m not as creative as you are…”, or that the IT industry is less creative than, say, the film industry. So what exactly does it mean to be creative? Can creativity be taught? Am I creative?

I once thought creativity was something that could that could happen on a whim. Those who’d wake up in the middle of a night brimming with eager to write, draw, paint, compose, et cetera. Those creative urges that only belong to the gifted, so I thought. But it seems, one doesn’t create before first learning to walk:

You give a child a pencil and say, “Do something, do anything. Express yourself. Create.” Well, what are children going to do? They will take the pencil and pick their nose. They do not want to express – they want to learn. The first thing children want to learn is how to walk. They are not interested in inventing original things to do with their legs. Here is the child, still horizontal, suppine, and he or she sees people walking. “Wow! That’s what I want to do – walk!”
– Foss, L (July 2006) ‘About the creative process’, Yale Review.

Lukas Foss brings the two words, creativity and genius together. He believes genius is “to put things together that don’t go together, and make it work…” . The other truth is, the notion creativity scares me. Going into this semester with Production Project 1, knowing I will have at the end of the year create a piece of work, that is scary to me. The thought of having a variety of people together in a team – the possible clash of personalities, a melting pot of ideas, the putting together of concepts, and ultimately to get all these to work out. It is slightly unnerving, and it takes one out of his/her comfort zone. It is definitely going to put me on the edge. Production Project will mean pushing me out of my comfort boundaries, taking me a step further with my passions and philosophies, those ideas that usually swim in my head – and then having to articulate them in picture, sound & color.

I love Foss’s analogy of children learning to walk. So, the comforting truth about creativity is, we all start somewhere. When we’ve learnt how to walk, we think about where to go, who to go with and how to get there. In the process of putting all these together, hard work is paramount, passion is pivotal and intellect will somewhat give meaning to the process, but “[courage is] an essential ingredient in view of the impossibly elusive creative process.” (Foss, L (July 2006)).

So, my creative process starts here.