Thursday, January 29, 2009

What is documentary?

I've been finishing up Documentary Storytelling. Reading the interviews. I will present another well-know creator this weekend.

I don't intend to make a feature non-fiction piece anytime soon. But, I think the importance of telling a story with an arc seems to be a common acceptace. I've read Robert McKee's Story and Bernard even mentions it in her book. I will have to reread sometime and understand the key message. I think it has something to do with starting a scene one way then ending it a totally different way. The use of acts and the aforementioned arc.

As I read Sheila Curran Bernard's book I marked passages. I'm going to revisit those marked and comment on them over the next little while. So here goes one... Bernard says, "At their best, documentaries should do more than help the viewer pass the time; they should think about what they know, how they know it, and what more they might want to learn." She also states that they should "confound our expectations"..."push[es] boundaries" and put us in worlds unknown.

I would agree. Just presenting an ordinary world won't engage anyone. However, as the videos of Morris has shown, there are extra-ordinary and yes absurd expectations found in ordinary people. You just have to let them ask the right questions and let them speak. From their as described in many interviews in Bernard's book, the videographer/director/whoever has to find the story and it appears if they look hard enough - it's there.

How do these concepts apply to shorter videos? Can a short 7-10 video have acts and arcs?

Ken burns interview... talking about the video and still photographs.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Absurdity is alive and well...

I watched Gates of Heaven over the weekend. My wife couldn't watch after 5 minutes. Too boring she said. I stuck it out.

I actually enjoyed it most of the time. The characters Morris interviewed are so forthcoming. It seems like Morris just has to say 'rolling' and off they go. They are full of contradictions and full of truth and full-of-it. At times I found them very funny and pathetic. I'm not sure if this means it's entertaining but it was for me.

Morris as editor is skilled at putting in little details that add to the absurdity of it all. At times the characters that ran the pet cemetery are just babbling over the 'Bubbling Well'... it seems as they really believe what they are saying. However, objectively I as viewer can tell they aren't genuine. Yet... oh, it's hard to explain. One of the pet owners says about his wife speaking on the hereafter, "I didn't believe it until right now." A lot of the video is like this. Characters talking themselves into believing the absurd.

The most memorable character is the old lady with the cane. Here is a bit of it. The best part is when she is talking about a car and we actually hear one. Classic!

I'm going to read what others thought of it. Roger Ebert loved it. I wonder what others think? I suspect most will be like my wife and stop watching.
I think videos like Spinal Tap and the like have definitely used Morris' style. I know I've been on a bit of a Morris binge but hey, this guy is really good and his stuff resonates with me.
Also watched The Making of A Brief History of Time. Pretty cool. The interviews where all done on sets created by Morris. Only Hawkings lab was recreated with great detail. Interesting that Morris blurs the line between non-fiction and fiction video.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hoops and Style Hoopla...

Interesting article on slick vs. rough camera work. Gives you samples of the 3 different kinds at the author sees it. Prosumer, Consumer and Flip-like. Obviously, the slicker the look the more expensive the camera, higher the learning curve and time investment required by the user. It's argued that right now rough is more acceptable on blogs then web sites.

I finished watching Hoop Dreams last night (3hrs approx.). It was viewed using my VCR so it looked YouTubish and rough. Rough as the lives these two young men had to endure. Gates and Agee and their families gave the director unbelievable access.
I'd have to say it was humbling to watch at times. I kept hoping the two young men would use the opportunity to embrace school as I had with sports. But I guess previous educational experiences in conjunction with the home lives depicted were too insurmountable.

I give the director, Steve James a ton of credit. I can't imagine the difficulty shooting all this footage in it's day. There were lots of low lighting situations. So kudos to them. Being videotape, there weren't special features to learn more.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

It's all About Time sometimes...

Jan and I watched A Brief History of Time last night. Copy from library meant using the VCR. Tape is a poor substitue now for digital but the content was what counted.

Errol Morris is a master of finding great characters and inter-cutting atmospheric cutaways! The contrast between interviews, photographs and staged scenes flowed well. Shots of the subject (Stephan Hawking) were always interesting and the voice well done.

Although, the ideas were well beyond us, the story of Hawking's life certainly has an arc and carries the video well. I kept trying to make meaning out of the ideas but depsite Morris' best efforts... I'm not a Physicist so I'm not shattered. :)

As Morris states, no one does "existential dread" like composer Philip Glass.

On my commute home I heard on the CBC that the NFB have just put a lot of their catalogue on-line for streaming. I will be making my way over and posting great video on the site in the future! There is even the trailer for a new film on documentary.

My Errol Morris' First Person Series - The Complete Series arrived in the mail today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cool Surprise by Andy Nulman!

Just by mentioning Andy Nulman's new book I'm suppose to get sent to my home. Now that is a surprise.

Surprises in a documentary video are a plus too. Who doesn't like surprises?

Thanks Andy!

The Truth about believing is seeing...

I found this Christopher Lydon interview of Errol Morris on Morris' web site. It's pretty interesting to hear Morris speak as interviewee. The show included callers and challenges from Liden. Morris seemed not to mind. The discussion is pretty indepth and worth a listen. Morris gives his responses some thought and doesn't sound evasive.

Morris twists the saying "Seeing is believing" into "Believing is seeing". I have to admit, he has a point.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Herzog & Morris

While waiting for my daughter to arrive home in her taxi, I found this article. Just a bit of talking amoungs Werner Herzog and Errol Morris. Very cool insight into how they work. I see a obvious similarity in their work. In particular their treatment of those they interview.

What I pick out is there willingness to not control the interview. Listen. 

Morris states, "I had this three-minute rule that if you just shut up and let someone talk, within three minutes they will show you how crazy they really are. And it has happened time and time and time again." Both reinforce this idea.

Today Obama brought a sense of hope to The States. Can't help but share a bit myself...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Grizzly Man oh man...

The family and I watched Grizzly Man after breakfast Sunday morning. It haunted me all day...

The video by Werner Herzog started off realitively subtle. However, as we got further into it, it got more and more troubling.

The film follows the last 5 years of Timothy Treadwell's life as he lives amoungst Grizzly bears. Unlike the foxes, with the footage Herzog uses it's hard to believe the Grizzlies do more than tolerate Treadwell. The video tries to give us a sense of the man. A man I would argue was manic. He is very likeable for the most part but snaps quite a bit near the end and we see the inner turmoil through his own lens.

Herzog's narration is unique and insightful. Interviews with people are Errol Morris like in their treatment. At times they are almost comic if not pathetic in my opinion.

Treadwell himself shot some amazing footage. But, in the end it's hard to guage if he was helping or hurting the Grizzlies cause. One can't argue that his was not a live well lived. His death was enevitable my eyes and certainly the eyes of Treadwell.

Want to know more? Check out his web site.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Amazing Kids with Cameras

Born into Brothels was created by first time documentarians Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman,. Really it is a labour of love for Briski. She has doveted a lot to the children she documents and how could she not? They are all bright, articulate and survivors despite a dismal upbringing.

The access given to the video makers (shot of dv) is amazing. However, the children are rewarded for their candor. Briski is able to help them despite her doubts.

Like Murderball, Born into Brothels doesn't rely on a great deal of narration. Both films allow the cast to tell the stories. This was true of The Fog Of War as well. I realize that narration isn't as necessary because the participants are still alive and can tell their story. In The Fog Of War the brilliant use tape recording and video/film footage showed that even the dead can have a voice.

What I like about Born into Brothels was it's inclusion of several children instead of just one. After seeing the video you'll want to keep knowing about the kids. There is a 3yr later video in the Special Features or you can go to Kids with Cameras and follow their progress. Perhaps you can support them while you're there!

Killer doc about honest athletes...

Watched Murderball on Thursday night and loved it. I went to university with a few guys in wheelchairs so I certainly empathize with the fellows.
I love sports too but the film wasn't really about the sport. It was about men dealing with adversity and a raw deal and with dignity. Despite the marketing visuals being edgy, these guys seemed harmless - off the court of course.
The games were shot and edited really well by directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro. The overall film had a good look. What is really is amazing is the candid discussion from the videos participants.
Joe Soares was specifically gracious in his involvement. Without him I don't believe the video would have been near as powerful. He was a an older man in a young man's sport but maintained his passion.
If you want to feel a twinge of empathy, watch the Special Features - Premiere screening I believe. At one time the camera holds on Joe and the isolation screams out at you. Very poetic...
See this 2005 documentary. It's players with suck you in and take you into a world you won't forget.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Super Sized D.

Super Size Me is an awesome concept. It will definitely hold your interest. It did make a difference but I'm not sure what it is but for me, it lacked something. To be fair I'm watching a lot of the best docs out there. I can't put my finger on it but it didn't really get me.
Don't get me wrong the film maker Morgan Spurlock did a great job. The film got McDees to drop it's Super Sizes! Still much like the fast food it examines, it left me feeling a little unsatisfied. Maybe the characters other than Spurlock weren't fleshed out enough. Maybe the subject itself didn't lend itself to real drama... maybe I just had to big McExpectations.

You'll learn a lot from this film but I think it's stuff we already really knew. I can see why it's done so well. I mean everyone can relate to it. Most of use have eaten fast food. You should of course judge for yourself if you haven't seen it already.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Fog of War

I just finished watching Errol Morris' The Fog of War. A documentary about Robert S. McNamara and Academy Award Winner. It's obviously a brilliant piece, masterfully done. I love how Morris shot Mr. McNamara. I'm not sure where this room is but the frosted glass and lighting is amazing. I think it actually looks like fog. Not sure if it was the film makers intent but it won me over. I love the editing technique of jumpcuts too!

Mr. McNamara looks right into the camera is engages you. His face and stories are simply captivating. His voice is tremendous. Amazing...

The teletype and Recording shots are also well done. I also very much like the layering of people shots. Talk about being studented in the art of great documentary. If you haven't seen it or haven't seen it in a while. Go out and find this video to watch. You won't be disappointed.

PS The score by Philip Glass is just right.

I will look at further Morris docs as soon as I can. This guy is awesome. :)

Monday, January 12, 2009

What would a high school teacher do?

Today I start my Visual Arts Senior AQ with Western. I'll be doing lots of reading/reflecting on being an educator to Grade 11 & 12 students. I look forward to interacting with the 25 other students in the course. There is going to be readings, assignments and discussing. 

While eating lunch I watched NFL films story on defensive lineman Tim Krumrie on a local sports channel. Here is some of the footage (language warning) that was used in the doc. It was really well done. Great story. Don't know where you can find it but if you can please let me know.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan

Steven and Jeanne are married and partners in documentary film making. My local library doesn't have copies of either of their big documentaries. I'm very interested in seeing them though and will try to get my hands on them to watch.

So Much So Fast (official web site and trailer) and Troublesome Creek (on the same site). You can listen about Steven & Jeanne here. If you would rather read about them here is a good article.

Steven has written a book.

As a triathlete, I'm aware of ALS. Who can forget the story of on ABC sports of Jon Blais - The Blazeman.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Regional Web News...

Seth Godin posted about starting a local newspaper. Michael Rosnblum has suggested regional news centers. I listened to Richard Florida on CBC radio and he predicts just such macro regions if you listen.

It seems to me local is the new frontier... the new blue ocean.

How convenient. How exciting for many. There are many macro regions out there. The time to grab one is now. It will take work or you can watch as I try it out myself.

I suggest we become the story tellers in our region. Stories about our macro region relavent to our macro region for our our macro region.

Map your blue ocean for macro regional web news/docs and sail it!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Get started...why not begin with a good base!

It's easy to immerse yourself in non-fiction video. I just went to the local library and picked up My Architect and The Fog of War and order 3 more. I liken it to the triathlon training I do. I'm getting back into it and just like getting back into triathlons, it requires easing into it. It's best to begin with a good base. Easy consistent work. So, I'm going to spend the next little while watching as many as I can. I'm selecting the ones discussed in the book I'm reading.

I've also been investing cameras. I'm leaning towards the Panasonic AG DVX 100-B at the moment because of it's 16x9 aspect ratio and 24fps emulation. I love the old film look I grew up with. There is something pleasing about it for me. However, I'm not going to get too hung up on any particular equipment. This video was shot with only a cell phone. 

"Everyone I've ever respected always used restricted tools." - Chuck Jones

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The straight goods from Rosenblum

I stumbled onto this presentation by Michael Rosenblum off of the viewmag I think. Anyways, I watched the 3 parts. I liked what he had to say and found his blog. Wanted to link to it here for readers and future reference for myself.

Read a few blogs today that hit the theme about the importance of limitlessness. Seeing all the possibilties of the sublime and escaping bounderies and the benefits thereof... I guess today was a bit of a half full day.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Contest site shares more than just award winning videos has associated himself with a video journalism contest. The site is a good resource. It shows past entries and award winners.

The site includes cool/useful information like:
Technical Specifications:
Length: 6'30"
Camera Type: Sony XD cam HD, DV Handicam & mobile telephone
Editing System: Final Cut Pro
Original Language: English

Broadcaster: Al Jazeera International (UK)
A great way to see several samples of some great video

Monday, January 05, 2009

Inspirational Mondays...

Thought I'd like to try posting an inspirational piece every Monday. Perhaps to help get the week off to a great start.

My first one is easy and you've probably seen. But just in case you haven't it's a favorite of mine.

Dr. Randy Pausch gave what was to be his last lecture. It has become a lecture that will last a in the memories of many for a long time.

Hard work and living a passionate life are it's major theme but there's a lot more!

It's a long video but worth the time and it's chalk-filled with stories.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Showing the human side without seeing it.

I saw this ikea video ad several months ago. It captures bits of action that is totally human but we never really see them. Brilliant.

I did a slideshow in school. A partner and I took beautiful shots of a derelique home. We only accompanied it with music. There was no human element. As a result, it looked great but seemed empty. You can't say this for the ad.

I'm a big proponent for always including a human element.

On success with Malcolm Gladwell (a great storyteller!)

I have a soft spot for fellow Canadian Malcolm Gladwell. He has a unique ability to tell a really good story. This interview on Charlie Rose is very good on explaining his take on success with several stories. 

I remember hearing that Chuck Jones said that it takes something like 40,000 drawings to really get to the level required to draw freely. It's the hard work required to be great at something. I think Mr. Gladwell has told stories for years. Now he is indeed a great storyteller.

Listen to Gladwell and see what you think. A great storyteller? He's learned from his mom that "all good writing [storytelling] has clarity."

If you want to hear more of his stories check out his blog on the LV blog roll.

I believe that the most interesting people are interested people!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Ric Burns

I'm going to start researching and posting famous documentarians. They haven't necessarily created video for the web. I think I'll begin by using the ones in the book I'm reading, Documentary Storytelling for Video and Filmmakers. I will devote a week to each and see what I can help find on each person.

Ric Burns is the first in this series. Return to find out more about this veteran documentarian.

He loves NYC.

Here are four interviews with Charlie Rose. You'll get a sense of Burns.

His website is here and a list of his films here. You can get his videos here.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Finding your own voice.

My drama teacher in high school insisted that stealing ideas theatre was okay. 

I've seen several examples of Quentin Taratino doing this in motion pictures. I read he worked in a video store and watched hundreds of movies. The result of course was some pretty cool films. If Tarantino did steal other filmmaker's ideas, I argue he did find his own voice.

Need encouragement to find your own voice. Check this out by Shane Koyczan!

I'm starting to collect and catalogue video from the web. How? I'm using

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A willingness to think...

2009. It all begins here. This year. This blog. 

I hope to adhere to my mentor Chuck Jones' philosophy. He said, "There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is the willingness to think."